How to Keep Your Hamburger From Shrinking on the Grill

Juicy grilled hamburgers are staples of American cookery, but the deceptively simple burger all too often ends up with the consistency of a hockey puck. Dry, shriveled burgers can ruin any picnic or family gathering, but a few simple tips will allow your friends and family to sink their teeth into the succulent burgers, rather than gnaw around the desiccated edges. Ground beef spoils more quickly than steaks or roasts, so use store-bought meat quickly and always cook it to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, burgers shrink on the grill when they are made from very lean meat cooked on high heat for too long.

Burgers on a charcoal grill. (Image: rez-art/iStock/Getty Images)

Choose Fat

Step 1

Ask your butcher for a chuck roast and have him grind it up for you. Ask him to separate the meat into two 1-lb. packages if the roast weighs more than that. Alternately, purchase pre-ground, 20-percent fat, 1-lb. chuck-meat packages. Chuck meat provides optimal flavor for grilling.

Step 2

Prepare the charcoal grill, light the coals and wait until they have a coating of ash. Oil your grill grate and place it directly over the heat.

Step 3

Divide the 1-lb. packages of ground meat into four. Gently shape the ground meat into a sphere and pat it into a flattened disk. Form a patty that is no thicker than 1 inch and that is slightly larger than the diameter of the hamburger buns you want to use. Salt and pepper the patties on both sides.

Step 4

Place the burgers directly over the hot coals. Let the burgers cook for four minutes. Do not flatten or poke them. Flip the burgers over using a long-handled spatula and cook them for an additional four to five minutes for a medium to medium-well-done burger. Measure the temperature of the burgers or cut into one to check if it is ready. Immediately remove the burgers from the grill onto a platter and cover them with aluminum foil.

Fortify Lean Meat

Step 1

Remove the crusts from, and tear up, two slices of white bread. Add enough milk to cover the pieces. Put the bread-and-milk mixture in the refrigerator until the bread absorbs the liquid and turns soft. Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and squeeze it out, discarding any excess liquid, and then mash it with a fork until it forms a paste. The paste is a panade, which serves as a fat substitute when you cook with lean ground beef.

Step 2

Mix the milk-and-bread panade, ground beef and some salt and pepper. Form patties that are about 1-inch thick and slightly larger than the buns or bread they will top.

Step 3

Prepare your grill, and when the coals ash over, place the formed burgers directly over the heat. Cook the burgers on one side for five minutes and then flip them over, cooking for another five minutes or until they are fully cooked through. You can cook the burgers well-done when using the panade, as it keeps them moist and prevents them from shrinking.

Things You'll Need

  • Charcoal

  • Grill

  • Long-handled spatula

  • Salt

  • Pepper


Add ground veggies such as zucchini or carrots to the meat, or add cooked lentils or mushrooms for an alternative take on standard fare. These burgers will take longer to cook.


Avoid potential contamination from raw meat; use separate tools for raw and cooked meat and wash your hands thoroughly after handling any raw animal products.

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