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How to Keep Burgers From Sticking to Your Pan

So you made burgers, and they stuck to your pan? It’s frustrating enough to make any burger lover lose their appetite!

Since you’re here, you probably don’t have a non-stick pan. You could probably get one and cook all of your food with it. Or you could try what I’m about to share with you below.

Cooking Burgers in a Non-Stick Pan

Non-stick frying pans have a slippery coating made of PTFE or ceramic that keeps food from sticking. If you have one at home, you can cook a burger without any vegetable oil or fat.

You also don’t need to preheat the pan. Non-stick cookware is typically made of aluminum, with the coating sprayed on. Aluminum is one of the lightest and most responsive to heat metals; it heats up extremely fast and cools down just as quickly.

So here’s what you need to do to cook a burger with it.

Add a dollop of cooking oil to your pan and rub it onto the cooking surface with a paper towel. Heat the pan for 20-30 seconds over medium-high heat, then add the burgers. Let the burgers cook without interruption for a few minutes on one side, them flip them over and repeat.

As you can see, pan-frying burgers in non-stick is as easy as cooking gets. As with most other things in life, convenience comes at a price (that some home cooks consider unacceptable). Non-stick or ceramic cookware can’t brown meat as well as cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, or copper.

If you didn’t use oil and the burgers stuck to your pan, this is a sign that the coating has probably worn off.

Depending on the make and model of your non-stick pan, it should have a lifetime of anywhere from 1 to 3 years. As soon as the coating wears off, you should replace it.

That reminds me of the most significant drawback of non-stick cookware. When you add up the price or replace your pans and pots every few years, the total ownership cost becomes excessively high.

That’s why cost-savvy cooks typically opt-in for other types of cookware instead (see my detailed guide on how to buy your next frying pan).

Cooking Burgers in a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron skillets take time to get up to heat. But once they do, they hold on to that heat well and distribute it evenly. This is why they’re such an excellent choice for cooking burgers, searing steaks, and shallow-frying cutlets on the stove.

By default, cast iron has a sticky cooking surface. But you can make your skillet naturally non-stick by seasoning it with vegetable oil. Now, I’m not going to go into the specifics of seasoning in this post. If you don’t know what that is and how to do it, keep on reading; I’ve linked a post I wrote on the topic a few paragraphs below.

So, how do you cook burgers in a cast iron skillet?

Preheat your skillet for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat. You can cook without any oil or brush the skillet’s bottom and sides with a paper cloth dabbed in vegetable oil. Place the burgers in the hot skillet and cook them to your desired level of doneness.

If your cast iron skillet is well-seasoned (and the seasoning hasn’t worn off), the burgers should cook without sticking. If they stuck nonetheless, this is a sign that you need to re-season it.

Cooking Burgers in a Carbon Steel Skillet

As a metal, carbon is lighter than cast iron but has very similar characteristics from a cook’s perspective. Everything I wrote about cooking burgers in cast iron (and seasoning cast iron skillets) applies to carbon steel as well.

Cooking Burgers in a Stainless Steel Pan

Like cast iron and carbon steel, stainless steel frying pans have a surface made of bare metal. Unlike them, they can’t be seasoned—and foods, especially those high in protein and low in fat, are generally prone to sticking to them.

Simply said, cooking burgers with stainless steel can be a tricky thing to do. Unless you have the correct technique, the patties will stick to your pan and easily break apart when you try to flip them over.

What works for chili con carne doesn’t apply to your burger: no matter how tasty the meat, nobody will want to eat it in tiny little pieces falling from the bun.

How do you cook burgers in stainless steel without sticking?

Bring the patties to room temperature by taking them out of the fridge for 15 minutes. Grease your pan with oil and preheat it for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat. Place the burgers and let them cook on one side before flipping them over.

The thing that not everyone tells you about stainless steel cooking is this: 99% of the time, the patty will stick to your pan when it’s still raw. As the meat cooks, it slowly releases itself. Give it enough time—and flipping it over is going to be easier than you think.

Essentially, you only need to flip the burger over once. It takes a little practice to get there, but as soon as you master this technique, it will feel almost as if you’re cooking with non-stick.

Don’t grease your pan with too much cooking oil; I’ve found that 1 tablespoon is “just enough” to create a fatty layer between the metal and raw meat. Some of the fat in the patty will melt and drip down into the pan as it cooks, adding to that layer.

Cooking Burgers in a Copper Pan

Copper cookware is rare and expensive. If cast iron and carbon steel are a kitchen’s workhorses, copper is more like the Ferrari in the garage. So, if you’re cooking with it, I assume you more or less know a few tricks of the trade.

Copper is a highly reactive metal, which is why pans and pots made of it are typically lined with tin or stainless steel to keep it from leaching into your food. The lining is “sticky,” so the same principles as for stainless steel apply.

The key difference is that copper, like aluminum, is profoundly responsive to temperature changes (it heats up fast and cools down just as quickly). So it shouldn’t take you more than a minute to preheat your pan.

In Conclusion

Cooking burgers is easier with some types of pans—and more complicated with others. With the correct technique at hand, you can keep them from sticking to your pan, no matter what metal it’s made of and whether or not it has a non-stick coating.

How did these techniques work out for you? Do you have any tips and tricks of your own that you’d like to share? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.