In addition to the burger patty, there are several other important elements of a burger, which are often overlooked when cooking it.
The best buns, best sauce, or even extra-juicy beef are all great, but we fumble when it comes to shaping and cooking the patties. There are many ways to make better burgers with secret ingredients and sauces (there are even special pieces of equipment for shaping burger patties with finesse). It has somehow become a daunting task to make burger patties ourselves, something we avoid doing.
No matter how you cook it, really nailing the patty is the secret to making a restaurant-quality burger at home. We then tested six popular techniques for increasing the size, shape, and taste of your burger patties. The six methods were tested side-by-side on the stove and the grill in order to determine which method made the best home patties. Easy, clever, and surprising is the winning method.
Burger Patty Method: Dimpled with a Knife
If you want your hand-shaped patties to cook more evenly, this technique is ideal for tenderizing pre-formed burgers.
Use a butter knife to dimple or dock the top of the beef patty after it has been formed into a 1/2-inch-thick by 3-inch-wide patty. By allowing the heat from cooking to pass through the patty, this method guarantees even cooking and reduces shrinkage, just as docking a pie dough does.
As a result, these patties shrank the most in both stovetop and grill tests, shriveling into an uneven mess and resulting in a dry, wonky puck of a burger.
Though it’s common to see frozen or grocery store patties with docking or dimpling, this method seems to work best after the patty has rested after shaping and cooking, as well as for those who like a well-done burger. I think the forced airflow, especially on the grill, dries out the patties rather than keeps them flat.
Burger Patty Method: Made with a Deep Indentation in the Center
Perhaps the most well-known “trick” for making burger patties that cook evenly and don’t have a bulbous shape after cooking is this. Make a thick disk shape out of the beef, then make a wide and deep indentation in the middle. The indentation should fill as the burger shrinks during cooking, making for a perfectly flat and even burger that’s easy to top with cheese and slide onto a bun.
I don’t know. Similarly to the dimpled burger above and the thumbprint below, these burgers shrank and nearly wobbled as they cooked on the grill and in the cast iron pan, resulting in uneven cooking for both patties. Compared to the dimpled burger, these deep indentations pulled inward toward the center (more than the dimpled burger) and were less dry.
This method worked better on the grill, as the hotter surface resulted in a smaller shrinkage of the patties. A word of caution: The indentation allows fat to pool on top of the burger, which can cause a fiery flare-up when flipped.
Burger Patty Method: Pressed with Your Thumb in the Center
Using the same theory as you would use for the dimple and indentation methods, this sweet and simple method follows these steps:
- The burger patty is shaped as usual, and a thumb is pressed into the center to create a small indentation.
- Results: This method was the fastest with the best results among the three denting methods. By pressing a thumb into a burger patty, you won’t get a wildly shaped patty while cooking. It gave the burger just a little bit of shrinkage room to prevent it from being shaped like a ball. However, the burger was neither extra juicy nor crispy nor tender either.
- Takeaways: This is one of those tips that you can use with any burger (even veggie burgers!) that every cook should know. Although it doesn’t result in the best burger, it makes any burger a bit easier to cook.
Burger Patty Method: Adding Grated Butter into the Burger
The method describes how to make juicier hamburgers, particularly with leaner beef bound for the grill. Butter is grated over a cold stick, then incorporated into the beef before it is formed into patties.
My favorite burger from the grill was made this way. As a result of the low temperature of a skillet on the stove, melted butter fries the beef patty but also leaves pocket-like holes in the cooked patty. This is not bad for texture but not so appealing when you bite into it.
While I still absolutely recommend this method for leaner ground beef, turkey, and chicken, if you’ve got 80/20 ground beef with plenty of fat you don’t need it, especially for stovetop cooking.
Burger Patty Method: Smashed in a Hot Skillet
Smash-style hamburgers don’t require shaping before cooking, which is the beauty of this method! An alternative is to portion the beef into mounds and have them ready to be cooked and smashed in a hot skillet. A smash burger-style patty has a distinct crispy texture and is ultra-thin. Midway through cooking, smash the patty to keep it juicy as well as cook it quickly without causing it to dry out. On a large skillet or flat-top, this method worked brilliantly, but on the grill, it was a disaster.
It’s fun to grill these burgers at home, but they are really hard on the grill (I still scraped my
grates) and they don’t produce the thick, juicy burger many of us are used to. Save this method for a special smash burger night and go all out making the special sauce as well.
Burger Patty Method: Pressed Between Deli Lids
By using two small deli container lids, you can use this method to gently press the burger patties without getting your hands too hot. With this method there’s no pre-shaping, no sneaky trick to make the burgers shrink less it seemed almost impossible. (Even the slight heat from your hands begins to melt beef’s natural fat.)
Both the stovetop and grilled versions of the patty cooked evenly with minimal shrinkage, resulting in a burger with a crispy exterior and a juicy, barely pink interior (read: the perfect burger patty). We have a list for best burger presses if you need recommendation.
It is not what you do to the beef in this recipe that makes it so genius. You barely touch the patty disk as you shape it into a perfect burger disk without spending much time shaping it. Having the right lid size on hand is the only challenge to this technique. You’ll need two lids with the same 4-inch diameter and 1/4-inch depth.
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