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How To Cook Great Burgers, And The Mistakes You Should Avoid

05/01/2013 09:37 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015

burgers
Photo credit: Chris Stein via Getty Images​

Whether you're a year-long griller or only get a few months of the year to cook al fresco, grilling reaches an all-time high during the peak of summer. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there's no meal not made better by the charring abilities of the grill. Burgers and hot dogs are the go-to, and they seem simple enough -- unless you're the one manning the grill. For those standing at the grates, spatula in hand, you know all too well how challenging it can be to make a truly great burger.

Burgers are usually edible no matter what, because yum. But to make one that's truly memorable, there are a few things you need to keep in mind, because it's all too easy to make mistakes without even realizing it. There are eight very common ones, in fact, and it's those mistakes that are getting in between you and burger greatness. This grilling season, don't let them hold you back.

Right those wrongs, and eat better home-grilled burgers.

  • 1 Don't buy cheap, frozen or lean beef.
    Flickr: Darran C
    If feeding a crowd, we understand going for a bargain. But if grilling burgers for you and a select few, go for the good stuff. Get nice, preferably freshly ground beef, with at least 20 percent fat. Because remember, you can taste the difference between grass-fed beef and the conventional, grain-fed stuff.
  • 2 Don't over-work your burgers OR add a bunch of other stuff into the mix.
    Flickr: Pillsbury
    First, burgers are already perfect as they are. Adding onions, herbs or sauces to the meat is only detracting from their inherent greatness. Secondly, adding ingredients means having to overwork the meat, warming up the fat in the burger which emulsifies it and makes the meat rubbery. No one wants a rubbery burger, especially with onions and herbs in it. Instead, lightly shape the burgers, top with a little salt and leave it alone.
  • 3 Don't forget to put a divot in the middle.
    Flickr: Alexander Dibbo
    It's commonly thought that one should form a burger into a perfect patty, but this doesn't account for the shrinking and expanding that happens to the meat as it cooks. Instead, shape the burger into a patty, then push a dimple into the center. This will create a perfectly flat burger when cooked making it so toppings stay in place when eating it. Those rounded burgers so common at backyard barbecues make topping burgers impossible.
  • 4 Don't let a little heat scare you.
    Flickr: elNoel
    Burgers like heat -- high heat. It's all about the sear on a perfect burger. Of course, if it seems like they're starting to burn, turn it down. But if not, go with hot.
  • 5 Please, just don't smash your burger while it's cooking.
    Flickr: Steven
    We know it's satisfying to hear the sizzle when you smash it down with a spatula, but what you're really doing is pushing out all the juices that keep the burger, well, juicy. If you want a dry patty, have at it. But if you're looking for something great, put down the spatula.
  • 6 Don't cut into the burger to check for doneness.
    Flickr: khawkins04
    Cutting into a burger to test for doneness is the best way to ruin dinner. All the juices come running out. This is even worse than smashing it with a spatula. It's basically saying you want the driest burger on the planet. While practice will make knowing a burgers' doneness second nature, until then follow this guide: for medium rare, you want a a lightly springy feel at the touch. And for well done, just let it cook, cook, cook.
  • 7 You must let the burger rest.
    Flickr: Yuwen Memon
    It's hard to resist biting into a perfectly-cooked burger, but not giving it time to rest means ending up with a dry burger and a soggy bun. Biting into it too soon will just make it spill its juices everywhere. It's all about the juices, folks.
  • 8 Don't be afraid to experiment.
    Flickr: jasperlin451
    Cheese is good. Bacon is great. But that's just the beginning of what can be used to top a perfectly-cooked burger. Peanut butter's a creative choice. Onion rings are always a good idea. It's your burger, get creative!
  • 9 Bonus: Add a pat of butter before cooking.
    Foodie Crush
    This is not a joke. Adding a pat of butter on top or in the middle of the patty might be decadent, but it's also a delicious way to keep the burger moist, rich and absolutely perfect.

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