The PA Beef Burger Grilling Guide

To celebrate PA Beef Month this May, we’ve teamed up with the Pennsylvania Beef Council to bring you some great stories and content about this important agricultural product in our state! 

It’s finally time to fire up the grill! If you love gathering friends and family for festive cookouts, spring and summer are your time to shine, and there’s no better way to ring in the grilling season than cooking up some Pennsylvania beef burgers. From start to finish, the process is filled with sensory delights: the sizzle of the meat on the hot grills, the heady aromas of caramelizing beef, and the sight of the finished burger, piled high with delicious ingredients.  

burger guide

Ready to make your best burgers yet this summer? Here at PA Eats, we know our way around a backyard burger, and we’re excited to share some great burger grilling tips with you.

Let’s start with the most important component: the beef!

The Beef

burger guide

While burgers may have a more humble reputation than, say, prime steaks, the quality of the meat is the most crucial factor in how they will turn out. Choose Pennsylvania ground beef for freshness and quality in every single patty. There are a few ways you can go from here: buying preformed burger patties; buying ground beef and making your own patties; or buying cuts of beef and grinding them at home.

If you go with ground beef, make sure to pick up a package that has the proper fat-to-lean ratio. There are varying opinions out there as to which is best, but we like a ratio of 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat. If you plan to cook your burgers well done, a ratio of 70 percent lean to 30 percent fat can also work well.

burger guide

If you prefer to grind your own, you can use chuck (the most common cut used for burgers), sirloin, brisket, round, skirt steak, or some combination of those. Most burger blends call for the majority of chuck complemented with other cuts.

Regardless of what cuts you choose, always cut the meat into 1-inch cubes, then freeze them for about 20 minutes before beginning. If you’re using a meat grinder, put the entire grinder attachment in the freezer for an hour before grinding. On a hot day, you may even want to nest the bowl that catches the ground beef inside a larger bowl of ice water to keep everything cold. You may need to run the meat through the grinder twice, once using the larger disk, and a second time using the finer disk to get the right texture. 

No meat grinder? No problem! You can also use a food processor to grind your own meat. Working in batches, pulse the cubed and cold meat about 20 times until it’s chopped.

The Patties

To season your ground beef, gently mix in whatever spices you like to avoid toughening the meat. Some common spices include paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Don’t add salt to the burgers until just before grilling, as salt draws out moisture and pre-salting can create dry burgers!

Forming patties is the next step in the process. Whether you prefer smaller patties (about four ounces) or larger ones (eight ounces), use gentle motions to create discs about 1-inch thick. For consistent sizing, weigh out each patty on a digital scale. Keep them cold in a fridge or cooler until you’re ready to grill!

The Grill

Regardless if you’re using a gas or charcoal grill, be sure to clean and oil the grill grates before you light the coals or start the fire. Then, get the grill preheated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt those patties well, and then grill them over medium-high heat until an internal thermometer reads 160°F. This should take just two minutes per side. Don’t move the burgers around too much or squash them with a spatula — just let them do their thing. 

For cheeseburgers, lay a medium-thick slice of cheese (or some crumbles of feta or blue cheese) on each patty about a minute before they’re done. Which cheese you choose is a matter of taste, with American, cheddar and Jack cheese the most standard.

Let each burger patty rest for a minute or so before dressing it up with your favorite toppings! 

Buns, Toppings & Condiments

For buns, there are classic burger buns, potato rolls, brioche buns and pretzel buns, as well as less-traditional options, like ciabatta bread, pita, Texas toast, gluten-free buns or lettuce wraps.

Local tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sweet onions and pickles are backyard classics, but your imagination is the limit when it comes to toppings! Bacon, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, sauteed spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, sliced avocado, jalapeno peppers and fried eggs are just a few of the fixings you can add to explore. From Thai Burgers to Carolina Barbecue Burgers to Beef and Black Bean Burgers, there is truly a flavor combination for whatever mood you’re in, or using whatever ingredients you have on hand.

To mix things up, serve the usual suspects of ketchup, mustard and relish alongside some fun newcomers, like sriracha, pesto, chipotle mayo and barbecue sauce. If you’re entertaining, setting out a range of toppings and condiments lets everyone customize their burgers to their exact liking!

For more creative burger ideas, check out the wide selection of burger builds at PABeef.org! We’ve got tons more grilling recipes, too, including our grilling favorites collection, so check it for plenty of inspiration to last you all summer long! 

  • Meat Grinder, forming patties and grill photos: BigStock
  • All other photos: PA Beef Council