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As the title says; What is the secret of making a really juicy burger?

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While I can't claim that this is an exact duplicate, it really is just generalizing issues already covered by many other burger questions here, in a form that encourages opinion-based answers. A quick browse through the hamburgers tag would have answered this question handily, and in much better detail. –  Aaronut Mar 30 '11 at 1:21
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5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted
  • Use only good beef, salt and pepper. The beef should be a good fatty cut, with a ratio of 80% meat, 20% fat. Chuck is ideal. Any good butcher should grind it to order for you.

  • You need to keep the ground meat as cold as possible, to prevent the fat melting out of it before you cook it. Do not salt the beef prior to shaping, just use pepper. Shape your burgers, then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours.

  • Generously salt the outside of the burgers about 1 hour before cooking.

  • Get a good pan (preferably a cast iron griddle) really, really, really hot. Brush one side of the burger with vegetable oil, then slap it on the grill. DO NOT PRESS IT WITH THE SPATULA, EVER. You squeeze out all the juice.

  • Turn the burger and cook the other side. Timing will depend on how you like your burger. A good way of testing doneness is to insert a thin metal skewer into the centre of the burger from one side (not the top), leave it for a few seconds, then take it out and touch it carefully to your lip. If it's hot, it's just about done. Or if you have a good digital thermometer, use that.

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I could not disagree more with two of these points. First, brisket is really an awful meat for burgers; it is all sour and no umami ("beefy"). Alton Brown has lots of good advice about cuts of meat. Second, the advice on salting is seriously dangerous; instead of a beautiful melt-in-your-mouth mound o' meat you're going to end up with a tough outer crust. Don't dessicate your burgers - wait until the last possible moment to salt them. –  Aaronut Mar 30 '11 at 0:40
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It's never dessicated for me. The moisture drawn out by the salt is reabsorbed. Try it! Brisket is a mistype, I meant chuck! Edited... –  ElendilTheTall Mar 30 '11 at 8:36
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Moisture is not reabsorbed. This simply does not happen. This is the same type of myth as that which says resting meat will make it reabsorb moisture. Salt without additional moisture (i.e. brine) dessicates or even cures meat. Try leaving it that way for 6 hours and see what happens. The salt may improve the flavour and sometimes an alteration in flavour may alter some people's perception of mouthfeel, but rest assured that salt-curing a hamburger does not make it juicier. –  Aaronut Mar 30 '11 at 22:39
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Well, it's good grounds for an experiment - next time I make burgers, I'll salt one an hour before, one just before I cook it. I suspect the difference is minimal anyway to be honest, but still. –  ElendilTheTall Mar 31 '11 at 7:40
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When I'm planning on cooking a ton of burgers for large family gatherings (and I have the time to make the patties myself) I've had good luck with the following.

For every lb of ground beef I soak 1/2 piece of bread (without crust) in milk until it's saturated (I think this is called a panade). I then take the bread out of the milk and incorporate it with the ground beef. (I think I got this from an Alton Brown episode for something unrelated). It doesn't really alter the flavor, and can keep even slightly overcooked burgers nice and moist.

I know it's filler, not totally necessary etc. but it does seem to work as a bit of insurance.

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The addition of bread (or breadcrumbs) is fine but then you really have more of a meatloaf than a burger. –  Aaronut Mar 31 '11 at 21:55
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I learn this from my dad, who was a Chinese chef. You have to trap the moisture inside by coating the outer layer with flour. Fry the burger in plenty of oil until a crust on the outside forms. Then turn the heat low and cook slow until the inside is done.

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The only thing I would add to the above, is that despite what many people say, only flip meat once. If you flip it over a second time, the first side you cooked will be back on the heat. Problem is, that side started to cool as soon as you flipped it. So it will take a bit of time to get to the point that the heat is penetrating far enough to cook more of the meat. It only serves to dry the meat out if it is cooked numerous times over. I personally salt meat right before I put it on the grill, as salt (by its very nature) will tend to draw moisture out of the meat.

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Experiments (really important ones!) seem to show that salting immediately before cooking results in a drier burger. Salting about an hour before draws the moisture out of the outer layers but, crucially, gives it time to reabsorb. The result: a seasoned burger that remains juicy. Try it! –  ElendilTheTall Mar 29 '11 at 21:07
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@Elendil: I'm sorry but that explanation sounds like complete nonsense. What is the scientific basis for this claim? It certainly doesn't square up with statements from McGee or other experts. Alton Brown's experiment, while it doesn't test your claim specifically, presents other data strongly suggesting that this would lead to a tough and rubbery exterior, which is also confirmed by my own experiences with both burgers and steaks. Meat does not "reabsorb" moisture - once it's gone, it's gone. –  Aaronut Mar 30 '11 at 0:35
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Also mrwienerdog, Alton Brown (again) proved experimentally that flipping often actually gets a better result, so sadly I must give a downvote to this answer as well. –  Aaronut Mar 30 '11 at 1:02
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It actually makes perfect sense if you think about it. The (incorrect) assumption is that the flipped side loses all its heat, but that's not the case; the net result is more like cooking both sides simultaneously but over a low heat, which leads to (a) lower total cooking times and (b) more even cooking. Keep in mind that the heat doesn't just escape outward, it also redistributes itself inside the burger through conduction, so more of the heat from the grill is reaching the inside in a shorter amount of time, while the amount hitting the outside is exactly the same. –  Aaronut Mar 30 '11 at 1:57
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Well, I went to school in `1995, and we were told to NEVER do that. Go figure. I stand corrected. Appreciate the heads up. –  mrwienerdog Mar 30 '11 at 15:42
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Alton Brown puts on a good show and has a great sense of humor, but pointing to his caveats as outright truths is a bit misguided. Most of his experiments on the show usually make assumptions that are often arbitrary or unfounded. First off, there are two main sources of moisture in a burger: the fat that melts as it cooks and the water that is stored in the muscle tissues. You could also point to the possible source of gelatinous connective tissue, but usually the meat used for burgers does not contain much of this.

Worrying about when to salt your meat is probably wasted energy. The fat won't be affected by the salt. If you think about it, some steaks are dry aged to purposely drive the moisture out so the flavors can be intensified. If you have a 20% fat mix, it will be difficult to dry out even if you salt it an hour before hand. Of course, if you know some old school 'pink is poison' people, you know that sometimes you're just gonna be stuck eating a hockey puck regardless.

The number of times you flip the burger is usually a silly rule too. If you take it to the extreme and try flipping a burger ever 10-30 seconds, you'll most likely waste a bunch or time and probably miss out on a nice dark sear outside/med rare inside combo. But if you accidentally have to flip the burger one or two extra times, you'll still be fine. Alton's suggestion that flipping a burger often is better than not sounds meaningless without indicating the thickness of the burger, temperature of and distance from the heat source. Also, it depends on how you like your burger. Some people like an even cook throughout while others like a spice rub that sears to a near crunch around a moist, tender red interior. Alton Brown should stick to his entertaining sock puppets and oversized food props and stop indoctrinating people with fake science.

Squishing the burger down can lead to a good burger too. Have you ever been to Smashburger? It's a relatively new burger chain originating from Colorado (i think). Apparently, they start with a sphere of beef on a hot griddle, and they literally smash the thing into the hot metal with a weighted iron. This cooks the meat quick and ensures efficient heat transfer from the surface to the meat fibers. As long as you cook it at the right temp and get it off the heat right when it is finished cooking, it comes out an amazingly juicy and flavorful burger.

Basically, there are no magic rules for burgers. All that matters is your idea of the ideal meat texture, temp, and thickness and that whatever method you use, you avoid driving out all the water by evaporation and burning away all of the fat while you cook it.

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