Grilled hamburgers are a barbecue staple, and one of the easiest recipes to master. They’re ideal when you’re cooking for a crowd, because you can just toss a few more on whenever you need to.
Burgers that have gone cold, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as appealing. If you’re serving a lot at once, how do you keep the cooked burgers from cooling off? We’re here to discuss our preferred methods for keeping hamburgers warm before serving.
How To Keep Hamburgers Warm & Moist
Keep hamburgers warm by setting them on a preheated aluminum tray as soon as they come off the grill. If necessary, you can put the tray back in the oven. As an alternative, add cooked burgers to a slow cooker set to low; or add a bit of beef broth to an aluminum pan set over indirect heat, and place the burgers inside.
A Word About Food Safety
It’s important to know how to keep hamburgers warm, and not just because the quality will deteriorate if they’re allowed to cool off. If the meat remains at room temperature for too long, it can also pose a food safety risk.
Make your hamburger patties out of ground beef that’s 85 percent lean. You might find it labeled as “ground chuck.” This gives them just the right amount of moisture and flavor. Lean ground beef will result in dry burgers that are too easy to overcook.
Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat products. Since ground chuck is fatty, you might also need to wash them periodically as you’re forming the patties. If you let the residue build up on your palms, the patties will start to get sticky.
Keep the ground chuck refrigerated as much as possible. It has to be stored at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent bacteria from forming. When you need to form a lot of patties at once, it’s a good idea to put half of them in the fridge while you prepare the second batch.
Don’t form hamburger patties more than 24 hours in advance. At this point, the juices will begin to seep out, and the texture of the finished burgers will suffer as a result. Similarly, don’t season the patties with salt and pepper until you’re ready to start cooking. This leaches out moisture as well.
Cook the burgers until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s fine to enjoy steaks at rare or medium-rare, ground beef needs to cook to a higher temp in order to be safe to consume.
For turkey burgers, you’ll need to wait until the internal temp climbs to 165 degrees. Ground poultry needs to cook longer than beef because the flesh is more prone to surface contamination. When it’s not cooked to the proper temperature, it could cause food poisoning.
Once the meat is finished cooking, set the burgers aside on a clean serving platter. Allow them to rest for about 5 minutes. During this time, you can toast up the hamburger buns, if you’d like.
Refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours. They should be reheated and enjoyed within 3 to 4 days. If you wait any longer, the meat might spoil. For tips, see How To Reheat Leftover Hamburgers, below.
How To Keep Hamburgers Warm
In this section, we’ll describe the best methods for keeping those burgers nice and warm while they’re waiting to be served.
Fire Up The Oven
To use this technique, preheat the oven to the lowest possible temperature. If it has a “Warm” setting, use that instead.
Set a heavy-duty aluminum tray (or more than one, depending on how many burgers you need to accommodate) in the oven. Let the tray heat up while you grill the hamburgers as you normally would.
When the burgers are approaching the right temperature, take the tray out of the oven. Set the cooked burgers on the tray as you remove them from the grill and tent the tray with foil. The residual heat should be sufficient to keep the meat warm for 15 to 20 minutes.
Always transfer the hamburgers directly to the warm tray. Don’t put them on a separate plate first, or they’ll cool down in transit.
If it’s particularly cold outside, the burgers will cool off more quickly. In this case, you should keep them in a warm room as you wait until serving time. You can even pop the tray back into the oven, if necessary. Just keep an eye on the burgers to make sure they aren’t drying out.
Use The Slow Cooker
Before we learned about this technique, we never considered the slow cooker as an option for keeping cooked hamburgers warm. Once we tried it, however, we found it to be a much more carefree method than the warmed-tray routine.
This technique works best if the burgers all finish cooking at around the same time. As you remove them from the heat, carefully place them in the slow cooker.
It’s fine to stack the burgers on top of each other—in fact, this will help them stay warm longer. Just be sure to stack them with care, or they might break in half.
Once all the burgers are stacked, put the lid on the slow cooker. Plug in the unit, if you haven’t already done so, and set the temperature to 125-150 degrees Fahrenheit. For slow cookers with “Warm,” “Low,” and “High” settings, choose the “Warm” option.
Don’t be tempted to set the temperature too high. If you use the “Low” or “High” settings, the burgers will continue to cook, and they’ll be overdone and dry when you serve them.
Try not to leave the burgers in the slow cooker for extended periods. It should work fine if you need to keep them warm for an hour or so, but the ones on the bottom might start to form a crust if they sit for too long.
When you’re finished serving, remove the meat from the slow cooker so it can cool down properly. Leaving it in the warmer could cause it to stray into the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees for too long. Always wrap and refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
Also, note that you shouldn’t stack the burgers if you’ve put cheese on top. That will make the patties stick together and create a real mess in the slow cooker.
Try A Burger Bath
Keeping the meat warm is one thing, but you should also know how to keep hamburgers moist. Even though they might still be piping hot, they won’t be very tasty if they’re dry.
To use this method, fill a disposable aluminum pan with about 1/2 inch of beef broth. Any grill-safe pan will do, but we like to keep a supply of aluminum pans on hand for situations like this. Also, feel free to substitute beer for some or all of the beef broth, if you’d like.
Set the cooked hamburgers in the prepared pan, then place the pan over indirect heat. Be careful not to let the pan get too hot—this will cause the liquid to evaporate, and the burgers will overcook.
As the hamburgers sit in the liquid, they’ll stay moist and warm throughout. The “burger bath” will also impart more flavor to the cooked meat. Try adding a splash or two of Worcestershire to the broth or beer to amp up the flavor even more.
We don’t recommend leaving the burgers in the hot liquid for longer than 30 minutes or so. If you do, the meat might turn mushy as a result.
Can You Keep Hamburgers Warm Once They’re In The Buns?
The above methods only work on the beef patties alone, and not hamburgers that have already been added to buns. This is especially true of the slow cooker and burger bath techniques.
You might be able to keep the finished burgers warm by leaving them on a warmed tray or plate, even if they’re in the buns already. If they sit for too long, though, the buns will get soggy. At that point, it won’t matter if the meat still tastes good—a soggy bun is a death knell to a great hamburger.
Can You Freeze Leftover Hamburgers?
It’s fine to freeze your leftovers if you don’t think you’ll be able to finish them within 3 to 4 days. That’s true whether the burgers were cooked or not when you froze them. Wrap them individually and label them with the date and contents.
Don’t wait too long to thaw and reheat the burgers, or they won’t taste as good. For superior flavor and texture, plan on consuming frozen leftovers within 4 months.
How To Reheat Leftover Hamburgers
The best way to reheat leftover hamburger patties is in the oven. Set the temperature to 400 degrees and place the patties on a metal rack, then set the rack on a rimmed baking sheet. This will prevent the fat from dripping onto the heating elements.
When the oven is hot, set the pan inside and let the patties heat for about 3 minutes. Flip them over and heat for another 2 minutes, adding cheese if desired. You can use this time to toast your hamburger buns so that they’re ready by the time the patties are nice and hot.
Serve the hamburgers at once with your favorite condiments.
Tip: If the burgers are already in the bun, just remove the patties from the buns and reheat as directed, adding the buns to the oven after you flip the patties. You can also use the same instructions to reheat hamburgers in the microwave.
The Bottom Line
It’s not difficult to keep hamburgers warm, but it does require some advance planning. The slow cooker method works best if you need to keep them warm for up to an hour, but the oven technique might be quicker. For especially moist and flavorful hamburgers, try using the burger bath.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!