6 Common Burger Cooking Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them

Rochelle Bilow, photo by Romulo Yanes

Is there anything better than the classic simplicity of a burger fresh off the grill? A good burger—juicy, flavorful, and with just the right fixin’s—is summer eating at its best. Plus, there’s relatively little heavy lifting when it comes to making them, so it’s impossible to screw up a burger… or is it? We spoke with Bon Appétit senior food editor Dawn Perry about what not to do when grilling up burgers. Are you making any of these common cooking mistakes?

1. Go for the Expensive Meat
Top-of-the-line filet oughta make for a better burger, right? Wrong. Says Perry, “What really matters is that you use a cut with a nice amount of fat.” A nice amount of at least 15 percent to 20 percent fat will make for a juicier patty. “Listen, I just really like ground chuck,” she says, adding that sirloin is definitely something to steer clear of. “It’ll dry out when you cook it.” Oh, and while we’re talking about the meat of the matter: Yes, you can make a patty out of turkey, chicken, fish, veggies, or beans, but that’s not what this is about. This is all about the beef. And hey, it doesn’t take much effort to form your own patties. We recommend buying fresh ground meat over the pre-formed burgers. That way, you have total control over the seasoning. And speaking of seasoning ….

2. Go Custom-Crazy
A big burger deserves big flavor, but that doesn’t mean you need to go bananas with the seasoning. When you’re working with high-quality meat, sautéed onions mixed into the patties just aren’t necessary—and that goes double for raw onions. Other things to leave behind: egg, bread crumbs, cumin, garlic powder, taco seasoning, etc. It’s not a meatloaf, people! That said, don’t skimp on the salt and pepper. Season one side of the patty with salt and pepper right before you place it on the grill, seasoned side down. Before you flip the burger, season the other side.

SEE MORE: The ULTIMATE Burger Recipe

3. Pack It In
Think gentle when forming your burgers; now is definitely not the time to be heavy-handed. Really packing them in will make for a dense, heavy, hockey puck of a burger. Consider the fact that the patty will be eaten on a relatively delicate bun (more on that later), not on a plate with a fork and a knife. And come hell or high water, your burger will expand as you grill it, so make a divot in the center of the burger. That way, when the patty gets bigger, it’ll stay perfectly fat and flat, not dome-shaped. (Nobody wants a dome-shaped burger.)

4. A Bun Is a Bun Is a Bun
Yeah, it’s about the meat—but the bread’s also undeniably important. First up is the size of your buns: There’s nothing worse than taking your first bite and realizing it’s all bread, no meat. To remedy that, make sure your burger is 6 to 8 ounces, and that it’s wide enough to reach the outer edges of the bun. While we love a good, hearty whole-grain roll, we don’t love it for a burger bun. Give the bread a gentle squeeze in the store, and if there’s no give under your thumb, there won’t be under your teeth, either. Soft and seeded win the race here; we’re big fans of a simple, squishy, sesame-topped bun.

SEE MORE: 16 Recipes to Use Up Leftovers, Clean Out Your Fridge

5. Be Vigilant When Cooking
We’re not saying you should throw that baby on the grate and walk away for a 20-minute game of horseshoes. We’re just saying you don’t need to constantly check, poke, prod, and flip the patty as it cooks. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature (do not cut into it!). And only touch it three times once it hits the grill: Rotate it 180 degrees, flip it, then rotate it once more. If it’s a medium-doneness you’re aiming for, plan on cooking the burger about 4 minutes per side.

6. Load It Up
In the vein of not over-seasoning, resist the urge to over-accessorize your burger once it’s cooked. “I don’t want to limit anyone’s creativity,” says Perry, but she recommends maxing out at two condiments and three toppings: Think mayonnaise and ketchup, plus lettuce, tomato, onion. If you pack on much more, you’re not going to be able to take a bite without deconstructing the burger, and that patty is just going to get totally lost. Make sure that the toppings you add are chosen with care—a burger is not the place for hearty greens (buh-bye kale), and there should be, ideally, a little taste of everything in every bite. And if you’re gonna add cheese, you’d best be sure it’s totally melty, oozy, and hot when you serve it up.

See more from Bon Appetit:
22 Recipes Everyone Should Know How to Cook
What to Eat, Drink and Do in June
The 13 Most Important Kitchens on Television