Everything I know about Homemade Hamburgers

May 17, 2019 | Cooking Tips, meat, Recipes

The May long weekend is here! For many of us that means the official start to summer. Weekends at the cottage, drinks on the deck, and of course barbecues. In honour of the long weekend we are going to talk in depth about one of those barbecue staples; homemade hamburgers.

There are as many styles of homemade hamburgers as there are people making them. Everyone has their secrets and preferences. There are little things that we all do differently or add to our meat to make our burgers stand out.

Everyone thinks their homemade hamburgers are the best, myself included. However, what I know is that you don’t know until you know. You know? What I mean is that maybe there is something that you could be doing differently, a new idea you just never thought of that would completely change your homemade hamburger game forever.

With that in mind, today I’m going to tell you…

Everything I know about Homemade Hamburgers

In my experience there are two main approaches that people take to making burgers. One, and unfortunately the more common of the two approaches is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. The second approach is more stripped down and minimalist. I fall into the second camp. Let’s take a look at them separately for a second.

Just to clarify, we aren’t going to talk about toppings, or even buns today. Just the homemade hamburger patty itself. Otherwise, this post will be way to long and a little unruly.

Kitchen Sink Burgers –

These are by far the most common type of homemade hamburger. People put everything in there. Chopped garlic and onion. Some kind of filler like bread crumbs, oat meal, or even crushed up tortilla chips. Usually there is an egg in the mix somewhere. I’ve seen people mix in Montreal steak spice, barbecue sauce, even celery salt. You name it, I’ve pretty much seen it go into a burger.

The problem I have with these types of burgers is that they don’t taste anything like a hamburger. The flavour get’s completely muddied and lost among all these different ingredients that don’t really need to be in the mix.

Minimalist Burgers –

When I make homemade hamburgers I typically add a little garlic and onion powder, and I add either salt and pepper or a little seasoning salt like old bay. That’s it. No binders. No fillers.

On the outside of the burger, right before I start to cook it, I season it with the same ingredients I seasoned the meat with. This way there is no confusion of flavours.

Rather than covering up and muddying the taste of the beef, these few ingredients act to compliment and enhance the flavour. So, the burger tastes like beef.

Type of Meat –

When I make homemade hamburgers, I prefer a medium ground beef, to a lean ground beef. The reason why is threefold and very simple.

  • Reason 1. The fat adds flavour.
  • Reason 2. The burger holds together better.
  • Reason 3. The burger will be juicier.

That’s it. What else do I need to say?

If you are sitting there thinking, “But Ben, it’s so fatty!” then you have bigger problems. These are burgers we are talking about. And, most of that fat is going to be cooked out anyway. If you want a juicy, flavourful burger, the secret isn’t to add a pile of ingredients. The secret is to leave the fat in.

Grinding your own meat –

If you are set up for grinding your own meat, fantastic! Myself, and I think most chefs, prefer a mixture of chuck and brisket for burgers. Chuck is very lean and brisket is pretty fatty. The combination of the two make for a perfect ground beef for burgers. But, what exactly is beef chuck, and brisket?

Brisket –

Brisket, as I’m sure most of us are familiar with comes from the bottom front of the cow, right above the front shoulder. It is fatty and tough, but very flavourful. This makes it perfect for grinding, smoking, and braising.

Chuck –

Chuck sits right above the brisket and behind the head/neck of the cow. It also is a very tough cut of meat. It is very lean and also flavourful. Most typically you would find this as a pot roast.

Other meats –

It isn’t uncommon for a little pork either raw or in the form of bacon to be added to ground beef to add flavour or fat. This would be especially necessary if you were only using ground chuck, or venison. Because it is so lean, the pork (or brisket) is needed to prevent the meat from becoming really dry and crumbly. Without the fat it would be like eating sand unless the burgers were cooked no more than medium.

Cooking burgers to temperature –

This actually brings up another good point. Cooking homemade hamburgers to temperature. Essentially, is it safe to eat hamburger rare, medium rare, or medium? The answer is yes and no.

It is very strongly suggested that you fully cook ground meat from the grocery store, or even from your butcher. Obviously we prefer to think that everyone handling our raw meat is maintaining the highest food safety standards possible, but it isn’t always the case.

The problem with ground meat is that by grinding it you are creating all of this surface area for bacteria to live and grow. By contrast, a whole steak only has the top, bottom, and sides for bacteria to populate. When the steak is cooked, even if it is rare, these surfaces are getting hot enough to kill that bacteria. But, because there is so much surface area with ground meat, it is impossible to kill all the potential bacteria unless the burger is cooked through.

Having said all of this, if you grind the meat yourself right before you make your hamburgers, and you make sure all the equipment is clean and sanitized, then yeah knock yourself out. Eat your burger rare. Why not?

For those of you that do have instant read thermometers, and you all should, burgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F.

The perfect size for the perfect burger –

When it comes to hamburgers I would rather have two thin patties than one giant patty. I know that a lot of people like a big juicy patty and that’s fine but not me. Let me explain.

There are a lot of reasons why I prefer thin patties to thick ones. One of the really big reasons is cook time. If I make a hamburger patty that is 1/4 inch thick it is going to cook in 4-5 minutes rather than 10-15 minutes for a really thick patty. This means it is less likely to burn on the outside while it’s cooking. Also, by stacking two thin patties I get four grilled surfaces rather than the two that you get with one thick patty. That equals more flavour. There is also an extra surface for cheese.

With thin patties there is also the option to have small single patty burgers for guests who may not be as hungry. What this means is that your meat goes further without having to add any fillers.

Cooking homemade hamburgers –

I think that we can all agree that the best way to cook a homemade hamburger is on the grill. If you make thick burgers, use a moderate heat. For thin burgers, you can use a high heat. Don’t press them and try to only flip them once.

If you don’t have a grill, I prefer to cook them in a hot cast iron pan. I don’t add oil to it as there will be enough coming out of the burger itself.

That’s really about it.

Conclusion –

Pretty much everybody loves burgers, except Barb and vegetarians (I’ll eventually do a veggie burger post). How you make your burgers is up to you. You are the one eating them after all. All I suggest is taking a step back, thinking about your burgers as they are now, and asking yourself if they could be better. If they can be, I hope that this helped. If they are as good as they can possibly be, I would love to hear about them. Talk to me in the comments.

Have a great long weekend everyone and thank you for reading!


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