Of course it’s preferable to thaw your frozen hamburger patties before tossing them on the grill. But what if you’re ready to roll, and those patties are still hard in the centers? Here’s a primer on how to grill frozen burgers when you’re in a rush.
Is It Safe To Grill Burgers When They’re Still Frozen?
Yes, you can put frozen patties on the grill without worrying about food-borne illnesses. As long as the meat reaches a safe internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it won’t be a problem.
Just bear in mind that the burgers will take longer to cook if they’re frozen. According to the USDA, a frozen patty cooks through in about twice the amount of time it would take to prepare a thawed burger, so be sure to take that into account when it’s time to fire up the grill.
Advantages of Grilling Frozen Burgers
When you choose to grill frozen burgers instead of forming them from scratch, you’re saving yourself a ton of prep time. This is especially true if you’ve purchased them from the store (see Choosing Frozen Hamburger Patties, below.
This method also allows you to thaw only as many burgers as you plan to cook, with no guesswork regarding the potential leftovers. You can remove any number of patties from the freezer, leaving the rest for another time.
Finally, having frozen burgers on hand gives you the opportunity to throw together a great cookout on the spur of the moment. If you find yourself with a backyard full of hungry guests, all you need to do is take those beauties out of the freezer and crank up the grill.
Choosing Frozen Hamburger Patties
If you’re purchasing frozen patties from the store, try to find a brand with meat that’s at least 90 percent lean. This will help to ensure that the product is high-quality, with no unappetizing knobs of fat to get in the way.
Read over the list of ingredients carefully. Some companies will include gelling agents in their product, which makes the burgers more difficult to cook. The list should consist of ingredients you recognize, with no strange formulas added.
Most frozen hamburger patties will be arranged in a stack, which can make them somewhat difficult to separate. For advice on how to successfully divide the stack, see Step 1 in How To Grill Frozen Patties, below.
Making Your Own Frozen Burger Patties
Supermarket brands work fine in a pinch, but it’s also fairly simple to make your own frozen burger patties to save for later. Here’s the most foolproof method.
- 3 pounds ground beef, preferably 85 percent lean
- 3 teaspoons Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
- 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1. Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Lightly toss the meat and spices together until well combined.
2. Form the meat into 12 balls to make 4-ounce burgers. A kitchen scale will help to ensure uniform weights for each patty.
3. Lay the balls out on a clean cookie sheet and flatten them with a spatula. They should be about 1/4″ thick.
4. Place the prepared patties in a freezer-safe Ziploc bag, separated by small squares of parchment paper.
How To Safely Thaw Frozen Burgers
Although this is a guide on how to grill frozen burgers, it should be noted that it’s preferable to thaw the meat in advance. If you have the time to do so, try one of the following methods for thawing frozen meat.
The Refrigerator Method
This is the most carefree (not to mention the least messy) method of the bunch, but it also requires the most planning. Simply transfer the frozen patties from the freezer to the refrigerator and wait 24 hours before firing up the grill.
Tip: For best results, make sure the refrigerator temperature is set at 40 degrees or below.
The Cold Water Method
To thaw the patties using cold water, place them in a sturdy leakproof plastic bag. Seal the bag and place it in a sink full of cold water. Alternatively, you can use a bowl or basin, as long as it’s large enough to submerge the bag completely.
After about 10 minutes, the patties should be soft enough on the outside to allow the seasonings to adhere. At this point, it’s safe to begin cooking them. If you have more time to work with, feel free to continue the thawing process until the meat is soft throughout.
Remember—if you’ve used this method, the burgers will need to be cooked as soon as possible after thawing. It’s unsafe to refrigerate meat that’s been thawed in cold water. If you’ve defrosted too much, you’ll still need to cook it off before returning it to the freezer.
The Microwave Method
This is the fastest way to thaw frozen burgers. Just put the patties on a microwave-safe plate and nuke them for a minute or two at a time, checking their progress after each cycle. Don’t set the timer for any longer than two minutes, or the meat will cook in the microwave instead of simply thawing out. As with the cold water method, you’ll need to cook the burgers immediately after they’ve been thawed.
Since you’re reading an article on grilling frozen burgers, it’s safe to say you don’t intend to use any of the methods listed here. That’s fair enough. In How To Grill Frozen Patties, below, we’ve outlined the best way to grill the patties safely without thawing the meat in advance.
A Word About Flare-Ups
Flare-ups are a common concern for any type of grilled meat, but frozen burgers are especially prone to this phenomenon. Why? Because the meat will release extra moisture, including a small concentration of fat, as it cooks. This mixture will then drip onto the heat source, causing the flames to leap up and sear the meat.
Because flare-ups can impart a bitter flavor to the finished product, it’s in your best interest to avoid them. Keep a close eye on the burgers as they cook, moving them to a cooler section of the grill if they seem to be releasing excess amounts of fluid. This will also ensure that the burgers will cook through to a safe temperature.
Keep An Eye Out For Dry
Although it takes nearly twice as long to cook frozen patties, it’s still possible to overcook them. This is another reason to watch the burgers carefully during the cooking process.
When it’s time to flip the burgers, you may notice that the meat is turning a brighter red on the surface as it releases its juices. Many new chefs refer to this substance as blood, but it’s actually mostly water mixed with myoglobin, a substance located in the muscle tissue. Its appearance signifies that the meat is cooking through properly.
Toward the end of the cooking process, make sure the burgers are still releasing small amounts of moisture. If they’ve stopped doing that, it means that the meat has no more fluid to spare, which will result in a patty that’s unpleasantly dry.
Pitfalls To Avoid
Here are three things not to do when cooking frozen burgers on the grill:
- Cooking them over exceedingly low heat for an extended period of time. While this will ensure that the meat is properly thawed before it starts to cook, it will give you the same dry result we mentioned earlier. The meat will be tough and difficult to chew, in addition to losing most of its beefy flavor.
- Searing the patties briefly over high heat. Some novices make this mistake in an effort to keep the exteriors from burning, which is a forgivable impulse. However, this will also keep the heat from penetrating properly, resulting in a burger that looks perfectly cooked on the outside while still cold and raw on the inside.
- Keeping the meat over high heat the entire time. This will give you a burger with a charred, bitter exterior—the very opposite of what you’re looking for.
How To Grill Frozen Patties
1. First of all, check to see whether the patties are frozen together in a stack. If this is the case, they’ll need to be carefully separated to ensure that they maintain a uniform shape and size.
The best way to divide the frozen patties is to slide a butter knife carefully between the layers, then give the knife a quick, sharp twist. The meat should separate easily, but if it doesn’t, thaw the stack in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes before trying again.
Your burgers might need a little extra TLC depending on whether you froze the meat yourself or purchased the patties from a supermarket or big-box store. Take a look at this video tutorial for tips on how to make store-bought frozen hamburger patties taste even better.
2. The next step is to preheat the grill. If you’re using a gas grill, set the flame jets to medium. For charcoal grills, allow the coals to cook down until you can hold your hand above the cooking grate for 5-6 seconds before you have to pull away. Pellet grills should be set to a temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit for frozen burgers.
Tip: If you’re using a gas grill and you have more space than you need, you can thaw the burgers directly on the grill itself before cooking them. Just set half of the flame jets to medium and leave the others off. After you’ve allowed the grill to preheat for about 10 minutes, place the patties on the cooler side and close the lid. They should thaw in another 8-10 minutes.
3. Lightly oil all the cooking grates. This will keep the patties from sticking to the surface as the meat begins to thaw and cook through.
4. Season the hamburger patties as desired. (Feel free to skip this step if you’re using patties that you’ve already seasoned yourself before freezing).
Note that the seasoning will adhere better if the exterior of the patty is already slightly thawed. If the burger is still frozen solid, there won’t be anything for the seasoning to “cling” to, so to speak.
Tip: You can use your spatula to press the seasoning into the patty as it begins to cook.
5. Place the patties on the cooking grates, directly over the heat source.
6. After about 3 minutes, rotate the burgers without flipping them to achieve perfect grill marks on the first side. You might need to adjust the positions of the burgers to avoid flare-ups over the hotter areas.
7. Flip the patties after 5 minutes, or when the surface of the meat begins to look red and juicy.
8. Cook the patties for at least 5 minutes. If you’d like, rotate them about halfway through this cooking time to achieve grill marks on this side as well.
9. Flip and continue to cook the patties for another 5 minutes.
10. Flip the patties a third time and cook for about 3-5 minutes. If you’re adding cheese to the patties, now is the time to do so. Remember that the burgers will continue to release juices even when they’ve reached a safe internal temperature.
11. Check the internal temperature of the burgers to make sure they’re cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to insert the instant-read thermometer into the very center of each patty. The entire cooking process might take up to 20 minutes, depending on how thick your patties are.
12. Let the meat rest for 2-3 minutes before serving. During this time, you can use the still-hot grill to toast the burger buns, if desired.
The Bottom Line
If you’re pressed for time and looking for something quick to toss on the grill, frozen hamburger patties are a tasty option. If you’ve done everything correctly, you should be able to achieve juicy, mouthwatering results every time.