Cooking Hamburgers

Based on the quantities of questions I’ve seen on Quora and the fact that traditional start of cookout season is around the corner I think this post is going to be a timely one.

For such a simple thing it seems hamburger patties are a topic of much angst and worry amongst cooks with the most common question being “how do I know when my hamburger is done cooking.”  We are modern and lucky and there are tools out there that can help with this dilemma.

What we have here is an instant read thermometer.  You can buy these or other like this one at Walmart and pay a little or some of the big name gourmet cooking supply stores and pay a lot.  I have several on hand and never paid more than thirty dollars for one and they all work fine. Get one and you’ll never regret it.

Preparing the burger patty

Already made burgers

Most grocery stores sell already formed patties in packs of anywhere from eight to twelve patties.  Some of these premade patties are better than others.  They will save time but not money. Average price is around ten dollars.

You can if you insist buy frozen.  Good way to preplan a supper one night ahead of time.  These are not going to be great quality burgers in my humble opinion but they’ll get the job done.

Starting from ground beef.

Next step in the quality ladder is buying ground beef and hand forming your patties or using a patty press.

Hamburger patty press similar to what is in Cowdawg Kitchens

Pictured to the left is a press very similar to what I use. Pro tip: as the illustration shows cut squares of wax paper to put in the press ahead of the beef (chicken, turkey, whatever) you are making patties from. Simply put the paper and meat into the press and pull the handle to squeeze the patty together.

You can also form patties from hand using the old “patty cake” method. Put the patties on a tray or plate using wax paper to separate them if needed.

Hand Grinding Your Own

The best option in scale is hand grinding your own chop meat. Something I do a lot of because I like to know exactly what is in my food as much as possible.

As far as equipment goes there are hand crank style grinders:

I have several of these in my collection and I still use them since they never seem to break.  I have some that exceed being one hundred years old but they don’t look as shiny as that one does. I also had one of these until my wife broke it making dog food.


These make life easier but they do have their limits and many times I’ve “stalled” one during a grinding session.  If you think you need something with more power try one of these.


That brute runs with a 1.5 horsepower motor and can even grind small to medium sized bones to bits if you cooking for your pets.

Prices can range from five dollars at a flea market (yeah.. there’s folks buying them) to skys the limit for fancy commercial models as I just showed. So whatever your pocket book can stand and what you feel you need to get the job done will do.

Some meat combinations

You could just create a <insert cut of beef here> hamburger patty. OR you could get creative and mix several types together. I’ll throw some of the combinations that I’ve done out there.

Three cut patties

I will take equal portions of chuck, sirloin and ribeye and cut them into chunks small enough to fit into the grinder safely.

Pork and Beef

I often make patties using a mix of ground beef and adding either sweet or spicy Italian sausage.  If using links remove them from the casings.

One method is to make patties out of the sausage and beef separately and press them together.  The other is to combine the ground meats together in a bowl.

 

Technique

When feeding them through the grinder there are two things you need to remember to do.

  1. Keep your meat and the grinder cool.  If necessary work in small batches putting the (clean) grinder, feed screw and die in the freezer for 20 minutes between batches.
  2. Add ice to the meat mixture as you grind.

Another key to making good ground beef is handle only as much as necessary and no more. Continually mixing the ground meat will result in a mealy mouthfeel to your burger patties after they are cooked.

Cooking Time/Temperature

Now we are about to grill our hamburger masterpieces.

Let’s talk USDA for a moment.

The USDA recommends cooking hamburgers to a medium well internal temperature.  To determine the internal temperature first remove the patty from the cooking source to a plate or other and  insert the probe of you instant read thermometer (remember to turn it on first) halfway through the patty.  Wait until the temperature passes your cooking temperature or it stops climbing.   For medium well the temperature should be between 150F and 155F.  When the temperature is at five degrees before “done” remove from the heat and allow to rest.  During the rest period the internal temperature will rise as much as ten degrees.

I will be following up this post with recipes for hamburgers as well as other grilling outside dishes.

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