When it comes to backyard burgers off the grill, we all want the same thing: a tender and juicy burger that we can really sink our teeth into. There are a hundred and one ways to grill a burger, but here's an old family recipe that guarantees flavorful and juicy burgers every time.
I first learned this recipe standing at my grandfather's knee, fascinated as he made a long "snake" on the counter. After filling the snake with onion and seasonings, he would pinch it closed, separate it into individual patties, and then fry them to a caramelized brown.
This method is more than just a trick to entertain small children — it allows you to pack the burgers full of flavor without the risk of over-handling the meat. Overworked and compacted beef results in a dry, crumbly burger. Handling the meat only minimally ensures a tender texture and juicy bite.
It's also important not to over-handle the burgers once they're on the grill. Flip them just once and take care when you move them so the burgers don't get squished. Never flatten the burgers with the back of your spatula. This just presses out those fantastic juices and doesn't help you get any better char marks.
3 Tips for Juicy Burgers
1. Don't over-handle the meat
2. Flip burgers just once on the grill
3. Never flatten burgers with your spatula
How to Grill Really Juicy Burgers
Makes 8 quarter-pound burgers
What You Need
80/20 ground beef
small onion, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
thin slices of cheese, such as cheddar, swiss, or American (optional)
Extra Toppings: tomato, lettuce, crisp bacon, avocado, sautéed mushrooms, mayonnaise, ketchup
A gas or charcoal grill
Heat the Grill: Warm your grill to high heat, about 450°F or until you can hold your hand an inch over the grate for only one second. If cooking on a charcoal grill, arrange coals to create a high heat and a low heat cooking zone.
Prepare the Ground Beef: While the grill is warming, prepare the burgers. Gently pat the ground beef into a log roughly 2 feet long on a clean baking sheet. Use your thumb to make a deep trough in the center. Sprinkle the onions evenly down the trough. Whisk together the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and garlic powder, and sprinkle this over the onions. Finish with a few grinds of fresh black pepper over everything.
Shape the Burgers: Pinch ground beef closed around the onions. Divide the meat into 8 portions using a chef knife, a bench scraper, or your fingers. Use your hands to gently flatten each portion into a burger patty about 1-inch thick. Try not to compact or overwork the meat. Let the burgers rest at room temperature until the grill is warm, about 20 minutes.
Do Ahead: Burgers can be prepped ahead of time and refrigerated until grilling. If you do this, let the burgers sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before grilling to take the chill off.
Grill the Burgers: Grill the burgers for 2 minutes on each side, then move them to a lower-heat area of the grill. Cook another 2-3 minutes for medium-rare burgers, 3-4 minutes for medium, or 5-6 minutes for well-done burgers. In the last minute of cooking, lay a slice of cheese on top of each burger and arrange the buns over high heat to toast.
Assemble the Burgers: As soon as the burgers are done, place them on a toasted bun, pile on the toppings, and serve.
Different Flavorings: Instead of or in addition to the onions and Worcestershire sauce, try stuffing the burgers with things like fresh minced herbs, barbecue sauce, cubes of cheese, kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, crispy bacon, mushrooms, and hot sauce.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)