4 Things I’m Learning About Homemade Hamburgers

I’m particular about hamburgers – mostly in a bad way.

Like many people, I have a strong emotional connection to food.  It’s not my parents fault or the fault of society or my upbringing; this one falls squarely on my shoulders.  This doesn’t make a difference on most days but I catch myself craving certain foods on days that are particularity fantastic or horrible.  I have a fairly healthy relationship with food but when I’m having an stressful or emotional day it is the place I go to find comfort or celebrate success.  I’m aware enough to know that I’m eating in ways that are been triggered by emotion but seemingly powerless to change my behavior.

Which brings me to hamburgers.  If there’s one food that I eat way more than I felt philosophically comfortable with, it’s frozen hamburgers.  You know the ones; the ones you get at diners.  They come in packages with waxed paper dividing frost-ridden layers of meat mixed with filler and meat bi-product.  Meat-like burgers really.

My connection to them is even more ironic given that I grew up with many homemade burgers that were made with ‘real’ ingredients (often including moose or deer) and were cooked perfectly.

We eat a lot of vegetarian meals, especially at home. Nearly 100% of the raw meat and fish that comes into our home is from small farms and/ or sustainable sources.  But the odd diner hamburger comes through – and I’ve struggled to find a homemade version that connects with the same emotional appeal as the ones I grew up with.

Until now.

Before sharing my four ‘secrets’, allow me to share one that didn’t make the list.  In the search for a better homemade burger I made super thin patties last year.  They were about the size of a frozen patty.  They cooked quickly on high heat, charred well and had a great texture when combined with condiments.  I played with all sorts of additional ingredient and almost wrote this article back then.  I’m glad I didn’t; my burger strategy has done a completed turn-around!

Here’s my 4 tips for better burgers:

  1. Weigh your meat.  This isn’t essential if you’re cooking 1 or 2 burgers but essential if you’re cooking more than that to ensure that all burgers are cooked evenly.  An extra pinch of meat can easily weigh 5-10% more (and take that much longer to cook).  I like to use 225-250 grams (about a half-pound).
  2. Hands-off.  Food television tells us to handle the meat minimally.  While this makes sense I think it’s more important to make sure that the meat is built into a perfect cylinder.  If you form the patty between your hands it will often be thick in the middle and thinner around the edges.  I form the patties on a cookie sheet and push a second sheet down on top to evenly press the patties.
  3. Salt and pepper.  Lots of both.  Nothing else.  Meat, salt a pepper.  No egg. Not breadcrumbs or brown sauce or crackers.  Good (great) meat and salt and pepper.  Treat it like a steak – and it will be amazing.  Place patties in the fridge to help them ‘come together’ and cook without effort.
  4. Heat.  Medium-high high and flip once.  If you cook them too hot, they’ll need frequent flipping and risk burning.  Place them on medium-high and, when the edges start to change color and blood appears on the patty, it’s ready to flip.

What’s your secret?to a better burger?


  1. Hey Joel. I’ve found a lot of burger inspiration from J. Kenji Lopez @SeriousEats. Guy’s a wünderkind in that area. One of the biggest things I’ve taken from his writings on burgers is, regardless of style or size, meat/fat ratio is tantamount to success.

    Like you said, we’re talking comfort here, so low cal/fat doesn’t really enter into the equation for me.

    I grind at home usually when I’m doing fancy burgers. When I do, I usually grab a package of beef fat trimmings and mix it at a 70/30 ratio, chuck to fat. This will ensure a nice, crisp crust over high heat and provide just the right amount of savoriness without being too much.

    Also, another trick is to only salt right before you cook as opposed to mixing it into the grind or applying and letting it sit out. This helps you avoid the mushiness that can come when the salt breaks down the cellular structure of the meat.

    Thanks Joel and keep up the inspiration yourself!

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