Grilling a Better Burger

Use your thumb for the perfect burger.

Did you BBQ burgers for dad yesterday? I did for my hubby Bill. I’ve used these secrets to make my burgers perfect so condiments don’t slide off. The thumbprint in the middle really works. Cooks Illustrated Magazine recently answered the question, “Why do my burgers puff up in the middle?” Here’s the answer.

All too often, burgers come off the grill with a domed, puffy shape that makes it impossible to keep condiments from sliding off. Fast-food restaurants produce burgers with an even surface, but these burgers are usually extremely thin. We wondered if there was a way to produce a heftier burger at home that was the same thickness from edge to edge, with no puffing.

We shaped 6-ounce portions of ground beef into patties that were 1 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1/2 inch thick. Once cooked, all these burgers looked like tennis balls. After talking to several food scientists, we understood why this happens.

The culprit responsible for puffy burgers is the connective tissue, or collagen, ground up along with the meat. When the connective tissue in the patty heats up to roughly 130 degrees, it shrinks. This happens on the top and bottom flat surfaces first, and then on the sides, where the tightening acts like a belt. When the sides tighten, the interior meat volume is forced up and out, so the burger puffs.

One of the cooks in the test kitchen suggested a trick she had picked up when working in a restaurant. We shaped patties 3/4 inch thick but then formed a slight depression in the center of each one so that the edges were thicker than the center. On the grill, the center puffed so that it was now the same height as the edges. Finally, a level burger that could hold onto toppings.

About Chef Ro

I am executive chef of Barcellona Bites, a boutique catering and personal chef service in Folsom, CA. I am also a wife, mom of two college-aged daughters in the Pacific Northwest, yogi and animal lover. Please LIKE my facebook page for tasty recipes, helpful information and kitchen, cooking and lifestyle tips.
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