Wondering when to flip a burger so that it cooks evenly and stays nice and juicy throughout? Do you need to flip a burger more than once? Our ultimate guide to burger flipping will make a pro out of you in no time.
When To Flip a Burger
Don’t be tempted to flip burgers until the bottom has had a chance to firm up. You want the burgers to come free from the cooking grate without sticking. This usually takes about 5 minutes. At this time, you should see juices beginning to seep out of the top of the burgers.
Why It Matters
Grilling and flipping burgers might seem like simple enough tasks, and on some level, they are. But there are tips and tricks to every cooking application, and this one is no exception.
If you flip a burger too often, you’ll lose more fat and moisture. This will contribute to a dry burger that will make a better doorstop than dinner.
On the other hand, you can’t grill a burger without flipping it at least once. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a burger that’s charred on one side and undercooked on the other.
How To Know When To Flip a Burger
When the burger can be released from the cooking grate without sticking, it’s time to flip it over. This generally takes about 5 minutes for burgers cooked to medium. For well-done burgers, you can leave them alone for another minute or so.
It’s important to wait at least this long before you flip the burger. Otherwise, the meat might fall apart, leaving you with several pieces of cooked ground beef instead of a uniform patty.
To help you judge when it might be time to flip, take a look at the top surface of the burger before you attempt to flip it. When it’s ready to go, reddish-pink juices should be just beginning to seep out.
Should You Flip a Burger More Than Once?
Do you flip a burger just once, or multiple times? There’s a case to be made for both methods.
Proponents of the one-flip technique claim that it allows the meat to retain more moisture, since you’re not prodding the meat multiple times. On the other hand, multiple flips may help the meat cook through more evenly and reach the optimum temp faster.
We would suggest starting with the one-flip method to see how things go. In general, ground beef benefits from as little interaction as possible. If you handle it too much, it will toughen up, and if you turn it too often, it won’t be as juicy.
Should You Bring Burgers To Room Temperature Before Grilling?
Many pitmasters swear by the technique of bringing steak and other large cuts of meat to room temperature before they start to cook. When the meat is allowed to warm up for 30 to 45 minutes, it promotes even cooking.
However, we’ve noticed that burgers tend to hold their shape better if they’re still cold when they hit the grill. If the ground beef mixture is too warm, the fat will begin to liquefy, so the patties are more likely to fall apart on the grill.
If you want to try bringing your hamburger patties to room temperature, take them out of the fridge no more than 15 to 20 minutes beforehand. Never leave them out for longer than 2 hours, whether cooked or raw. This invites dangerous bacteria to set up camp.
Best Temperature Setting for Grilling Burgers
Searing burgers over high heat will seal in the juices. But cooking meat slowly over medium-low will prevent it from overcooking and turning dry. So what’s the answer?
As you might have guessed, you should find a happy medium—or, to be more precise, medium-high. The fire should be hot enough to create a nice crust on the exterior, but low enough to allow the interior to cook through.
If your burger measures less than 1/2 inch thick, medium-high heat, or 400 degrees Fahrenheit, is the way to go. You can turn the heat down a bit—say, to 350 degrees—for thicker patties.
How Thick Should Your Patties Be?
Making perfectly proportioned hamburger patties is an art form. If they’re too thin, they’ll dry out as they cook and turn out resembling shoe leather. But if they’re too thick, they’ll cook through unevenly and be difficult to chew.
Remember that a good burger—that is, one that’s made up of at least 15 percent fat—will shrink by about 25 percent during cooking. So you’ll want to make the patties roughly 1/4 larger than you want them to be when they’re finished.
It’s important to note that patty thickness is a matter of personal taste. Some people want their patties to be thin, especially if they’re planning on stacking two or three together. Others might prefer a thick, char-grilled burger.
That said, there are guidelines you can follow. Aim for the burger patties to be between 1/2 and 1 inch thick. In addition, they should measure about 25 percent wider than the buns to account for shrinkage.
When To Add Cheese to a Burger
While you can add the cheese to the patty while the meat is still on the grill, this can lead to problems. The cheese will probably melt too much, causing it to slide off the edges. That leaves you with a burger that’s naked on top and gooey around the edges.
Instead, take the cheese out of the fridge before you start to grill the meat. Cheese tastes better when it’s brought to room temperature anyway, and you want it to be slightly warm when you add it to the burgers.
After you’ve taken the cooked burgers off the heat, top each one with a slice of cheese. Set the burgers aside to rest for 2 to 3 minutes. During this time, the residual heat from the burgers should be sufficient to melt the cheese slightly.
Place the burgers on the buns, dress as desired, and serve at once.
How To Tell When a Burger is Done
Now that you know when to flip the meat and when to melt the cheese, how can you tell when to take the burger off the heat? We defer to the same response that we use for every type of grilled or smoked meat: Use a meat thermometer.
Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to grilled burgers. The outside might look perfect, but that’s no guarantee that the insides will be cooked through. Since you don’t want to cut into the meat and let the juices run out, a thermometer is your best bet.
The patty is done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. The temp will continue to rise a few degrees as the meat rests, but it shouldn’t climb above the 165-degree mark.
If you prefer your burger medium-rare, you should know that it’s considered unsafe to consume ground beef that’s cooked below 165 degrees. When it’s undercooked, the meat can be harboring pathogens that could lead to illness.
The best meat-to-fat ratio for grilled burgers is 80 percent beef to 20 percent fat. Though it yields excellent results, the high fat content can also lead to grilling flare-ups.
When you flip a burger on the grill, the juices and fat that are forcing their way toward the surface of the meat wind up in the fire. That contributes to the flame bursts and ominous sizzling noises that signify a flare-up.
To keep flare-ups to a minimum, be sure your cooking grate is clean before you begin. Excess grease build-up is one of the primary culprits.
You should also close the lid of the grill when you’re not flipping or temping the burgers. The reduced oxygen flow will help keep the flames where they belong.
Finally, if you follow our advice and only flip the burgers once, you’ll reduce your risk of flare-ups. In fact, the less you touch the meat in general, the lower the risk.
The Bottom Line
Whether you flip your burgers once or several times, be sure to wait until the bottom side has achieved a nice sear. When that happens, the meat should turn over easily.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!