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11/02/2011 03:33 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Make A Hamburger Patty

To make her burger patty, chef Katherine Polenz from The Culinary Institute of America starts with two pounds of 80/20 hamburger in a bowl. She prefers a mix that's 20 percent fat, because it makes juicier burgers. She seasons the beef with salt and pepper, but explains that if you enjoy spices or barbecue sauces, you can also add them at this point. After putting on gloves, she mixes the meat and spices together with her hands. An important tip: It's better to let your beef warm up slightly when you remove it from the refrigerator, since icy-cold meat seizes up when it hits the heat and can result in a tough exterior. She gauges how big she wants the burger by balling some of the meat in her hand and then pressing it out into a patty between her palms, using a cupped hand to gently press in the sides. If you like rare or medium-rare burgers, it's best to make them thicker so they don't overcook.

She preheats a stainless-steel pan, then adds a small amount of oil. When she adds the patty, it sizzles, and she looks at the gray color working its way up the side of the patty to gauge when it's time to flip -- when the gray comes halfway up, turn the burger over. If your heat is high enough, you should have a lovely brown crust on the bottom at that point. To figure out when your burger is done, touch the middle of the patty with your spatula. If it seems extremely soft, the meat is likely not yet cooked. If you want cheese, add it to the top just before removing the burger from the pan to allow it to melt.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Katherine Polenz from the Culinary Institute of America, and today I'm going to show you the kitchen basic of how to make a hamburger patty.

In this bowl I have about two pounds of 80/20 hamburger meat. Now, 80/20 means that it's 80% lean meat, and 20% fat. By most standards this creates what is considered the best-tasting hamburger. The less fat, the drier the hamburger. The more fat, the juicier it is.

I'm going to just season this with a little bit of salt, and a little bit of pepper too. There's all kinds of barbecue spice rubs, there's grilling spices; if you like those flavors, you can put them right into the hamburger meat. I'm going to wear food handler gloves while I mix the hamburger meat. This will avoid any possibility of cross contamination. Now I'm just going to work the seasonings into the hamburger meat; I'm just going to knead it together. It's really good if you can take the meat out, and let it warm up just a little bit so that it's not ice-cold. When you put ice-cold meat onto a really hot grill or onto a really hot pan, it causes the proteins to contract, and it can make your burger kind of tough on the outside.

I'm gauging about how big I want my burger, and I can start out by taking a handful and kind of balling it up in my hand. I'm not going to press it real tight; I've just kind of flattened it down, and I'm kind of cupping my hand around the edges - and there's my burger. I don't want to press it until every little seam is closed up; I want it to be just a little bit on the loose side. The thicker you make the burgers, the easier it is to have rare - if you like rare - burgers, or medium-rare burgers. if you tend to want your burgers really well done, just press them out a little bit flatter; it doesn't take as much cooking time that way. So now I can take the gloves off, and it's time to start cooking the burger.

A very important thing, really important, is that the pan should be preheated. Once I can feel heat radiating from the surface of the pan and it feels hot, then I can add some oil to the pan. I'm just going to add a small amount, and this just serves as kind of a lubricant so the burgers don't stick fast to the pan.

I'm going to try to cook this burger to about rare to medium-rare. Here's something I'd like to point out: when you're cooking a burger, on the edge of the meat, you'll see it is starting to change color. The bottom side is browning, but the lower edge here is turning kind of a grayish color; that's the sign that the proteins on the outside of the burger and on the inside are actually starting to cook. I'm going to wait until that color is almost halfway up, and now that it's halfway up the side I'm going to turn the burger. You can see I have a nice brown crust. I'm going to continue cooking now until I see that color shift, again, come from the bottom up the sides of the burger. Now when I look at the top of the burger, right here I start to see juices coming to the top, and you can see that when I press the burger, it's still kind of forgiving. On the edges it's a little more crusty, but in the center it's still pretty soft. That's telling me that the center of the burger is still quite undercooked.

The burger is sufficiently browned, and now it's time to plate it up and get ready to eat. I've got a burger bun here, and some tomatoes and onions - because what would a burger be without those? If I wanted to melt cheese on it, I would have done that in the pan just before I took it out. And there's our burger: juicy, brown and ready to eat!