So I've been wondering why whenever I cook burgers, they end up turning into a gray color, and a greasy mess. I'm restricted only to a stove top pan and oven, and I'm sure that's contributing to it, but I'm not sure what to change.

My first guess was that it wasn't high enough heat, but I've waited to heat them up pretty well, and it hasn't really impacted anything. Is it the mix I use to make the burgers? I usually take ground beef, mix it with an egg and breadcrumbs and spices, and then cook some immediately and freeze the rest.

I'm just curious of anything I can do to change the color they come out as, and hopefully improve the taste as much as possible.

  • Got any pictures of the gray burgers? Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:40
  • What spices do you use? That might help with flavor.
    – Martha F.
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:57

5 Answers 5


If you add egg and breadcrumbs, you aren't cooking a burger, you're cooking meatloaf.

Try using just good beef with plenty of fat (80% meat, 20% fat is the ideal ratio, lean mince is not good for burgers), and pepper. Get the pan good and hot, salt the burgers well (don't add salt beforehand), brush the burgers with oil, then whack them on the pan, 5-6 minutes a side (depends on thickness) and you'll get a nice brown crust.

A couple of other tips: make the burgers plenty ahead of time so they can sit in the fridge for a good few hours. And never press the burger down with your spatula, you just end up losing all the juiciness.

Check out The Burger Lab's Top Ten Tips for a Better Burger for more tips.


Several others have suggested a grill pan. The main reason a grill pan is effective is that it keeps the meat dry.

Ground beef contains quite a good bit of water. On a flat pan, the liquid released gets trapped under the meat, and wet meat doesn't sear. A grill, or grill pan, gives the juice somewhere to escape, so the meat stays dry, and turns brown instead of gray


I think burgers are basically grey. They look more appetising if you cook them on a griddle so that there are sear lines -- but that doesn't matter too much if you're serving in a bun.

When I make burgers, I just mix good minced beef, egg and salt. No breadcrumbs, and no onions. I try not to use too much salt in my cooking -- but burgers do benefit from a generous salting -- say a teaspoon for a pound of mince.

  • I know most are gray, but this is a pale gray throughout the patty, with just some random brown spots. Which is why I'm presuming that a higher pan temperature would change that, but it hadn't.
    – nocley
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:32
  • Just a thought - have you tried patting them dry with kitchen paper before cooking? You want them to fry/grill rather than boil in their own juice.
    – slim
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:42
  • I usually use wax paper to flatten them before cooking, but I haven't tried just forcing them dry. I'll try that next time I cook.
    – nocley
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:46

Looking around I saw that typical frying pans, on high heat achieve about 500'F whereas commercial flat tops typically have a range up to 575'. From my experience, the burger/pizza place I worked at kept ours at ~550'F.

We cooked at this heat (until a grill was added) and used frozen pre-packaged patties (so I can't speak to mixture), but the result was a brown patty. Also involved was a cover and steam part; where once both sides were cooked, we would add the cheese on top, cover with a metal lid, and spray water on the flat top, causing steam which melted the cheese and probably cooked the burger a little bit more. My guess would be that the lower heat would be the culprit here. It might help to use a skillet and wait for it to heat up higher than a pan would allow.

If you are noticing a taste difference (or if the look is too unappetizing), I would recommend baking the patty at 375'F then searing the burger instead of relying on the fry pan. This is the method I use at home for non-grill, winter burgers and they tend to turn out well, and can be cooked to a good range of done-ness. (For the baking part, use a baking sheet with some low walls, and a drip/cookie rack on the sheet to keep the patties off the sheet).

  • The reverse sear method of which you speak is vastly underrated. It allows you to render enough fat out of the meat so that when you sear it, you have a dry enough pan to allow a Maillard process to take place.
    – Sean Hart
    Commented Mar 11, 2011 at 12:37

You can get the nice brown sear lines on a stovetop with a grill pan. Lodge has a cast iron grill pan that's not too expensive. I've also found that with ground beef in general, first it turns grey, then brown as it starts to sear.

Another option, if you're willing to use the oven, is to use a pan that allows the grease to drain. Either a wire rack in a baking pan or some variant on a broiler pan. You might also consider using the broiler in your oven to give you results like an outdoor grill. (It's essentially an upside-down grill, since the flame/heat is above rather than below the food.)

In the book What Einstein Told His Cook, Robert Wolke suggests using a salt crust to soak up the grease in the pan. The recipe can be found online here. That might help with the grease. The only other suggestion I might have to help with the grease is to drain the pan halfway through.

  • I agree on the broiler approach. I love my broiler. (and to make things more interesting, other countries call it a grill)
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 17:15

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