Don't say we didn't warn you. Read this before you clean off the grill for summer BBQ season.

By Stacey Ballis
Updated March 05, 2020
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The great American hamburger is one of the most iconic foods of summer, largely because of its blissfully flavorful simplicity (not to mention its ease in preparation and cooking). But, folks, you can still ruin a burger, and who wants to dash everyone’s American dream? Make sure your backyard barbecue is a winner by avoiding these 4 mistakes that will ruin a burger. Your nation thanks you.

Mistake 1: Picking Ground Beef That Is Too Lean

Many people think that those handy fat percentages on the ground beef packages are there for health reasons. And sure, if you are seriously watching your fat intake, grabbing that 93% lean package is generally a healthy move. Burgers, however, are not the place to skimp on the fat, which keeps the meat juicy during cooking (no amount of mustard or ketchup will save a dry burger). Look for 85% lean ground beef and remember that a certain amount of that fat will render out in the cooking process. What’s left behind will be tender and juicy.

Mistake 2: Going Crazy With Seasonings

This isn’t about making meatloaf or meatballs, so don’t add a bunch of stuff—chopped onion, herbs, and spices—to your ground beef. Those additions will change the flavor profile and skew the honest deliciousness of what’s between the buns. In truth, great burgers need little more than salt and pepper to make them sing. If you like a little more oomph, sprinkle some cayenne or red pepper flakes to bring a bit of heat.

Mistake 3: Adding Fillers

See meatloaf warning, above. Burgers don’t need breadcrumbs or oats or eggs or anything else to make them great, and in general, you’ll lose what you love about a burger because of changes in texture and taste. If you are trying to stretch burger meat to feed more people, you are better off going with smaller, thinner burgers than trying to add fillers.

Mistake 4: Cooking at Too Low a Heat

Burgers want a short cook time at high heat to give you a great crust and a tender, juicy interior. Cooking too low and slow will make the outsides rubbery and the insides dry. Cook your burgers over a direct flame on your grill or on a grill pan over high heat on the stove. Once you have a good sear (around 90 seconds per side), flip at one-minute intervals until done (3 minutes more for medium rare, 4 minutes for medium). For safety reasons, make sure your burgers are cooked to at least 160°.