13 Ways You're Grilling Burgers Wrong

By: Dan Gentile


Credit: Flickr/Canadian Pacific (edited)

Grilling burgers isn’t rocket science, but if your grill’s emitting as much flame as an Apollo launch, odds are your patties are going to end up tasting like astronaut food.

But you’re not necessarily doomed. To find out some of the most common burger mistakes people make at the grill, we tapped Adam Perry Lang, author of Serious Barbecue, to lay out 13 things you’re probably doing wrong over the charcoal.

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Credit: Flickr/Don LaVange

Encouraging flare-ups

“You’re going to be in trouble if you have a high-fat burger on a very hot grill. It will cause a high flare-up, particularly if you put more than one on there. You’re going to get too much crust before the burger even cooks. If you want really high heat, you can go with a leaner burger and put it directly on the grill.”

Promoting stickage

“These juices and liquids that come out of a burger aren’t exactly water: there’s lots of protein in them. That’s why they stick to the grill. To avoid that, here’s a tip: after you form your patty, you dab it with a paper towel and make sure it’s as dry as possible. Season it, then put a very thin coat of canola oil. That oil prevents that protein-laden juice from adhering to the grill.”

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Credit: Flickr/star5112

Relying too much on salt

“I shouldn’t say never, but try to avoid seasoning a burger mix with salt. Ground beef is very susceptible to the salt drawing up moisture. The texture will completely change. It won’t be as juicy and has the potential to get quite rubbery. You only want to season it on the outside, right before you put it on the grill.”

Letting raw patties get warm

“If you like a burger that’s more on the rare side, but you want that crust development, have the burger very cold before going on the grill. It’ll give you a head start, because that inside will take some time to cool down.”

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Credit: Flickr/markus spiske

Going thin and lean

“It’ll dry out. Go with a thicker burger so the juicy texture comes from the slightly undercooked, medium-rare meat. It holds on to more of that juiciness because it’s thicker.”

Letting the burgers rest after cooking

“I’m not a big fan of resting burgers. I want it juicy, straight off the grill. I understand the concept, that it lets the temperature penetrate a little bit more, but burgers for me are more about the crust and juiciness, so I’m not in that camp. Burgers have so much cooked surface area that a lot of the juice just leaks out onto the platter. It’s not contained like in a piece of beef that’s a whole muscle. By the time you put it on the bun and hand it to somebody, the concept of resting just kind of happens.“


Credit: Flickr/jeffreyw

Overlooking the bun

“Oftentimes a bun is too firm or overwhelms the burger. It has to be soft, you have to be able to bite through. I like milk buns or potato buns. Hawaiian rolls can be good, but some people feel that they’re too sweet. It’s the texture that is really important. You want something like a sourdough, something with a texture that has a lot of body. Cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad: a lot of rolls that are inexpensive are ideal because they don’t compete with the burger. It’s when we start to get too fancy that we run into problems.”

Letting the bun get soggy

“One thing that essentially eliminates a soggy bun is if you just put the cold cheese on the bottom of the bread and place the burger on top. It acts as a liquid barrier for that bread.”


Credit: Flickr/happy_serendipity

Adding onions and other crap

“I’m not a big fan of mixing stuff into the beef in general. There are no absolutes here, but if you’re going to put them in raw, you’d microplane them so that it’s more of a flavor essence than texture. If you’re going to cook them in a pan, it’s very important to let them cool down before putting them in the mix. That warmed temperature can be unhealthy because of the bacteria.”

Forgetting the butter

“If you want that golden brown, really beautiful crust, just slap your grill or cast-iron pan with a little bit of melted butter. It’ll drip off, but the milk solids will remain.”


Credit: Flickr/Didriks

Going crazy with the dimples

“Sometimes it’s necessary to dimple the burger, sometimes it’s not. It’s necessary when using cuts high in collagen like brisket or short rib, but not with sirloin or chuck. If you cook a brisket too fast it’ll buckle because that collagen is contracting. The same with a burger. Depending on the amount of brisket, if you don’t put that dimple in it, it will inflate and almost balloon.”

Cutting patties to check wellness

“You should definitely not pierce or cut into burgers while cooking. One thing I would say is that for a thicker burger, an instant-read thermometer is gold. For the thinner ones, the temperature is somewhat insignificant unless you’re cooking it so hot and fast that it’ll be raw inside.”

Forgetting the cast iron

“I’m a huge fan of crust development. The best way to get it is to use a cast iron. But there’s also a great benefit from a burger that gets that charcoal flavoring as it charbroils directly over coals. One of my favorite methods is the griddle-grill method. I start the actual burger directly on the griddle. It gets started, the heat is very intense off the bat. A lot of the initial fat is on the griddle, so you avoid that flare-up. Then as it renders out, I transfer it to the grill.”

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