Americans consume some 50 billion hamburgers a year. What’s so hard about shaping some ground meat into a patty and cooking it?

Meat experts, cookbook authors and chefs say plenty.

We use the wrong grind of beef. We handle the meat and shape them wrong. We cook them wrong.

People need to realize burgers need fat, said Bill Hoemke, a supermarket meat manager. That’s why he and most experts strongly recommend ground chuck that’s 80% lean and 20% fat.

“That fat gives you the most flavorful burger,” Hoemke said.

Leaner options are ground beef that is labeled 85% lean and 15% fat or ground sirloin, which is 90% lean and 10% fat.

“With those leaner grinds, the burgers will be drier,” he said.

In “Weber’s Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius,” author Jamie Purviance notes that the ground meat shouldn’t be overworked.

“Super-squashed, packed-down patties lack the minuscule air bubbles necessary for creating food burger texture and collecting the sublime melting fat and juices,” he writes.

Burgers need to be meaty and mighty. We want flavorful and seasoned blends to pair with flavorful toppings.

Speaking of toppings, cheese is the most popular topping for a burger. It’s followed by lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, according to

And when it comes to cheeses, Americans love American cheese on a burger. But cheddar is a close second, followed by Swiss, pepper jack and provolone.

And so, here’s our guide to grilling burgers to perfection.

What kind of beef should I use?

Choose beef with fat in it. Most cookbooks and burger aficionados say the ideal choice is 80/20 beef chuck. This means it’s 80% lean and has 20% fat. You can go somewhat leaner if you like with ground beef labeled 85/15. Any leaner, be sure to add some moisture like Worcestershire sauce or wine to prevent the burger from drying out. And if you can, grind your beef.

How do I grind my own meat if I don’t have a meat grinder?

You can come close using a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Choose the cut of meat you want — chuck, round, brisket, short rib, sirloin — and make sure it’s super-cold. Cut it into 1-inch pieces. Add to the bowl of the food processor, and pulse a few times to chop into smaller pieces. Don’t process it too much, or the meat will get mushy.

How should I mix the ground meat?

Make sure it’s cold, and always mix the meat gently so it just comes together. Do not overmix. If you overmix the meat (the same holds true when you make meatballs and meatloaf), the meat will be more compact and not as tender.

Should I season the ground meat?

You can, but don’t let the seasoned meat sit too long. According to Purviance, allow 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper for each 11/2 pounds of ground beef. You can mix it in the meat or sprinkle on the outside of the formed patties. If you do the latter, Purviance advises to refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes or less to allow the seasoning to distribute. If you let it sit longer, the salt will draw moisture out of the meat, he writes.

What’s an ideal amount of beef to use for each burger?

Plan on a burger that is 6 ounces before cooking. Use a scale if you have one make sure burgers are all an equal size. That 6-ounce burger is an ample size for serving as your main dish. But you can make them any size.

What’s the best size for a burger?

You want to match the size of the patty with the bun. Figure there will be shrinkage, so shape the patty about 1/2 inch larger than the bun. Generally, a 4-inch-diameter patty, with a dimple in the center, that is at least 3/4 inch thick will suffice.

Why should I make a dimple in the center of the formed patty?

If you don’t do this, the burgers will end up more of a round shape and puff up like a tennis ball. The burgers won’t fit the bun, and you end up with a top bun that slides off. That also means that you’ll be eating more bun than burger with each bite.

How do you make the dimple?

This is easy and not to be skipped. Once the patty is formed, use the back of a soup or teaspoon or your thumb to make an indentation, about 1/3 inch deep and 1 inch wide in the center of the patty. When the burgers cook, the indentation slowly rise and you get a nice, flat even top.

What’s the best way to grill?

Burgers like high heat. This helps form that exterior crust. Cook them on the non-dimpled side first over direct heat. Once a crust develops, flip them over and cook on the other side. Do not press down on the burger. When you do this, you’re beating up that poor burger and pressing all the juices out.

How long should burgers be grilled?

That depends on how you like them done. The United States Department of Agriculture’s safe internal cooking temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees. That means it’s well-done. And the cooking time will depend on the thickness of the burger — but generally at least 5 minutes per side. If you like it at less done than that and depending on the thickness, figure about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare, or 130-135 degrees, and 150-155 degrees for medium-well. 

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