Should You Grill Hamburgers With the Lid Open?

The great grilling dilemma, solved. And why the real question to ask here is, “How thick are your burgers?”

Published Categorized as Questions
Ed Zbarzhyvetsky /Depositphotos

When it comes to grilling, few questions are older and more common than, “Should you grill with the lid open or closed?”

The answer is almost always the same, regardless of who’s giving it. And you’ve more than likely heard it before—even more than once, maybe.

That answer is, “It depends.” What a perfect answer, right?

After all, the answer is always dependent on the type of meat, the cut of meat, the thickness of the meat, and how you’re grilling it (on coals, over a gas flame, etc.).

So, when you ask if you should grill hamburgers with the lid open or closed, the correct answer is, “It depends.”

Now, let’s take a look at what it depends on, including when you should grill hamburgers with the lid open, when to do it with the lid closed, and, above all, why.

Is the Lid Important?

If you think your grill has a lid only to protect the stuff you’re grilling from inclement weather, you’re dead wrong. The lid plays a vital role in the control of heat and in how fast or slow your grill cooks your food.

That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that the lid on your grill always has to be up or down.

With something like hamburgers, you have to look at the thickness of your meat, consider the fat content, and whether you plan to use direct or indirect heat. That will play a big part in deciding the positioning of your lid.

Speaking of heat directions…

Direct Heat vs. Indirect Heat

Regardless of whether you have the lid opened or closed, you first have to understand the difference between direct and indirect heat.

When you’re using direct heat, you’re literally grilling over the most intense area of the grill when it comes to heat.

With briquets, you place your hamburgers right over the coals. With gas, you put the burgers over the lit burners. Basically, you cook the meat directly above the heat source.

Which, of course, means indirect heat involves grilling away from the most intense heat.

That doesn’t mean you don’t put your burgers on the grill at all. It means you don’t put them directly above the coals or flames. Instead, you set them to the side of heat. As a result, the burgers still cook, only indirectly (or, as seasoned grillers in some parts of the country like to say, lo’ and slo’).

If you’re going to use direct heat for the burgers entirely, you don’t want to close the lid for long, if at all. If you do that, you can end up with a burnt burger faster than you can imagine.

If you’re using indirect heat, however, you’ll want to close the lid to ensure the heat is circulating around the burgers before being exhausted.

It’s the same rationale behind smoking meat:

You don’t want to put the meat directly above the heat, but you also don’t want to lose the heat before the meat gets what it needs. Indirect heat grilling is slower, as a result. It’s an exercise in patience for which the griller is rewarded generously.

So, if you’re grilling hamburgers, you have to decide which is the best approach; direct heat with the lid up or indirect heat with the lid down? How do you decide?

Well, “it depends,” right? Right?!

Thin Burgers

When it comes to whether to grill your hamburgers with direct heat with the lid up or indirect heat with the lid down, it really comes down to another question.

How thin are your burgers?

If you’ve got thin burgers that cook fast, direct heat is the easiest way to go. It’s the quickest, for sure, and—with thin burgers—you don’t have to worry about cooking the outside too fast while leaving the middle too pink.

The main thing to remember with direct heat is that the outside of any burger can char quickly, regardless of thickness, if left on one side too long over high heat.

The great thing about using this method with thin burgers is not only that they cook quicker, but also, you’ll get that burger char on the outside without the risk of undercooking the inside.

Why won’t you burn or undercook a thin burger with this method?

Because you’re only going to leave it on the heat-facing side for about 2 minutes. Once you see juice start to emerge from the top of the burger, you’re going to flip it. And then you’re going to cook for about another 2 minutes.

That’s all there is to it.

You can, of course, close the lid for the first two minutes after you place the burger on the grill, but why risk it? Plus, keeping the lid open allows you to see and smell the burger as it cooks. Those two things are more important than closing the lid on thin burgers.

If You Like Your Burgers Thick

Well, if you’re not grilling thin burgers, then you’re probably grilling burgers that are more on the thick side. If this is the case, you’re probably a fan of burgers that are juicy when done and may land anywhere between medium-rare to medium-well. 

With thicker burgers, you might be thinking, “Well, indirect heat with the lid down, right?”

Not necessarily.

With thick burgers, you’re still going to utilize high direct heat with the lid open. You’ll only use it, though, at the beginning. Go ahead and put your thick burgers over direct heat for 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Why?

To sear the sides. This will help give the outside of the burger those nice grill marks and exterior crust. It’ll also develop the aroma and flavor of the meat.

Why is this important?

Thick burgers take time to cook. You don’t want to overcook the outside while undercooking the inside. You also don’t want to lose the advantages of direct heat.

So, use direct heat for a few minutes. Then move your burgers away from the heat and close the lid. You should only have to open the lid once halfway through to flip the burgers one last time. Then you’re all done.

In Summary

When it comes to grilling, lots of questions are answered with the statement, “It depends.” The same holds true for how you should grill a burger and whether the lid should be opened or closed.

Direct heat or indirect heat? Lid open or closed? The best question to start with is, how thick are your burgers?

The thickness then gives you the following rule of thumb:

  • The thinner the burgers, the quicker the cook, so the answer is direct heat, lid up.
  • For thicker burgers, direct heat at first followed by indirect heat with the lid down.

If you keep this rule of thumb in mind, you can’t go wrong grilling your hamburgers, lid up or down.

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