How To Make Burgers on the Stovetop

How To Make Burgers on the Stovetop

Emma Christensen
Jun 29, 2016
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

If you're craving a juicy, tender, cheese-topped burger — one that you can really sink your teeth into — then you've come to the right place, my friend. No dry hockey pucks here. Just the kind of burger you'd normally pay big bucks for at a restaurant.

Today, we're talking burgers: the best kind of ground beef to use, tips for shaping the patties, and how to cook them to burgerlicious perfection, with a step-by-step recipe for simply the best burgers you've ever had — at home or elsewhere. Ready?

Making Burgers on the Stovetop: Watch the Video

The Best Beef for Burgers

After playing around with adding this and that to the ground beef in my quest to make a better burger, I finally realized that it's really just about the beef. Buy good beef, and you'll have a great burger. It's that simple.

The ideal ground beef for burgers should be 80% lean and 20% fat, though I can often only find 85% lean and think this still makes great burgers. Just avoid anything leaner than 90% — those burgers can easily end up dry and crumbly.

If you can, buy freshly ground beef from the butcher case. Not only does this tend to be a bit fresher than the packaged meat, but it's also less compressed, which is important for my next point. (Keep your eye out for deals on good-quality ground beef, too — you can stock up and freeze the shaped patties for later meals.)

Use a Light Touch

Maybe even more than the fat content or the quality of the beef, I've found that using a light touch is the real difference between a burger I relish eating and one that becomes tough. The more you handle and mash the beef as you shape the patties, the more compressed and tough the finished burger.

Instead, try to handle the beef as little as possible as you form the patties. Break off big fist-sized chunks of the ground beef and press them into rough patties against your work surface with the palm of your hand. Then gently pat the edges into a uniform round shape. Don't worry if the edges look a little lumpy or have cracks — resist the temptation to make the patties look neat and tidy. Those cosmetic imperfections are all in the name of a supremely tender burger.

Do the Dimple

Our food editor Christine taught us all this dimpling trick, and I haven't looked back since. By pressing a shallow "dimple" in the middle of the patty, you avoid the problem of the burgers shrinking to half their size and doming up in the middle. After years of tiny, round burgers, this feels like magic.

To make the dimple, just use your fingertips to pat the middle of the patties slightly thinner than the outer edge — maybe a quarter of an inch more shallow, at most. I always think the finished patties look like tiny frisbees.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Listen for the Sizzle & Flip with Confidence

Cook your burgers in a flat pan over medium-high heat. The patties should sizzle when they hit the pan, and when you flip them, you should see a nicely dark, golden-brown sear on the underside. That's the sign of a good burger!

Also, a wide, very thin spatula works best for flipping — it lets you quickly slide under the burger and flip it without messing up the nice crust you just formed. It also keeps these looser burgers from falling apart as you flip. (Though if they do fall apart, just press the pieces together and carry on — top with cheese and no one will ever know.)

I find that the spatulas sold for cookies or pancakes work best. A fish spatula would also do a fine job in a pinch.

→ My Favorite Spatula: OXO Good Grips Large Silicone Spatula

Do Not Overcook

Stovetop burgers are a quick weeknight meal — very quick. Even if you prefer your burgers well-done, burgers will be ready in 10 minutes tops. Cook any longer and that's when you wind up with dry, crumbly hockey pucks, no matter how diligently you followed the advice given above.

It's a little nerdy, but I usually set a timer so I don't accidentally get caught up in conversation or another part of the meal and forget about the burgers. You can also keep an eye on the sides of the burgers — when you see just a bit of pinkish-red in the very middle, medium-rare burgers are ready; the second that pinkish line disappears, your burgers are medium.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Sink Your Teeth In

Despite all this talk about what makes the "best" burger, a stovetop burger is really a very quick and simple thing. I just love burgers so much that I tend to get carried away — don't let all my jabber intimidate you. Bottom line: Buy ground beef with a bit of fat, use a light touch when forming the patties, and pay attention so they don't overcook. Do these things and I think you'll be very happy with your burgers!

What are your best tips for stovetop burgers? Any favorite toppings or mix-ins to share?

How To Make Burgers on the Stovetop

Makes 4 (6-ounce) or 6 (4-ounce) burgers

What You Need

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, 80% to 85% lean
4 to 6 hamburger buns
Butter or oil, for the pan
Salt and pepper
4 to 6 slices cheese, like cheddar, swiss, American, or provolone (optional)
Burger toppings: sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, pickles, relish

Griddle or skillet — cast iron, stainless steel, or nonstick
Wide, flat spatula


  1. Divide the ground beef: Break the ground beef into 4 or 6 big chunks, roughly the same size.
  2. Shape the patties: Gently press each chunk of ground beef against the counter into a disk roughly an inch thick. Press the middle to create a shallow "dimple" and pat the edges into a round — the patty should look like a frisbee and be slightly larger than your burger buns. Don't worry if there are some cracks in the edges; try not to mash the beef too much as you shape the patties.
  3. Warm the pan: Set your pan over medium heat. Add a pat of butter or a teaspoon of oil, and let it warm with the pan.
  4. Toast the buns: Press the buns into the warm butter or oil, and toast until the surface is golden. Repeat with any buns that didn't fit in the pan, adding more butter or oil as necessary. Transfer the toasted buns to a serving plate.
  5. Increase the heat to medium-high: Increase the heat to medium-high, and keep a careful eye on the pan. When you see the first wisp of smoke, you're ready to cook the burgers.
  6. Cook the burgers for 3 to 5 minutes: Transfer the burger patties to the hot pan, leaving a little space between each one. Work in batches if necessary. The burgers should sizzle on contact — if they don't, nudge the heat up a little. Sprinkle the tops generously with salt and pepper, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  7. Flip the burgers and cook another 3 to 5 minutes: Quickly slide a spatula under the burgers and flip to the other side. You should see a dark brown sear on the underside — if not, increase your heat next time. Sprinkle the other side generously with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes to your preferred doneness. If the burger falls apart when you flip, just press the edges together and carry on — your burger will still be great!

Burger Cooking Times

  • Medium-Rare (red in the middle): 6 minutes total
  • Medium (pink in the middle): 7 to 8 minutes total
  • Medium-Well (a smidge of pink in the middle): 9 minutes total
  • Well Done (no pink): 10 minutes total
  1. To make cheeseburgers: If making cheeseburgers, top the burgers with cheese as soon as you flip them. If the cheese isn't melting fast enough, cover the pan with a lid or other dome to encourage the cheese to melt.
  2. Finish the burgers: When the burgers have finished cooking, transfer them to the toasted buns and finish with your favorite burger toppings.

Recipe Notes

  • Double-Batch of Burgers: If you're making burgers for a crowd, cook the burgers in batches and cook the burgers to just under the desired doneness level. Transfer the cooked burgers to a baking sheet and keep warm in a 300°F oven while you finish the rest of the batches.
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