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I've managed, through trial-and-error, to learn how to cook regular hamburgers on an electric stove. But recently, I've switched to grass-fed beef (with 25% fat, higher than regular hamburgers), with less-than-stellar results. So, given these conditions:

  • An Electric stove (Yes, although every cooking book I've seen, thinks you should be cooking with gas - my apartment has an electric stove, so that's what I use.)

  • U.S. Wellness Meats grass-fed, 75% lean burgers. These are pre-formed, and 25% fat, which is higher than the standard burgers I used to cook. I'm sure the fat content affects cooking - I'm just not sure how.

  • 12" Calphalon non-stick skillet (although I'm wondering if I should replace it, that's a separate issue).

  • Infrared thermometer - very nice tool, I can't imagine not having one after using it.

What I want to know, is how, using only these resources, to cook a burger that is at least medium-well, if not well-done. So far, I've generally managed to get the outside too cooked, or the inside too pink.

I'd appreciate detailed, step-by-step instructions, if anyone has them. Even the so-called basic cookbooks seem to give just one-liners, for things like hamburgers.

For instance, one situation I don't know what to do about - after about a minute, the burger starts to bow up, so the underside isn't touching the skillet. It's obviously not getting cooked, so now what? I've seen posts saying you shouldn't press down grass-fed burgers. Most of the time, I'll flip it after a minute, so it's flatter. Is that a good method? I have no idea.

Or they say "cook on medium-high heat". Well, my electric stove doesn't have a medium-high setting, it has numbers 1-6. Give me a specific temperature (say, 350F), and I'll use the infrared thermometer to find it.

Update: yes, the hamburgers have thawed out in the refrigerator for a day, and I usually set them out while the stove is heating up. I also have an internal thermometer. As for using an oven - I'd prefer to use only the listed resources (with a skillet), rather than extra items (don't have a cast-iron skillet, don't want to cleanup a baking dish). If there is no other way to cook them well, I'd go with the oven, but I'd rather not.

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There's really no need to defend the fact that you're using an electric stove. Tons of people use them, and gas just responds faster - if you're cooking at constant heat, there's no difference. –  Jefromi Feb 15 '13 at 17:40
    
You should clarify (or check) the temperature of the patties when you put them in the pan, since frozen / fresh from an extra cold refrigerator patties are definitely a root cause of "overcooked on the outside, pink on the inside". –  Tacroy Feb 15 '13 at 18:53
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One of the main points of free range and grass fed animals (besides being humane) is that the meat has a nicer texture. Grinding it up means you can't tell whether it was free range or factory –  TFD Feb 15 '13 at 22:49
    
@TFD, I'm not sure what your point is - that I should stop eating hamburgers? –  Cyclops Feb 24 '13 at 13:12
    
If you are having difficulty with grass fed ground beef, switch back to your regular ground beef. Once it's ground up there is no difference in texture (the main difference in grass feed beef), and little in taste –  TFD Feb 24 '13 at 18:44

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Summary or "detailed" instructions: flip frequently, and if it's still cooking too fast on the outside and too slow on the inside, adjust the temperature down a little. Maybe you'll take two or three tries to get it perfect, but such is life.

Medium-high probably means somewhere between halfway and maximum on your stove. There's no temperature, don't worry about obsessing with a thermometer. Just try something 4-5, see how it goes, and adjust if necessary. (A thermometer doesn't really help, in any case, because what you care about in the end is the power output of the stove, not the temperature the pan is at.)

Flip as frequently as you want or need to. It'll make it cook more evenly, because you're effectively heating from both sides, instead of letting one side stay cool while the other side cooks. It will also reduce the total cooking time. Notably, Harold McGee has been advocating this for a while, and it really does work - see this blog for some nice plots and cross-sections from simulations, or this Food Lab post for a nice hands-on test with burgers. You can flip as often as every 15 seconds if you want to pay that much attention to it.

If you still have trouble with the outside being too cooked (or the inside not being cooked enough), simply reduce the heat. This is universal advice, not at all specific to burgers. Alternatively, for burgers, you could make them thinner.

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We often post at the same time, although this time with different ideas :-) –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 15 '13 at 17:50
    
+1 also, for alternate method, and generous comments –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 15 '13 at 18:09
    
Thanks, this did it. I had previously tried a number of temperatures and times, the last down to 275F for fifteen minutes, without getting closed to fully cooked. My latest experiment was 300F+ for ten minutes, flipping every thirty seconds - and the burger was completely cooked. –  Cyclops Feb 18 '13 at 17:21

Cooking any item to well done is tricky. I suggest you use a variant of the method that restaurants often use:

  • Place the seared hamburgers in a pre-heated 350 F oven until cooked through to your liking, probably another 10-15 minutes depending on thickness, temperature, and other idiosyncracies. You want an internal temperature of 160 F (measure with an instant read thermometer) for medium-well. They will be grey and unappetizing looking, but that is okay.

  • After removing the burgers from the oven, preheat your frying pan (without the burgers) to very, very hot. Sear the hamburgers on each side until they are brown, crusty, and delecious looking.

You should use a pan which is suitable for both stovetop and oven use at these temperatures, or you can use two different pans. Cast iron is ideal for the stovetop searing.

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This method is also suitable for a wide range of foods, not just hamburgers. –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 15 '13 at 17:50
    
I think you might want to sear after cooking in the oven - there's some discussion of this method in the Food Lab post I mentioned in my answer as well. That way the nice outer layer is freshly cooked, so the crust is in better shape. –  Jefromi Feb 15 '13 at 17:52
    
@Jefromi For a steak, I would definitely agree, and CI advocates this as well for steaks. Interesting idea for a hamburger, but since I like mine medium rare, I won't be trying it :-) Okay, I just reread that part of Kenji's article, and I but it. Updating answer.... Thanks. –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 15 '13 at 17:56
    
Cool! I suspect that the sear first idea is associated with the myth that searing somehow seals in juices. (+1) –  Jefromi Feb 15 '13 at 18:08

Start slow, my electric stove surprised me after using gas for a while, with how hot it could get. Medium or even a little lower at first. The brown searing will come as the patty cooks, and there is no need to "seal in" flavor with an initial high-temp sear.

When forming patties by hand, it is helpful to put a "dent" in the middle with your thumb, so the patty is thicker around the edges than in the middle. You can do this to your preformed patties before putting them on, and the middle will puff up so it is disk shaped, instead of ballooning into a football shape.

For now, your nonstick pan will be okay, but please do consider something else. My recommendations are a seasoned cast-iron pan (I saw these at the grocery store for $15-30). Never use soap on them, and learn to keep them seasoned. They'll hold up to high temperature frying much better than nonstick (and with 25% fat, you really won't have to worry about the burgers sticking regardless). On your electric stove a heavy iron pan will even out the heat from the burner. Otherwise, if you want something more similar to nonstick that you can wash, look for black enameled cast iron. They're more expensive, but pretty handy to have around.

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Cast iron is a poor conductor of heat; it is almost guaranteed to be worse at evening out heat than another type of pan. They do have a lot of thermal mass, so once they've heated to equilibrium, when you throw something in, they hold that temperature fairly well. But other pans will do a much better job of, for example, conducting heat to the part under the burger from the hotter parts without anything on them. It's still a good pan to use for this kind of thing, but not because of conducting heat. –  Jefromi Feb 15 '13 at 21:20
    
Quite true, I guess more what I was meaning is that the thermal mass evens out the high-low cycle of the electric burner turning on and off to control temperature. High heat conductivity, like in an aluminum pan, is probably something you want to avoid for this type of cooking. –  Joshua Kast Feb 16 '13 at 21:57

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