Four Ways to Cook the Perfect Burger, From Cast Iron to—Trust Us—Steamed

Test kitchen-approved methods for the best patties.

By SAVEUR Editors

Updated on June 15, 2021

Whether you’ve got a single skillet or a fully stocked kitchen—or perhaps you’re just itching to light that new grill—there is a burger method that’s right for you. Below, we break down the best ways to cook burgers on the stovetop, in a toaster oven, over the grill, even how to steam the patties. Once you’ve mastered your preferred method, check out our Ultimate Burger Guide for our favorite recipes, toppings, tips, and sides.

Cooking Burgers on the Stove

Smashing the burger down with the back of a spatula creates those crispy, craggly edges beloved by American diner-goers.

A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is the ideal tool for making thin, diner-style burgers. The wide, shallow pan mimics a restaurant-style flat-top griddle by generating a high, dry, even heat. George Motz, the author of Hamburger America, recommends a method popular with short-order cooks in the Midwest. Here’s his technique for how to cook a cheeseburger in a pan:

  1. Heat a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until it just begins to smoke, about 2 minutes. Using a large ice cream scoop with a release trigger for portioning, place a scoop of meat in the skillet.
  2. Allow the meat to cook for a few seconds, then, using the back of a wide, offset spatula, smash the scoop of meat down to make a ½-inch patty. Flattening creates a flavorful sear and crisp, uneven edges as the burger sizzles in its own fat. Cook the patty, flipping once, until it is browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes total.
  3. Place a slice of cheese atop the patty, cover the skillet, and continue cooking just until the cheese has melted, about 1 minute more.

Broiling Burgers

Save yourself the cleanup headaches: Line your baking sheet with aluminum foil before adding a wire or perforated metal rack.

This is our favorite rainy-day (or city apartment) technique for achieving results similar to what you’d get with a charcoal or gas grill. We prefer to use the broiler setting on an electric toaster oven, rather than a full-size oven, because the small appliance’s compact cooking space concentrates the heat more intensely on the meat. (If you don’t have a toaster oven, though, a standard oven will get the job done.)

  1. Preheat the toaster oven to broil and position its rack as close as possible to the heating element
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then place a wire or perforated metal rack atop it. Place two 8-ounce burgers on the rack.
  3. Transfer to the toaster oven and broil the patties until the meat is nicely browned on one side, 6–7 minutes.
  4. Use an offset metal spatula to carefully flip the burgers, then continue cooking until the meat is browned on the second side and cooked through to your desired temperature (about 1 minute more, or to 130°F, for medium-rare).

Grilling Burgers

Charcoal grilling is the gold standard in burger-cookery.

Cooking meat over an open flame will always yield some degree of savory, smoky flavor. We especially like to cook burgers (and other smaller cuts of meat) over a compact charcoal grill, like a traditional hibachi or the Lodge Sportsman, on which the grates sit close to the heat source, making it easier to achieve a crispy, charred exterior.

  1. Build a medium-hot charcoal fire (the coals are ready when they are fully ashed over but still hot enough that you can’t hold your hand an inch above them for more than two seconds).
  2. Place the burgers on the grill grate and cook, waiting for at least 4 minutes before flipping.
  3. Cook until both sides are browned and the burger is cooked to the desired doneness, about 10 minutes total for medium-rare, 8-ounce burgers. Let the burgers rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Steamed Burgers

Steamed burgers may not be the photogenic beauties of fast-food commercial dreams, but this kooky method produces juicy results with none of the smoke.

At Ted’s Restaurant in Meriden, Connecticut, owner Paul Duberek sells hundreds of his famous steamed white-cheddar cheeseburgers a week. It’s a burger-cooking style that hasn’t found much of a fan base outside the state, but steaming at home is easy, smokeless, and can produce winning results, as the meat stays moist while it cooks in its own juices. Though you probably don’t have one of Duberek’s patented steaming cabinets at home, our MacGyvered tuna-can method works wonders.

  1. Place a round wire rack or flat-bottomed steamer in the bottom of a large, wide-bottomed pot; add ½ inch of water, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, press ¼ cup of ground beef into each of 2 empty, clean 5-ounce tuna cans. Place 2 thick slices of white cheddar into 2 additional tuna cans.
  2. Transfer the cans to the rack, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is cooked through and the cheese is melted gooey, 12–14 minutes for medium-rare. To remove cans, grip the edges with tongs and lift them carefully out of the pot.
  3. Use a small knife to loosen the meat from the cans, then transfer to two warm hamburger buns. Pour the molten cheese over the burgers and serve.

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