Try Bobby Flay's Trick For Perfectly Shaped Burgers

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There's a certain expectation incumbent in donning an apron and outfitting yourself with tongs and a spatula at a summer cookout. You become the vaunted grill master, and your dominion stretches from the ignition of the charcoal to the final, quasi-ceremonial closing of the grill lid and every hot dog, veggie burger, ear of corn, and hamburger in between. Friends and family are counting on you to bring your A-game and deliver the deliciousness. But you're plagued by a vexing foe: the dreaded ball-shaped burger.

Yes, the patties you perfectly shaped for the grill, upon meeting the heat, morph into a strange monstrosity not fit for a bun. The once-svelte center of the burger seems to bulge outward like the twisted nightmare of a flat-earther as their disc-shaped planetary ideal gives way to the reality of a hulking, unwieldy globe. You can't just look the other way as your friends try to eat these meatballs on a bun. What's to be done about these errant burgers?

Lucky for us, especially as summer approaches, chef and grill master extraordinaire Bobby Flay shared his top burger grilling tips on the Today show in 2016. Along with the proper lean-to-fat ratio and seasonings to use, Flay offered up a simple hack to keep your patties from swelling on the grill. 

Swelling or shrinkage?

You could say this tip is a basic rule of thumb, because, yes, using your thumb, you create a shallow, noticeable depression in the center of the patty on both sides. The result is a burger that comes off the grill in a shape you'll be proud to serve. 

But WHY does this work? For the answer there, we must turn to one of the past masters of culinary science, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of "The Food Lab" and, most-recently, "The Wok." Writing in Serious Eats, Lopez-Alt examines the dimple technique in relation to the cooking method to better understand the transformation taking place.

The blockbuster find is that the burger isn't swelling at all, but rather it's the outer perimeter of the patty that is contracting and shrinking and, in so doing, pushing in the center. This is due to the grill and how it conveys heat to your food, namely via infrared radiation. On the grill, that heat hits the side of the patty facing the heat, clearly, but it also buffets the sides. As the burger's exposed flanks lose moisture and the proteins shrink, they contract and press upon the center giving it the tell-tale rounded shape. The dimple — in addition to forming the patties a bit wider than you actually want them to be — gives the burger the space it needs to mature into a respectable final form.

So, when summer hits and you don your grilling apron, rest assured in the knowledge that your burgers will boast a near-perfect, made-for-the-bun shape. Now, if you could only master ridiculously-good ribs.