How to make the perfect hamburger

Which burgers are the tastiest? Grilled or griddled?

Published: August 05, 2014 02:45 PM

When the New York Times ran an article “Deconstructing the perfect burger” recently, the editors, engineers, and food experts at Consumer Reports saw a challenge. Which cooking method produces the juiciest burger: grilling or griddling? To find out we went to the gas grill labs, cooked up some burgers directly on the grates and in cast-iron frying pans, and presented the results to our panel of blind taste-testers. Try it at your next barbecue.

The theory offered by George Mozt in the Times article is that hamburgers taste better when cooked on a griddle or in a cast iron pan versus placing them on the grill grates. Mozt ought to know, he’s the filmmaker who made “Hamburger America” in 2005 and is now known as a leading authority on hamburgers, according to the newspaper. He says that the beef fat that collects in the hot skillet acts as both a cooking and flavoring agent. To check his claims, we turned to our own experts armed with cast iron frying pans and one of our top-rated grills.

Grill vs. griddle face-off
The top burgers were cooked on the grates; the bottom burgers in a frying pan

Great gas grills
When attempting to grill the perfect burger, perfect steak, or other outdoor fare, it helps to have the perfect gas grill. Midsized grills that can accommodate 18 to 28 hamburgers are the most popular size. Our top-rated midsized grill is the Weber Spirit SP-320 46700401, $600, which was excellent at high and low temperatures and at indirect cooking. To make more than 28 burgers at once, opt for the top-rated large Napoleon Prestige Pro 665RSIB, $2,600, which was also an excellent performer in our gas grill tests. Weber also makes our top-rated small grill, the Weber Spirit E-220 46310001, $450, which can handle up to 18 burgers.

First-rate frying pans
To try the griddle test, you can place a cast-iron pan right on your gas grill like we did. Because food can stick and it was hard to clean, the 10-inch cast-iron Lodge Pro-Logic frying pan, $25, did not fare well in Consumer Reports' cookware tests. But many cooks swear by cast-iron cookware for searing and cooking meat and are willing to put up with the drawbacks to get the flavor they like. Our top-rated frying pan is the non-stick 10-inch Swiss Diamond Classic, $90. In our tests, food didn’t stick and the pan was easy to clean. For less than half that you can buy the 10-inch Calphalon Simply Nonstick Omelette Pan, $40, which we named a CR Best Buy. And it's not just for omlettes.

—Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

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