Burgers are typically made by shaping equal portions of ground beef into patties. Other meats, such as ground veal, pork, turkey or chicken, can be used in place of beef, and the burgers can be cooked in a skillet or in the oven. While cooking the burgers in a skillet is quick and convenient, using the oven offers the option of reducing the amount of fat the meat releases during cooking.
To cook a burger in a skillet, you can start with a dry pan if your ground meat contains a high proportion of fat, or use a small amount of butter, oil or vegetable pan spray to prevent the meat from sticking. Preheat the pan on medium-high heat and add the burger, then lower the heat and cook it for 2 to 3 minutes on one side or until a brown caramelized crust develops. Season the top then flip the burger and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side. Season the second side, then reduce the heat and continue cooking until juices run clear and no pink color remains. Serve the burger immediately, or keep it covered with a pan lid or aluminum foil until ready to serve.
Unlike pan-frying, cooking a burger in the oven gives you the option of using a tray to catch the drippings. You can place the burger on a rack inside another pan or use an oven broiler pan that is composed of a slotted top section and a bottom pan to catch the hot fats. Another trick is to roll a section of aluminum foil tightly and join the ends together into a circle that is slightly smaller than the size of the burger. Place the foil ring on the pan and the burger on top of it, and bake for 10 to 16 minutes at 475 degrees F. Cooking the burgers this way is ideal for ground meats that have a high fat content.
Shaping the Patties
How tender and juicy your burger is depends a lot on how you handled it during shaping. Avoid smashing the meat fibers or pressing them down onto a counter or cutting board. Instead, hold the meat lightly and shape it gently into a patty, pressing lightly to keep it from falling apart and building the edges a little higher than the middle. If you are cooking it in a skillet, don't press down on the meat, as this squeezes out all the juices that give the burger its flavor and tenderness.
While burgers made from any type of ground meat and seasoned only with salt and pepper have their appeal, don't be afraid to pep things up with additional flavorings such as herbs, spices, seasoning vegetable that include garlic, onions, or peppers, or sauces such as Worcestershire, soy or Tabasco. Base the amount of seasonings on one pound of ground meat, and don't overdo it, as certain herbs, such as basil, cilantro, or rosemary can easily overpower. If using fresh garlic, onions or peppers, cut them finely and mix them well into the meat for maximum flavor distribution. Pan-fry or roast the burgers as you normally would and serve as the protein component of a meal or on buns with the cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced onions, sliced tomatoes, or the traditional mustard, relish and ketchup.
While some cooking instructions and culinary professionals recommend cooking ground meats to different degrees of doneness based on preference, the Partnership for Food Safety and Education strongly advises that all ground meats or ground meat blends should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F, to prevent the spread of bacteria that may be transmitted during the grinding process.