How to take your hamburger to the next level

There are a few things I absolutely refuse to buy ready-made and probably top of that list is burgers.

No offence to those freakishly, perfectly round patties in plastic on supermarket shelves, but the homemade burger is better.

So with barbecue season upon us –­ although in Australia does that ever end ­– we compiled a few tips to take your burgers to the next level.

Fat and all that

Food fat-phobic devotees look away now. Low-fat mince and burgers have no place together.

You should use the mince with about 20 per cent fat. The fat content gives them that juicy flavour.

If you get a bit twitchy at that level of fat, cook them on a grill so some leaks out. It will give your burger a smoky flavour if nothing else.  


Something I discovered in my research is that Americans seem to use beef and only beef. One chef described anything added to the burgers as ‘junk’ and if you did you were only making small, round meatloaves. These guys ­– and it’s always guys –­ do not muck around.

However, this is a lost opportunity to add a bunch of flavour.

At the very basic level, add one egg and a handful of breadcrumbs per 500g of mince.

Other perfectly acceptable additives in my household that might have me whipped publicly in the US include finely chopped onion, crushed garlic, finely chopped parsley, finely grated carrot (this adds moisture) and very often a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Because I am a tedious kitchen nerd, of course the latter is also homemade.

Other flavourings that sound good, but I can’t be bothered with, include finely grated parmesan, finely chopped mushrooms (also to add moisture), chopped coriander, smoked paprika and even chopped chorizo. 

Shape it up

Next is shaping the burgers. The most important factor here is to realise with that level of fat the burgers will shrink considerably. Better to squish them out quite a bit more than you are expecting them to as they will contract by about one third of their size.  

It was obvious in the US they prefer them quite a bit thicker, but also like them rare in the middle, which seems a bit ick to me. 

Try to make them uniformly round. Cracked edges will split even further during the cooking process, rendering them difficult to keep complete and to turn over. 

Shaping the patty is much easier if your hands are slightly wet. Roll the burger around in your hands to form a ball and then squelch them flat. 

If keeping their shape while cooking is important to you for a uniform look, pop them in the fridge for half an hour at this stage. 

Season with salt and pepper on the outside at the last minute. 


Despite all that fat, if you are using a griddle, make sure to use a generous splosh of oil before you begin cooking. 

If you are using a grill, make sure it is clean and well oiled. As hamburgers are not one solid piece of meat, one crunchy bit of last week’s barbecue left behind on the grill is all it takes to make your burger stick and fall apart.

For those who like their burgers with a crunchy crust, give them a sear at a high temperature and then turn it down.

And burgers aren’t steaks, you can turn them as often as you like. However, if serving with cheese, drop that on one side and let it melt and don’t turn it again. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that, right?

There is a school of thought that you should put your burger under a cover and let it steam for a bit at this stage. You go for it, if that’s your bag, but this can be impractical if you are cooking for a crowd. 


You absolutely must toast the bun. No arguments. Your burger will better hold its shape and it adds one more flavour level.

As to what bun, well that’s a personal preference. 

I have firmly crossed burger places off my list with no regrets because they only served brioche buns, and also avoid the overly large bun that would easily require three hands to eat it properly. 


Once again, each to their own, but I am a firm believer that the absolute basics are cheese, onions, bacon, sauce, tomatoes and lettuce. In that order. Anything less than that is unAustralian.

I will allow a fancy cheese to add a bit more zing, but it has to melt well. 

Toppings I can do without but others seem to love are egg, pineapple, coleslaw (maybe), beetroot (never) and whatever personal preference for extra sauces. 

And as for how the hamburger got it’s name, well the definitive answer is … no one is quite sure. You’re welcome.

Do you make your own burgers? What’s your best tip for the best burger? Why not share your opinions in the comments section below?

Also read: How to clean your barbecue

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. always prefered, a steak sandwich, with a normal nice salad, when I would buy them, they would ask, what sauce ? I said, no sauce, just a squeeze of lemon, they were fascinated, next time I went back, they said, they tried the lemon squeeze on the steak sandwich, said it was the best thing they ate, don’t know, if they still offer people that, was over thirty years ago, but I still make my steak sandwiches that way, i’m not into hamburgers sorry,
    billy boy 😉

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