How often do you buy burger meat and burger buns and the sizes are off? Perhaps, like me, you end up with a small ball of meat smothered with bread.
It’s happened to me countless times and I strongly feel it ruins the experience, and it’s made me question the point of even trying to grill burgers.
I’ve asked myself before, “Should burger buns come with measurements?” “Should there be an alliance between buns and burger patty producers?”
Or even “Perhaps there should be some kind of official ratio of burger to bun approved by the FDA that tells us how to cook burgers the perfect size for our buns or vice versa?”
It’s insane there’s no system in place to match burger meat sizes with bun sizes!
And then there’s that legendary issue—packs of burger buns and burger meat are never the same! But that’s a topic for another time!
To get back to the point, my principal theory is that gourmet burgers, the type you’d order at a restaurant can be tall and messy. You might even eat them with cutlery, and that’s great.
But when grilling I strongly believe a burger should be hand food—I should be able to pick it up with my hands and the top and bottom should fit in my mouth when I take a bite.
Burgers shouldn’t be a challenge to eat, and they shouldn’t end up all over my shirt either.
I want to find the most effective way to grill top-notch burgers with limited resources. For example, if I were grilling burgers in the middle of nowhere camping.
I’ll be looking for three things:
- How easy is it to cook evenly? We don’t want it half raw and half-burned!
- Surface browning (flavor) vs. juice retained (tenderness). How can we keep that traditional burger taste and keep the burger juicy and tender?
- Ease of eating. Burgers should be practical to eat—a tricky-to-eat burger can distract you from how amazing it might be.
In this article, I will start experimenting with burger meat sizes and then move on to buns which are also super important for an ergonomic—and delicious—burger.
What’s The Perfect Burger Patty Size?
Do you ever grill burgers and they get all burned on the outside and raw in the middle? Well, it’s not your fault.
The hypothesis I’m working with is that burgers should be flatter! This is because, 1) they cook significantly faster, and 2) there’s a lower risk of ending up with a raw center.
Flatter is also closer to what you would expect from a fast-food chain like McDonald’s, which makes a lot of sense—they need to whip up burgers fast, without the risk of rawness, and easy to eat.
And while it may seem a little cheap to look up to a big burger chain, they have been making burgers for almost 70 years.
The primary issue with thicker burger patties is that it can be hard to guess how much they will shrink when the moisture and fat contents begin to evaporate at high temperatures.
Handy note: In the store, you may want to compare the fat contents of different brands before buying.
Because of this shrinkage, Anna Monette Roberts of Pop Sugar recommends keeping a bun nearby for reference and hovering it above the burger before (without touching, of course).
Roberts suggests shaping the burger patty to roughly the same size as the bun or even a little larger.
Elsewhere, others recommend a similar practice, even making the burger patty as much as 1.5″ (3.8cm) wider than the bun.
And for those that want to take flat burgers to the max, I suggest you look into ‘smash burgers,’ thin, flavorful burgers often created by smashing ground beef on a griddle.
If that’s something you’re interested in, I strongly recommend you check out J. Kenji López-Alt’s article in Serious Eats, where he explains how to make them.
A key takeaway is how you can take a large patty and split it into two equal-sized patties, smash them thin, grill them, and stick cheese between them for moistness (more on that important element soon!).
Why I Prefer Cooking Flatter Burgers
What’s good about flat burgers is that as soon as they’re brown, you know they’re done. If you’re not too confident with your grilling, this is very reassuring.
Before this post, I had never tried to flatten out chunky burger meat before cooking, and I’ll unashamedly admit it took me a couple of tries to nail it.
My first attempt (using supposedly ‘American Angus beef’) with the back of a skillet failed.
I used the back of my Lodge skillet to flatten the burger, the same skillet I recently reviewed, and planned to cook the burgers with.
Perhaps I squished too hard (I couldn’t see how much pressure I was applying), and the meat got stuck to the back of the pan and broke into two uneven parts.
(Despite the failure, it did give me a chance to experiment with using two burgers and a slice of cheese, similar to López-Alt’s smash burger. The results were okay, though I didn’t quite achieve the same effect.)
On my second attempt, I used the flat bottom of a small plastic bowl and gently squished the burger outwards.
I found using a small plastic bowl a lot more effective—I could see what I was doing and managed to flatten the burger without it falling apart. (I was also a lot gentler.)
I guess something similar, like the bottom of a glass, could also work, or even a rolling pin. Whatever you use, take your time to get it into the right shape.
How to Cook the Perfect Burger?
Next, I tried a new experiment—I got a package of six chunky burger patties, that I shaped and cooked in different ways.
Two I would flatten out, two would stay the same, and two I would try a new technique—an indentation with my thumb which I’ve heard helps a burger maintain its shape and not shrink.
Christine Gallary of Kitchn explains how adding an indentation helps:
The basic theory is that as meat cooks, the proteins contract so that the whole patty shrinks and puffs up in the middle. Making a kind of indentation or dimple in the middle counteracts that effect so you end up with a nice, even patty.”
So, for my experiment, one of each would be fried in the skillet and cooked in the oven. Here’s what happened.
In the Skillet
In my Lodge skillet, the results were not surprising. The thin burger meat cooked rather quickly, and I soon took it out of the pan.
Meanwhile, the thicker two burgers—the regular and indented burgers—took a lot longer.
After a while, I got concerned and cut one open to check on its progress. Astonishingly, it was still raw in the center (and guess what?! Starting to burn on the outside!).
In the end, the thicker patties took around 20 minutes more to cook than their slimmer counterpart.
In the Oven
In the oven, I noticed a few interesting things. Firstly, all three patties cooked at a more similar rate and browned nicely together.
I couldn’t really say if slimmer or chunkier was better. The thinner patty had a slight lead over its rounder rivals, but it wasn’t as significant as in the skillet.
However, I did notice what looked like more juice escaping from the flattened burger when cooking in the oven.
My theory is that the flattened burger had more exit points for the juice to escape because of the pressure that was applied to it when flattening.
One conclusion I will make is that thicker burgers seem to cook better in the oven than in the skillet. They were evidently more evenly cooked.
In the oven and the pan, the flattened burgers cooked quicker. This makes them pretty convenient if you don’t have much time.
The indentation didn’t make any difference in my experiment. As the indented burger patty heated up, the indentation pushed out and it looked the same as before.
In the end, whether in the pan or the oven, the indented and regular patties looked identical.
My theory is that the shape of the patties was too round for the indentation to make a difference.
Or, it may have had something to do with the fact that these were patties I had purchased prepackaged, not one’s I had shaped from ground beef.
In regard to juiciness, in my opinion, despite some juices escaping the flatter patties, I didn’t feel it impacted the taste much.
Again, though, this could have something to do with the fat and moisture contents of the specific brand I purchased.
Unsurprisingly, placing one of the flattened burgers next to an unflattened burger, it was clearly shorter and looked more stable. (I had to fight my daughter for it.)
What’s The Perfect Burger Bun Size?
Continuing with the idea that the best burger should be ‘wider, not taller,’ I believe a shorter, wider burger bun is best. But there are other factors to consider.
Something like these babies below are best in my opinion—they’re cheap (so ruining them is not the end of the world), soft, kind of wide and not particularly tall.
Only three things would make these buns better, 1) some fancy sesame seeds, 2) a slightly wider diameter, and 3) being pre-cut.
I also recommend a softer crust. I recently purchased what I thought were awesome homemade-looking buns, marketed as ‘Burger Buns.’
“Perfect,” I thought, “exactly what I was looking for!” But they weren’t as ideal as they looked (or marketed).
I do like crunchy food and the crust looked exceptional. I naively thought this would add to the experience, like tucking into a freshly baked loaf.
But when it came to biting into these burgers, the burger was enormous, and the rough surface scraped the top of my mouth.
And that’s not all. Biting into the bun was a hard stretch for my mouth and I also cut the corners of my mouth.
There was even a little blood on the bread from my mouth as outrageous as it sounds.
Lesson learned—the crust should be soft, and a hard crust combined with a tall burger can be lethal.
Also worth noting, you can flatten very soft buns to make them not so tall. On top of that, if you really wanted to, you could cut out the middle to reduce some of the height.
That said, it can be wasteful if you decide not to use the middle part.
What Burger Toppings Should I Use for Burgers?
One more bonus thing I have come to believe while cooking burgers, which perhaps is a rule that works for most cooking: ‘Too many ingredients is overpowering.’
I find that adding too many things—five kinds of cheese, pickles, a zillion veggies, bacon, or whatever you love to slide in can be too much. end up tasting like nothing specific.
All the different flavors battle for dominance over your taste buds and your burger ends up tasting like nothing specific.
I believe it’s better to focus on pairing fewer, higher-quality ingredients and aiming for a specific taste. Consider flavors that bring out the best in each other.
Returning back to our primary topic, burger size, I find fewer ingredients also prevent you from stacking your burgers too high and making them easier to eat.
Flattened patties make it easier to pile on additional ingredients while it is harder to rest other ingredients on top of unshapen patties.
The burger is less balanced, and the ingredients are more likely to fall out.
And, as a side note, fewer ingredients mean you’ll also have less to pack and buy when grilling.
It’s also worth considering how additional ingredients may impact the ergonomics of your burger.
For example, greasy ingredients can make your burger slippery and harder to grip.
It’s not just about how well the burger fits in your hand, but the chances of the burger slipping all over the place and falling apart.
In my case, I quite like to add a fried egg to my burgers and if the yoke is still liquid-y, it can burst and make the burger slippery and harder to grip (and end up making a mess).
The Conclusion: How to Get the Perfect Burger Size?
Before I get into the meat of my conclusion, it should be said that tall burgers can still be easily eaten by hand.
Writing this article, I ate many, many burgers, and I did notice that if a tall burger is soft and squishy enough (buns, patty, and everything else), then you can bring it to your mouth.
(I made the point of testing a few fast-food places and fancy burger joints to make sure I wasn’t being biased.)
But sometimes less really is more if you’ll pardon the cliché.
Slimmer burgers may look more like something from McDonald’s and have the potential to sacrifice juiciness. But for me, I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
Plus, simpler, flatter burgers are easier to grill, especially if you are grilling when camping. At such moments, you don’t need burgers to be a work of art, just practical.
My wife is also convinced flatter is better, it just makes cooking easier “You don’t risk leaving it raw and at the same time burning it” she told me, which is super convenient.
‘This really is the way,’ if you’ll forgive The Mandalorian reference.
All it takes is one quick step before cooking. And even my daughter was pining for the shorter burger I whipped up.
Though, it should be said that a burger that is too wide may also become difficult to eat—harder to grip and it might all start slipping out the back while you grip it from the front.