11 Juicy Hacks For A Better Burger

Is there anything better than heading out to your backyard on a warm summer day, slapping some meat on the grill, and hearing the sizzle of burger patties browning to perfection? There are few foods as iconic, satisfying, and easy to make as a good ol' burger. No matter what style you like to make your burgers, it's incredibly gratifying to put it together with your own two hands as opposed to running out to the nearest fast food chain that most likely doesn't have the freshest ingredients.

Although cooking burgers isn't rocket science, there are some tips and tricks you need to know to ensure you get the juiciest, most delicious burgers possible. Luckily for you, we've reached out to several burger experts to give you their secret tips to ensure every bite comes out perfectly. So, what are you waiting for? Let's dive into several juicy hacks for a better burger. 

1. Only use freshly ground beef (and the right blend)

First and foremost, if you want a delicious, juicy burger, you need to have a good foundation — and that means having freshly ground beef. The sad truth is that most of the ground beef you buy in the store is a big gamble. You have no idea when that beef was ground, what part of the cow it came from, or even how many different cows it came from. 

Whether you decide to grind the meat at home yourself (which is easier than it looks) or head to your local butcher, the benefits are vast. The quality, taste, texture, and juiciness of freshly ground beef are significantly better than the pre-packaged ones, which can come out bland, dense, and even greasy. Ben Esman, grill pitmaster of My Backyard Life, says buying freshly ground beef is "absolutely crucial," because it "ensures a moist and flavorful burger." Make sure you get a blend that has at least 20% fat content, though, or you won't get the juiciness you're looking for.

Getting freshly ground beef also means you decide exactly what kind of beef blend you get. Melissa Baker, professional chef of more than six years and founder of FoodQueries, says she always heads to her local butcher to get a custom blend. "My sweet spot is 75% chuck for richness and 25% brisket for moisture. I ask them to coarsely grind it fresh — pre-ground beef can turn mealy." 

2. Shape the patties carefully, but don't overwork them

Once you have your freshly ground beef, pay attention to the shape of your patties to make sure they keep their patty shape and retain maximum juiciness. If you've made burgers before, you might have run into the problem of having your patties turn into big balls rather than flat, juicy patties. 

There's a simple fix for this — all you need to do is create a shallow divot in the middle of the patty. "This is a trick I've used many times," says Ben Esman. "Creating a slight depression in the center of the patty helps it cook more evenly and prevents it from puffing up in the center." Food Network personality and executive chef of Bronzeville Winery Lamar Moore goes one step further and says to focus on proportions, as well. "To ensure your burger isn't all bun, form your patty slightly larger than your bun to account for shrinkage."

However, when forming the patties, it's crucial that you don't overwork the meat. "Overworking can lead to tougher burgers," Esman says. "Gently form the patties to keep them tender." Ground beef is incredibly sensitive and reacts to every knead and change in temperature it encounters. The less you handle the patties, the better. Joey Birashk, Executive Kitchen Manager of Eureka! Restaurant Group loves to use an ice cream scoop to form the patties. "This allows for all of your patties to be the same size and cook evenly."

3. Keep your patties and tools super cold

Until it's time to throw your patties on the grill, you don't want them coming into contact with any heat whatsoever. When fat becomes warm, it tends to become softer and more pliable, which means it will stick to places that aren't in the burger, such as your hands or on work surfaces. Esman sums it up in one sentence: "Cold meat helps in preventing the fat from melting and breaking down before you cook, which can make for a juicier burger." So, keep your patties in the fridge until it's ready to go.

If you're grinding up your own meat, it's important that all of your tools are also kept cold. This includes all of the parts of a meat grinder, such as the shaft, the grinding blades, and the plate. Some chefs even keep their entire meat grinder in the freezer so that it's always ready to go. 

4. Don't salt your patties early, but then season liberally

When forming your burger patties, you might be tempted to season the meat early, but don't do that! "Salt can draw out moisture if left for too long, so always salt just before you throw them on the grill," says Esman. You don't want to salt your ground beef too early, as salt draws moisture out of the proteins. This might work well for a thick steak, but when cooking up a burger, it'll lead to a dry, dense disc of rubbery meat. Instead, season with salt within minutes of cooking. This will allow you to get the moist and tender patties you're looking for. 

When it comes to your choice of seasoning, again, it's up to personal preference. Joey Birashk says his restaurants use a special "blend of popcorn salt, garlic powder, onion powder, granulated sugar (which helps with caramelization), and pepper." On the other end of the spectrum, five-time National Burger Champion and founder of nonprofit Feed the Fridge Mark Bucher says to keep it simple: "Salt and pepper on both sides and that's it. If you mix anything else in your meat, it's called meatloaf ... not a burger." 

One thing everyone does agree on? Season well. Birashk says, "Regardless of what you're putting on top of your burger, you need to generously season your patties. It's the hero of the dish, so you want it to be flavorful."

5. Get your pan or grill ripping hot

Before you drop your perfectly made patties on your grill or pan, it's crucial that your cooking surface is properly pre-heated to a very high temperature. "Burgers really don't take long to cook," Birashk says, "so you want to achieve great color, flavor, and texture — and that comes from heat." Ensuring your cooking surface is super hot is key when it comes to locking in those flavorful juices for your burgers. Melissa Baker says, "The high heat sears the outside and locks in all those amazing juices."

If your burger hits a cooking surface that isn't hot enough, you'll actually end up steam-cooking your patty, which results in less flavor, juice, and little caramelization. However, it's important to note that you can overdo it, too. If your pan is too hot, you'll burn your patty to a crisp. Make sure the oil in your pan is glistening and is able to slide easily before tossing your meat on.

6. To flip repeatedly or not to flip repeatedly?

Whether you're a pitmaster veteran or a grill newbie, you've likely heard that you shouldn't flip your burgers more than once. Chefs from all over the world swear by the single-flip, from Bobby Flay to Mark Bucher. All you need is "a single flip," Bucher says, "then allow it to cook for around 4-6 minutes until the burger is ready to go." 

One thing almost everyone agrees on is that you shouldn't press your burgers while they're cooking. "Avoid pressing down on burgers or juices will be lost, resulting in a dry burger," says Lamar Moore. "And, use a spatula to avoid piercing the burger and losing more juices." Pressing your burgers doesn't do any of the things you think it's doing: Itq doesn't add perfect grill marks and it doesn't help it cook faster. If you're using coals, the dripping juices will actually cause the flames to add a carbon taste to your burgers. 

7. Pull your patties off the grill early and use a meat thermometer

Again, remember that burger patties cook fast. No matter your desired doneness, make sure to pull them off the grill earlier than you think. "Let your burgers rest off direct heat for five to seven minutes before serving," chef Melissa Baker says. "This allows the juices to redistribute so your first bite isn't dry." Pitmaster Ben Esman explains further: "Once you remove them just shy of your desired doneness, they'll continue to cook a bit from the residual heat." This means if you pull your patties off the grill when they look perfect, they'll be overdone by the time they hit your table. 

How can you make sure to be precise every time? Use an instant-read thermometer, says Lamar Moore. "Insert it horizontally into the center of the burger to check for doneness to achieve the perfect temperature every time." For medium-rare, you'll want to shoot for 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit. Medium is 140-145 degrees, and medium-well is 150-155 degrees. You can cook your burgers well done at 160 degrees, but don't expect the juiciest burger if you do. 

8. Press an ice cube into the patty

One counterintuitive hack for juicy burgers? Ice cubes. "This is an old trick that helps ensure the middle of the burger remains juicy," says Ben Esman. "Just place a small ice cube in the middle of your patty and wrap the meat around it." Top Chef judge Graham Eliot is also big advocate of this little trick — pushing an ice cube into the patty keeps the meat from drying out without imparting any other flavor to the meat.

However, there are caveats to this little hack. For one, ice cubes are generally a bit too thick for a normal-sized burger patty. If the patty is too thin, it could result in a deformed patty that doesn't cook evenly. Others say that gently placing the ice cube on top of a patty is more than enough to do the trick for juiciness, but be warned that if you like your burgers rare, it's probably best to stay away from this hack. Otherwise, you might end up biting into an ice cube that hasn't melted yet.

9. Add secret ingredients

When it comes to secret ingredients, our experts had plenty of opinions that they claim create some of the best, juiciest burgers around. "Olive oil can help keep the beef moist," said Esman. "Worcestershire sauce adds a wonderful depth of flavor. But, one of my personal secrets? A touch of soy sauce or fish sauce. Just a small amount can enhance the meaty flavors of the burger without making it taste like either of those ingredients."

Chef Melissa Baker's secret ingredient is unexpected: "Now this may sound odd, but trust me — it works. I take a teaspoon of creamy peanut butter and swirl it right into the center of each patty before cooking." She continues, "The peanut oil bastes the burger from the inside out as it cooks, keeping it so tender and moist."

Mark Bucher says it's all in the beef blend. He recommends grinding a whole brisket with a 70% lean to 30% fat ratio, but here's the secret: "Blend the brisket with bacon fat and mayo to make a juicy, tender burger that will leave you wanting more," he says. 

Ariel Fox, Vice President of Culinary at Del Frisco's Grille, has her own secret ingredient: "I like to brush my burger Patties with Dijon mustard before I season them with salt and coarse-cracked black pepper. It gives them this amazing brown crust with a little bit of heat from the mustard." 

10. Butter baste your burgers

What's one surefire way to add even more juices to your burgers? Add more fat. One strategy celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay swears by is basting your patties with butter two minutes before taking them off of the grill. "With that flame underneath, it sort of caramelizes the butter and puts this wonderful flavor on top," Ramsay says in his tutorial to grill a perfect burger. In the video, he lightly brushes butter onto both sides of the patties when they are nearly finished cooking. "It makes the burger so tasty," he says.

But, he says that's just an introduction to butter-basted burgers. "If you want to make it even more chef-y," he says, "make it a red wine butter. A chipotle butter ... It's up to you to make it your own." He doesn't just say that for the video, either. Ramsay's Planet Hollywood burger restaurant in Vegas uses the same technique and bastes the meat with Devonshire Butter. If it works for his world-class restaurants, it'll probably work for you as well. 

11. The type of cheese you use matters

When you think of a juicy burger melting in your mouth, the type of cheese you choose might not be the first thing you think of, but it has a big effect on how luscious each bite is. "The type of cheese can definitely enhance the burger's juiciness," says pitmaster Ben Esman. "A good, melty cheese like American or cheddar can add to the overall succulence." It might be wise to play around with different cheeses that fit your taste. For example, cheeses like Monterey jack or pepper jack can add a super-gooey cheese sauce that oozes off of your burger. 

Joey Birashk says to keep the texture of every ingredient on your burger in mind. "The buns are soft, the meat is soft, so how do we add layers of flavor and texture that keep you coming back for another bite?" He points to his restaurant's Fresno Fig Burger as an example. "Along with a juicy patty, we have creamy goat cheese, crisp bacon, and tender arugula on a toasted bun spread with fig jam." Finding ingredients that complement each other is a key part of delivering a mouth-watering burger with maximum juiciness.