Few questions in human history are as profound as this one: How in the world do you keep your burger from falling apart on the grill?
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There are more important questions out there, ain’t no doubt about it. Like what came first, the chicken or the egg? Or perhaps the meaning of life?
Well, some might argue the meaning of life is figuring out how to keep your burger from falling apart on the grill.
All right, enough with the exaggerations. You’ve come here for guidance on how to keep burgers from falling apart while grilling. The good news is, you’ve come to the right place.
After all, there are few things more frustrating than assembling what should be a perfect burger, placing it on the grill, and then witnessing it break apart or crumble.
So, to prevent needless losses like that, let us take a look at ways to make sure your burger comes out in perfect shape.
Thaw Those Patties
If you’re using pre-formed patties that are frozen (think BUBBA Burger, or any frozen patties you might pick up at a membership club like Costco), thaw them out before throwing them on the grill.
The main reason for this is if you put a frozen burger (even though it feels very stable in your hands while frozen) on a hot grill, it naturally thaws and cooks at the same time. That means frozen internal fluid (not just ice), is melting from within, causing the frozen and contracted burger to thaw and expand.
And ultimately break apart.
So, let your patties thaw. If you decide to make your own burgers from frozen ground beef, remember it’s hard to make any shape out of ground beef that’s frozen.
If you’ve ever thawed patties or bulk ground beef before and seen what looks like a mix of watery blood where the meat was sitting, you’ve allowed it to drain and prevent it from destroying the shape of your burger on the grill.
Speaking of Shape
Yes, when it comes to a grilling strategy that aims to keep your burger together instead of falling apart, the shape of the patty is key. If you decide you want to shape your own patties out of ground beef, there are a couple of things to remember.
Don’t make your patties too flat. There’s an inherent urge to make your patty as flat as something you might get at a fast food place. You need to resist this primal urge. Instead, try to keep your patties slightly thicker. Those pre-formed frozen patties aren’t bad models to mimic.
Don’t make your patties too thick or round. Yes, you want to resist making your patties too flat. At the same time, you’re not grilling meatballs. Again, look at those frozen patties for a model to emulate. The width of a finger is also a good guideline to follow.
Don’t make your burgers too wide. You may want to make your very own 1/2 or 3/4 pounder in the form of one patty, but you have to remember, the bigger the patty, the more surface area you have to deal with.
That’s also more surface area you need to eventually flip. And flipping is one of the first places you’ll see a burger fall apart. Try to keep your burgers between 4 – 6 oz and not much wider than your spatula.
Another thing you can do, and this is strictly a “try it and see if you like it” recommendation, is put a dent in the middle of your burgers.
The theory here is putting a dent in the middle will make the center slightly more dense and allow less steam to escape the middle while grilling.
Less steam means more moisture locked in and not rushing out. Any kind of moisture rushing out of a grilling burger can cause the burger to fall apart.
Again, this is one of those things that might work or not. It also depends on how hot your grill is.
Yet, if it does work, don’t knock it. The goal is to keep your burgers together, not worry about whether a dent makes it look strange.
Don’t Flip Too Often
We mentioned the burger’s width shouldn’t be vastly wider than your spatula. Another thing to remember is your patty will hold its shape better the more it cooks. So, it’s better to avoid flipping often, especially after first placing it on the grill.
The patties will cook from the outside in, so once they’ve been on the grill a few minutes, the side that’s facedown should have been exposed to enough heat to maintain its shape for the initial flip. Once you do that, cook the opposite side for a few more minutes and then flip as necessary.
Heat is Your Friend
You’re not trying to cook the perfect steak or roast. But cooking a perfect burger is not something to sneer at. Heat is not only important, it’s your friend.
What’s all that mean?
Don’t cook on low heat the whole time. Start with medium-high heat, probably around 375-400°F. Let the burger cook on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. Then you can either lower the heat if you feel like they’re cooking too fast (or move the patties away from the coals if using charcoal) or let them ride until you’re satisfied.
If your temperature is too low, the burgers will cook slower, their shape will remain rather weak, and as moisture escapes, you might start to see them sag around and through the grill grate. Higher heat will counter this.
Fat Content and the Egg
Some like to put an egg into their ground beef before forming their patties. Others don’t. Does an egg help? Well, it doesn’t hurt. But it’s not magic burger glue, either.
Really, what it comes down to is the quality of your beef and its fat content. For leaner beef, an egg does help act as a binder to keep the burger together while grilling. If you have beef with higher fat content, that acts as a binder, too, without the egg.
When it comes to holding a burger together on the grill, remember it comes down to a few things. They’re not difficult things to remember, but things, if not paid attention to, that can lead to your burgers falling apart on the grill.
If you follow the guidance above, your burgers should come out like the awesome burgers you expected, not loose meat better served as Sloppy Joe’s.