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Forming Hamburgers- Is There a Proper Method

by Elizabeth Skipper | August 27th, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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burgers n flameIs there a correct way to form hamburgers? I have hand-formed them and used a patty maker.  I also have made patties that are flat and added a dimple to them to help with cooking. Are any of these methods better than another, or is there a totally different way that I should be trying?

Is there one correct way to form hamburgers? I wouldn’t say so, although there are basic principles to follow. A good burger patty shouldn’t be overworked and compacted, or it will be tough. Other than that, form them any way you like. And there’s really no need for a patty maker, although I’ll give you a tip if you like them.

Good hamburgers begin with good meat, properly ground. That means selecting a cut with enough fat; I prefer chuck. It has both plenty of fat and flavor, and it’s not expensive. My local butcher shop uses a grinding disk with larger holes than most, which produces a coarser grind. You may have seen this called “chili” grind. The butchers do this to show their beef is ground on the premises, but it also makes a better burger.

If you can’t find this coarser grind, and don’t mind doing some work, you can do it yourself using a food processor, stand mixer equipped with a grinder, or even a meat grinder, if you think you’ll use it often enough. But that’s probably more work (and more clean-up, which we’d probably all rather avoid!) than most people want to get into.

Whether you’ve got the preferred grind or not, here’s how to go about forming those patties. To keep the meat from sticking to your hands, use food service gloves or lightly oil your palms with something like olive oil. Either eyeball or weigh out the amount of meat you want for each burger. Form it into a loose ball, and then put it on a baking sheet or other flat surface covered with parchment paper first to save on washing, then flatten it out with your palm. Because it will shrink in cooking, be sure to make it a bit wider in diameter than the buns you’ll be using. If that makes it too thin – it should be about an inch thick – start over, adding a bit more meat.

Don’t be concerned if the outside edge isn’t perfectly round; a few cracks don’t matter. If you try too hard to make perfect disks, you’ll overwork the meat. Just be sure it hangs together enough so it doesn’t fall apart on the grill or in the eating.

If you’re grilling or broiling, do make that dimple – say about 1″ wide and about 1/4″ deep in the center. It’s there to keep the burger from puffing up in the center, cooking unevenly, and making it difficult to keep the toppings from sliding off. This is a burger, not a big meatball.

If you want the patties to be uniform in size, here’s a little trick you might like. Use a jar lid the size of the desired burger! Line it with plastic wrap for ease of removal. It will probably be a pretty large lid, as it needs to be larger than the bun. A little searching should turn one up easily enough, though, and the price is certainly right. Once you’ve calculated the amount of meat needed to form a one-inch thick burger in this lid, you’re all set. Form the loose ball of meat, put it in the lid, flatten it, and turn it out. How’s that for slick?

You didn’t ask about cooking, but I feel compelled to comment briefly on that. Put the burger on the grill and leave it alone until it’s time to turn it. Turn it once, and for goodness sake, please don’t press on it with the spatula. That just causes the juices to run out, which is another major cause of dry burgers. If you’re not comfortable judging doneness by sight, use a meat thermometer. Slide it into the center of the burger from the side, not from the top, and you’ll know whether it’s ready to come off the grill. The USDA recommends cooking a burger to 160°F to 165°F, which is brown throughout; and while that ensures any bad bacteria is cooked to death, the burger has been, too. If you’re not sure of the provenance of the meat, you may feel more comfortable doing that. 130°F internal temperature is what I shoot for. And be sure to let those patties sit for five minutes before digging in, which will also keep the juices where they should be, in the burger.

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