Forget the Grill: Five Tips for the Perfect Burger

Categories: Beer Beer Beer

​It's June, which means people all over will be firing up the grill for backyard cookouts. And what goes better at one of those cookouts than that most American of sandwiches, the hamburger?

A grilled burger can be fantastic. The high heat of the flames caramelize the outside of the patty, lending it a lovely charred texture. Meanwhile, the smoke from the fire bastes the burger, creating layers of flavor. It's an experience as central to outdoor cookouts as cold beer and Slip 'N' Slide.

See also:
- Ten Best Burgers in Broward and Palm Beach Counties

Yet for serious burger aficionados -- the kind who pine for thick, juicy burgers for the ages -- the grill just can't compare to another cooking method: the stove.

The reason cooking on a flat surface makes for a better burger than the grill has to do with a little bit of food science. But you can't just use any old burner or any old pan. Read on to find out how, by using a little ingenuity, you can make a stove-top hamburger that will stomp whatever is put out on the grill.

1. Buy Sirloin

Contentious, I know, but the first step to making a great burger is using flavorful meat. And chuck -- while sporting the proper burger ratio of 20 percent fat to 80 percent meat -- simply cannot hang with sirloin in the flavor department. Sirloin has that meaty, rich, delicious flavor that people think of when they think beef. The problem people have with sirloin is its meat-to-fat ratio of 90:10 means less rendered lipids, which translates into a drier burger. That may be the case on the grill, since fat that renders off the meat drips down through the grates below. Not so on the stove top, where a pan captures rendered liquid and "marinates" the burger in it while it cooks. This flavor/fat compromise can be further enhanced by blending sirloin with other ground cuts -- my favorites are short rib and brisket. Starting to understand? Good. Read on.

2. Form Loosely Packed Patties

Ground meat is a deceptively delicate thing. Too much manhandling and you'll ruin the amazing, robust texture that a good burger should have. So resist the urge to mix the meat or add any fillers that require intense sculpting (read: onions, garlic, bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce). Instead, carefully portion your ground meat into roughly even sizes. I highly suggest you go with eight-ounce burgers. Yes, they're big, but (sorry, guys) it's the size that matters in this case. Next, carefully dab each portion with about a teaspoon of olive oil, then gently pat the portions into a one-inch-thick patty that's just slightly less wide in diameter than a DVD. Don't push too hard or slap it around. Once you've got it into roughly the shape you want, set it down and stop touching it.

3. Season Well on Both Sides

I can't stress this enough: Food needs seasoning. It's a fact of life. Too many burger joints out there go through all the right steps, then leave their meat underseasoned to try to please the salt-phobic. Well, here's a secret: Flavorless food doesn't please anyone. Seasoning is vital to flavor, but that's not all. A good layer of salt will also aid in creating a charred crust as your burger cooks. And that's what we're looking for in the perfect stove-top burger: a charred crust.

So here's how you correctly season a burger: Find a nice, rough-grained kosher salt or sea salt. I prefer Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt, because the grains are neither too big and crunchy nor too small. Now season the entire side of your patty with it. Don't scrimp -- you want even coverage, about half of a teaspoon per side. Crack some fresh ground black pepper over the burger, give it a gentle pat, then flip and repeat on the other side.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

.....only change I would make is use culinary salt, otherwise known as Himalayan salt crystals.  You won't regret it.....


Hi John,

I felt I had to comment, because I just made a burger based on your recommendations, and it was phenomenal.  I found this article through a google search, and I'm so thankful I did!  I couldn't believe how ridiculously good my cheeseburger was, and I especially appreciated the addition of the there a better combination than fat and red meat??  It just melted in my mouth.  Thanks again for writing such a precise and helpful piece...I'm going to use this as my go-to from now on.

Amanda in San Francisco

Stefan Kamph
Stefan Kamph

I like to take a cue from the French and throw a pinch of dried thyme on with the salt. Smells amazing while cooking, but (like the pepper) best sparingly as it'll get incinerated.


I prefer my gas grill but I will have to try the cast iron method. A cast iron skillet for blackening in my house without a vent hood makes it too smokey inside. I have done a cast iron skillet placed directly on my grill burners with grates removed though. This is an option to do some blackening outdoors and then finish it in the oven, as with salmon steaks.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

Great tips, John. And wow, those photos are making me hungry. One I'll add: Head to Smitty's on 45th Street in Fort Lauderdale. They'll grind meat to order, and you can tell the difference in freshly ground meat. I go with 50-50 brisket and short ribs -- brisket for flavor and short ribs for that beautiful fat.

Now Trending

From the Vault