Grilling the perfect burger isn’t rocket science, however it does require a bit of preparation, use of the right tools, coals at the right temperature (i.e. not too hot and not too cold) and patience, which is probably one of the most important things to have whilst grilling. Remember, patience is a virtue and whilst you may be eager to tuck in to that burger, being in too much of a rush will not produce good results.
Preparation is a key element and there is no such thing as being over prepared. Before even contemplating grilling the burgers makes sure everything you need is close to hand, and that you know where to find it. From the water spray to the flipper to a bowl of water to clean the tools, you need to make sure all is present and correct and you can find it quickly. There is nothing worse than charring a burger because you had to leave the grill unattended to go and get a serviette or something. This is overcome by having a “go for”, and a younger sibling is ideal for this, but for those who don’t have this luxury then prepare. Prepare. Prepare. I would suggest making a list and ticking things off. Some may see this as over the top but in my experience even the most experienced grillers forget things.
Regardless of what you do in life you need the right tools. Ever tried trying changing a tire with a spoon? It’s difficult right? Now use a proper tire lever and it simply pops off the rim in seconds. Using the correct tools is essential for grilling burgers, otherwise you’re likely to end up with meat stuck to grill, meat in the coals and a congealed lump instead of the perfectly round patty shape. The tool armoury should consist of a large flipper (big enough to seat the whole burger – you don’t want bits hanging over the edge), a flat spatula (a secondary tool to keep the burger on the flipper), large tongs (for serving) and a water sprayer (to douse the burger during grilling). These are the absolute minimum, and I use other tools to make the grilling/serving process easier.
Having the correct grill temperature is essential. Too cold and the burgers won’t cook properly. When the grill is too cold it is likely the burger will start to break up as there is no chance to “seal” it resulting in it being binned. Too hot and the outside of the burger will be charred and the centre will be raw. Whilst some meats can be eaten almost raw (I refer to steaks and the like) a burger most certainly cannot and it must be thoroughly cooked to ensure that all the nasty bacteria that collect between the individual strands of meat is killed off. Failure to do this and you’re asking for an upset stomach or even food poisoning.
As mentioned above you must ensure the coals are at the right temperature before grilling the perfect burger, but how do you know when this is? Sticking your fingers in as a test is not advisable and the only way to know is by looking at the coals. The coals should be glowing red and there should be no flames. We all like a flame grilled burger but the way to achieve this isn’t grilling the burger whilst the coals are flaming as this leads to a charred outside and raw centre, which is not good. If the coals are white then the prime grilling time has been missed, although it may still be OK to cook the burger, providing there is still enough heat.
Once the coals are red the burgers should be gently placed on the grill using the flipper and the spatula. At this stage the burgers will need to be handled with care and if you’re too rough with them they are going to break up, therefore gently does it. Once the burger is on the grill gently press down on it using the flipper and hold it there for a minute or so. This seals the burger. Don’t hold down too long otherwise you’ll end up cooking the outside too quickly which is likely to lead to the charred outer and raw centre. After a minute gently slide the flipper under the burger and using the spatula gently turn it over and repeat the sealing process. This first flip is critical and needs to be done gently to ensure the burger retains its shape and doesn’t break up.
Once the second side has been sealed it is time for the actual grilling process. Turn the burger over to the first side and grill. With this second flip you don’t need to be so careful but I would still advise being gentle, after all, you don’t want to go and ruin the burger at this stage. During the grilling process there is no need to press down on the burger, well not at first, as you now want the burger to cook all the way through.
If possible move the rack higher up the grill and further away from the coals. This ensures the burger isn’t being grilled in the fierce heat which will char the outside and leave the centre raw. If it is not possible to move the rack higher up then regularly dousing the burger with a spray of water will ensure it cooks evenly all the way through.
One of the major questions is “how long do I cook it for each side?” There is no hard and fast rule here and each burger will take a different time to cook. The key here is to go by sight and smell. If you smell burning then flip it, douse it, remove it from the heat or do whatever it takes to get it back on track. Some people simply refuse to keep flipping burgers and will cook for, say 5 minutes one side and then 5 minutes the other side. I find it best to keep flipping the burger every couple of minutes, dousing with water as I go. This method allows you to make sure that it cooks evenly all the way through and doesn’t burn on one side. Some say that the burger may be spoilt if it is handled/flipped too much but this is not the case. Provided the burger is sealed it will not break up during the grilling process.
Once the burgers are almost ready to be served I apply pressure on top of the burger with the flipper. Pressing down on the burger will force some of the fat out of the bottom and on to the coals which should then produce small, gentle flames and give the flame grilled taste and look. After a few seconds I will then flip the burger and repeat the process to get the flame grilled effect on both sides, after which the burger will be served immediately.
An over cooked burger is just as nasty as an undercooked burger and there is only one place for these, i.e. the dog food bowl. Over cooking a burger will dry it out and the secret to the perfect burger is getting it to the point where it is cooked all the way through but still nice, moist and juicy.
Grilling your own burger is not like having a fast food burger and to get the “perfect” burger takes time and care. You can’t just chuck it on the grill and leave it. You have to nurture it and look after it, douse it and flip it otherwise the end result will be awful, and this is where the patience comes in.
There we have my tips on grilling the perfect burger. Get it right and the humble burger is a fantastic meal that rivals better cuts of meat, however, get it wrong and it is awful. I hope this piece has been of some use and happy grilling people.