How to Grill Burgers for Juicy Results Every Time
Find out how long to grill burgers to please every person at your backyard barbecue
There are lots of ways to cook a burger: Fry it in a pan, smash it on a griddle or slide it under the broiler. But the most popular way of cooking burgers is grilling, which gives meat a flame-kissed flavor that’s hard to beat. And figuring out how long to grill burgers is essential if you want your homemade patties to rival the best burger in every state.
“Cooking over an open flame gives your burger a smoky, charred flavor and enhances the rich, buttery flavor of the ground beef,” says Nate Stambaugh, burger expert and brand ambassador for Creekstone Farms. “The fire that kisses the burger when the fat drips through the grill grates is what you want for that perfect outdoor summer burger experience.”
Aside from giving burgers a characteristic flame-touched flavor, grilling is the greatest burger hack if your goal is cheesy goodness. “I like grilling because it gives me more control over the temperature I can cook burgers at. I can start them on a hotter portion on the grill and then finish them with indirect heat to melt the cheese perfectly,” he says, noting that cleaning a grill is a breeze, comparatively speaking. “Cleanup is so much easier outside than with grease flying all over your kitchen.”
Read on to learn how long to grill burgers to get the tastiest, juiciest, perfect-temperature patties.
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How to prep the grill for burgers
Before you figure out how long to grill burgers, you need to focus on how long to preheat your grill. Getting a good sear and cooking your burgers to perfection depends entirely on the heat of the grill. After igniting your grill, close the lid and let the fire work its magic for five to 10 minutes, until the temperature gauge reads at least 450 degrees.
“Once your grill is hot, clean it with a grill brush and coat the grates with oil to help prevent the burger from sticking,” says Stambaugh, who recommends using either a cooking spray specifically designed for grills and high-temperature cooking, or a little vegetable oil. To get oil on the grates without burning yourself, lightly dip a wadded-up paper towel in vegetable oil, then use tongs to swipe it over the grill.
Decide on the level of doneness
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Exactly how long to grill burgers for will depend on your personal tastes. Many burger connoisseurs insist you should never go further than medium rare, which preserves the “fresh” taste of beef as it’s meant to be enjoyed. As a beef expert, Stambaugh prefers his hamburgers pink in the middle, noting that when it comes to rare red meat, quality is key. “If you start with quality meat from a reputable source, there is nothing better than a juicy grilled burger that’s a little pink inside,” he says.
But some people balk at the idea of undercooked meat for food safety reasons, preferring burgers that are cooked all the way through. “My feeling on well-done burgers is ‘to each their own,’ but be sure to bring plenty of ketchup and a drink to wash it down,” Stambaugh says. That, of course, is a reference to the drier quality of well-done burgers, which turns off some foodies.
So, which is the perfect burger temperature? That’s up to your taste buds, but the details below can help you understand the general differences between the five burger cooking levels.
Rare burgers have a soft, tender texture and a center that is pink and juicy but not raw. The internal temperature of these barely cooked burgers should be between 125 and 130 degrees. While burgers cooked rare are delicious, it’s important to note that the USDA recommends ground beef be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees to ensure the destruction of any harmful foodborne pathogens, like E. coli.
A medium-rare burger will be well browned on the outside and have a center that is mostly pink. The internal temperature should range between 130 and 135 degrees.
The interior of a medium burger should be pinkish-brown, with a temperature of 140 to 145 degrees. At this temperature, a burger will still retain some moisture but will begin losing the “fresh” beef flavor. If you’re cooking with high-quality meat, you may want to consider medium as “the point of no return” so you can truly enjoy the best flavors your burger has to offer.
With an internal temperature of between 150 and 155 degrees, a medium-well burger is nearly fully cooked through, with just the barest hint of pink left in the center. These burgers are firmer, the meat drier and less flavorful than burgers cooked to medium or below. Though this isn’t ideal for thicker burgers, cooking to medium well is fine for thinner patties of the sort you’d find on a fast-food burger.
Well-done burgers are fully cooked through, so they’re brown throughout, with an internal temperature of 160 degrees or higher. Most red-meat connoisseurs consider well-done burgers sacrilegious, as they’re dry, tough and comparatively flavorless. But those for whom food safety comes first simply load theirs with ketchup, prepared mustard, pickles, gooey American cheese and other toppings that add moisture and boost flavor.
How long to grill burgers
How long to cook burgers on the grill depends entirely on the size and shape of the patty. Stambaugh recommends weighing out 6 to 8 ounces of ground beef per burger, then gently patting it into a disk about an inch wider than the bun—burgers shrink as they cook, so always reference the bun before shaping. Avoid overworking the meat, which will make it tough. Use your knuckles or the back of a spoon to make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, which will help prevent it from puffing up.
Once your burgers have been shaped and the grill is hot and greased, generously season them with salt, place them over the open flame and close the lid. Keeping the lid closed evenly distributes the heat, helps the burgers retain moisture and reduces flare-ups.
“I cook my burgers about three minutes per side, on average,” says Stambaugh, who likes his burgers medium rare. “Once the burger has started to cook on one side, you will see liquid starting to pool up on the top, uncooked portion. This is the best sign that it is time to flip it without tearing apart the burger. I look for the meat to ‘bounce back’ a little bit to know it’s finished, then let them rest for at least two minutes before serving.”
The best way to be precise about the internal temperature of your burgers is to use a meat thermometer, but if you’d prefer to wing it without the kitchen tool, here are general estimations for how long to grill burgers:
|Doneness||Cook time||Internal temperature|
|Rare||2–3 minutes per side||125–130 degrees|
|Medium rare||3–4 minutes per side||135–140 degrees|
|Medium||4–5 minutes per side||145–150 degrees|
|Medium well||5–6 minutes per side||155–160 degrees|
|Well done||6–7 minutes per side||160 degrees or higher|
Tips for grilling burgers
- Buy the right beef: For the juiciest burgers on the grill, buy meat with a lean-to-fat ratio of 80:20.
- Season your meat: Stambaugh suggests generously sprinkling each side of your burger with nothing but kosher salt. When cooked over a direct flame, spices will burn and give your burger a bad taste. Instead, sprinkle on spices after cooking, while the burger is resting. The same advice goes for sauces like sriracha and Worcestershire sauce.
- Don’t forget to rest: Burgers need a few minutes off the grill to cool down and let their proteins relax. After removing your burgers to a plate, loosely tent them with foil and let them sit for at least two minutes.
- Be creative with condiments: Pretty much anything you can put on a sandwich, you can put on a burger. But remember: If you’re using high-quality beef, you actually want to be able to taste the meat, so don’t accidentally cover up its flavor with condiments! Stambaugh likes his burgers with a bit of ketchup, mustard and mayo with a slice of ripe tomato on a soft potato roll.
With these tips, you’re destined for grilling greatness. Just be sure to scrub up when you’re done (psst, you can use an onion to clean the grill). With that out of the way, you’ll be ready to go the next time a hamburger or hot dog craving hits.
About the expert
- Nate Stambaugh is a burger expert and a brand ambassador for Creekstone Farms, which produces Black Angus beef.
- USDA: “Color of Cooked Ground Beef as It Relates to Doneness”