How To Make The Perfect Burger

How to cook, and build, the perfect burger

Behold the homemade hamburger, hero of the easy summer meal. The key to getting great, juicy results every time? Step away from the grill and make friends with a heavy-bottomed, even-cooking skillet.

"You lose fat when you cook a burger directly on the grill," says TT Food Editor Andy Baraghani. "That leads to a dried-out patty with a charred exterior. The burger wants to be cooked in fat—it helps keep everything juicy and tender."

Start with a blend of three kinds of meat (sirloin, chuck and short rib). Salt freely and use a light touch when forming the patties—the goal is to keep the meat cold and not overwork it.

The gear: A cast-iron or any heavy-bottomed skillet holds heat evenly, allowing for a deep sear on the outside and a rosy-pink center. A metal spatula gives you more control than flimsy plastic versions. But don't get carried away: One flip only!

The meat: Under 20% fat: way too lean. Over 30%: gets too greasy and falls apart. We like a blend of equal parts sirloin, chuck and short rib that clocks in around 25% fat. Ask your butcher to grind everything twice—or blend at home if you happen to have a grinder attachment for your stand mixer.

A gentle touch: Mix the ground meat together loosely in a cold bowl. If you press the meat too tightly, you'll wind up with meatloaf—not a good look. Flatten the burgers on a smooth surface, not between your hands, and keep them about ¾-inch tall—any bigger and you'll end up with a well-done crust and undercooked interior.

Cold fridge, hot pan: The meat should be chilled when it hits the hot pan. This helps create that all-important sear.

Better toppings: Flash-macerate red onions in red wine vinegar to help cut their sharp bite. Sprinkle tomatoes with a touch of kosher salt to increase their juiciness. Spread a little of our Secret Sauce on the buns—it's made of pantry staples and comes together right quick.

Speaking of buns: No more calls, we have a winner—toasted Martin's potato rolls. The buns are marshmallow-soft yet able to hold their own against the juicy burger. 

Mix a blend of equal parts sirloin, chuck and short rib loosely in a cold bowl. Don't pack the meat too tightly or else you'll wind up with a dense meatloaf instead of a juicy burger.

Weigh out four six-ounce patties and gently shape them on a flat surface, not between your hands. The ideal height is around ¾ of an inch—any bigger and you'll end up with a well-done crust and undercooked interior.

Press a small dimple into the center of the burger with your thumb to account for shrinkage during cooking.

The key to a great sear: cold meat, hot pan. Use a neutral-flavored oil and season the burgers liberally with salt and fresh-ground pepper while cooking. And don't play around with the patties: Cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side and only flip them once.

Proper burger assemblage is all about balance: From the bottom up, we use a toasted Martin's potato roll with a swipe of homemade Secret Sauce, the cheese-cloaked burger, a sprinkle of vinegar-macerated red onions, crunchy Bibb lettuce, lightly salted tomatoes and the top bun, which also gets its own slathering of sauce.