Room-Temperature Meat + Heat Control + Patience = Evenly-Cooked Burgers. Here’s why.
When you’re hungry, is there anything better than biting into a juicy, mouthwatering burger? But when you take your first bite, there’s always the risk that the center will be runny or that one side will be more cooked than the other.
Thick, fatty, and quick to burn, burger patties are not as easy to cook evenly as we think. That’s why, in this article, we will give you the tips you need to prepare them to perfection every single time, whether on the stovetop, on the grill, or in the oven.
Bring your burger patties to room temperature and cook them on a surface preheated to medium heat. This way, the ground meat has enough time to brown on the outside while cooking through on the inside.
The secrets to an evenly-cooked burger are preparation, heat control, and plenty of patience.
Conventional wisdom teaches us that burgers should be cooked over relatively high heat. Just google the subject, as you probably have, and you will find recipe after recipe recommending that you crank the heat all the way up.
Having burned patty after patty trying most burger recipes, I simply cannot agree. Heat takes time to penetrate the inside of a thick and juicy burger patty—and time is in short supply when you are cooking the burgers over medium-high to high heat.
I have developed an alternative technique that I believe yields better burgers, and, in the remainder of this article, I will share it with you.
Ground meat (and all meat, really) cooks more evenly when you’ve thawed it and brought it to room temperature before slapping it on the skillet or throwing it on the grill.
The best way to thaw burgers is to take them out of the freezer and leave them in the refrigerator overnight. Place them on a plate to catch dripping juices, and put the plate on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator where it is coldest.
If evenly-cooked burgers are the goal, then avoid cooking the burgers from frozen. By the time the heat penetrates the inside of the meat and cooks it through, the outside is already badly burned.
To bring refrigerated burger patties to room temperature, remove them from the fridge 15-20 minutes before cooking.
The biggest mistake that home cooks like you and me make when cooking burgers is doing so at too high a heat. The result is that the patties become black and hard to chew on the outside—and bloody and undercooked on the inside.
A better technique is to use moderate heat, which not only provides a tasty, golden-brown crust but also gives the meat the time it needs to cook through in the center. Cooked over moderate heat, burgers come out nice and brown throughout, just like they do at a fast-food joint.
Ah, good old patience, the missing requirement in every recipe!
Burgers cook faster than thick-cut steaks and brisket, that’s for sure. However, that doesn’t mean you should take them off the heat after just a few minutes of cooking.
Generally speaking, you want to cook your burgers for at least 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the heat setting, the thickness of the patty, and the desired level of doneness.
Telling When Burgers Are Done
The most reliable way to determine when a burger is done is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Simply insert the probe into the center of the meat and wait 2-3 seconds to get an accurate reading.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service tell us to cook ground red meat to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C), and ground poultry to 165°F (73.8°C).
Beef, unlike pork and poultry, gives you some leeway. And, for many, a beef burger cooked to 160°F (71.1°C) is a burger that’s a little too done. So here is a list of internal temperatures for various degrees of doneness for beef burgers:
- 120-125°F (48.8-51.6°C) for rare
- 130-135°F (54.4-57.2°C) for medium-rare
- 140-145°F (60-62.7°C) for medium
- 150-155°F (65.5-68.3°C) for medium-well
- 160-165°F (71.1-73.8°C) for well-done
As a general rule of thumb, start with a cooking time of 3-4 minutes per side for rare burgers, then add 1-2 minutes of cooking time for each level of doneness.
Cooking Burgers Evenly on the Stovetop
When cooking burgers, you want to use a cooking vessel that heats evenly and retains that heat well so that the temperature of the cooking surface doesn’t drop too much when you first slap the meat on it.
So pull out a heavy-bottomed, thick-walled cast iron skillet or carbon steel pan from your kitchen cabinet. Alternatively, a high-quality stainless steel fry pan will also do.
Heat the skillet for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Exactly what “medium heat” means depends on the make and model of your stovetop. Mine has a total of 9 settings. For medium heat, I usually choose 5.
Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil or lightly butter the bottom and sides of your skillet. Place the patties in the hot skillet and cook, without a lid, for at least 3-4 minutes per side or until they’ve reached your desired level of doneness.
Cooking Burgers Evenly in the Oven
Browning creates flavor. In your kitchen, burgers brown better in a hot pan than they do in a preheated oven. So, to make the perfect burgers in the oven, start at the stove.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C). Ideally, turn on the oven and wait 15-20 minutes before proceeding to the next step. Even if you use the convection fan, the oven will take a while to heat up properly.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. You are using a slightly higher heat than when cooking on the stove. That’s because you will sear the burgers briefly—so that they are browned on the outside—then finish cooking them low and slow in the oven.
Oil or butter the skillet and brown the burger patties for 1-2 minutes per side on the stovetop. Then move the skillet to the oven and finish cooking the patties until they have reached the internal temperature for your desired level of doneness.
You browned the burgers on the stove, so there’s no need to flip them halfway in the oven.
Cooking Burgers on the Grill
Burgers cook quickly on the grill, and they tolerate direct heat without burning.
On a charcoal grill, light the coals and wait about 20-30 minutes for them to turn white and ashy. This way, you will know when they are ready to cook over.
Spread the coals evenly in a thin, single layer, place the grate on your grill, and lightly grease it before placing the patties on it and letting them sizzle for at least 3-4 minutes per side with the lid opened.
Gas grills should be preheated on medium-high for 10-15 minutes. Oil the grill grate, place the burgers on it and cook on the uncovered grill for at least 3-4 minutes per side for rare.
From that moment on, add 1-2 minutes per side to the cooking time for each subsequent level of doneness.