burger patties on a grill

How to Make Thinner Patties for Grilling Burgers

Burgers may seem simple to make at first glance, but when you fire up the grill, you’ll quickly realize that getting the right consistency for the perfect patty takes practice and experience. One common mistake many people make when cooking burger patties is forming them too tightly. It can be tempting to press that meatball down really firmly to achieve that classic, flat shape seen in cookbook photos and tutorial videos.

But when you do that, you unintentionally push out the precious juices in the meat. Draining these juices from the patty not only results in a drier, less flavorful patty, but if you’re using a coal-fired grill, the dripping fat can also cause a grill flare-up. If you’re still finding your way around the grill, the burst of flame and heat can be pretty scary, and even dangerous, when it happens.

Contrary to popular belief, keeping your patties loose is the way to go to get the juiciest burgers. The key is to use as little force as possible when shaping them and avoid handling the patty too much.  That means you shouldn’t prod and press the beef excessively to try and make it the perfect shape. A few imperfections are perfectly acceptable, in fact, they’re desirable. Sure, your patty may not have the textbook roundness you see in cookbooks or fast-food ads, but you’ll forget all that in an instance when you bite into a succulent burger that’s bursting with flavor.

How to form a loose burger patty

raw burger patties with dip

Rather than mashing and manhandling the beef into shape, go for a more delicate approach. Start by taking fist-sized portions of ground beef. Then, gently shape these portions into patties with the palm of your hand. You could use a saran-wrapped peanut butter jar lid or even a specialized burger press if you really want to, and if you have them at home, but the danger is too much handling. A good patty should be about an inch thick. Don’t stress over slight imperfections in shape or minor cracks at the edges. Remember, we’re not going for the best taste and tenderness here, not the most photogenic look.

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Now, shape the patty into something like a frisbee with a slight dip in the middle, which some chefs call a dimple. This burger-shaping technique prevents the meat from shrinking and curling up and turning into a rounded dome when it cooks. The technique to form the dip is really simple: Just use your fingertips to gently press down on the patty’s center, slowly working your way out to the edges of the patty. Don’t press too hard or make the dip too deep; about a quarter to half an inch should be perfect.

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