Hamburger Safe Handling and Cooking Temps

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As a kid, I never liked grilled hamburgers. but it turns out, I was eating burgers that were overcooked and now I enjoy a well-cooked burger. I know I’m not alone in searching for the perfect grilled burger. Part of the reason grillers often overcook meat is the fear of harmful bacteria that is often…

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Safe Temp For Cooked Burgers

As a kid, I never liked grilled hamburgers. but it turns out, I was eating burgers that were overcooked and now I enjoy a well-cooked burger. I know I’m not alone in searching for the perfect grilled burger.

Part of the reason grillers often overcook meat is the fear of harmful bacteria that is often associated with raw meat. Use our temperature guide to grill a burger that is flavorful, juicy, and safe to eat. 

Food Safety First

There are a few key tips for handling raw meat. First, always wash your hands, thermometer, and work surfaces before and after handling raw meat. 

Bacteria may be present on food products because they may contain bacteria from the cow, processing equipment and process, or from the environment. For example, cows raised in feedlots are close together and may often roam in their own manure. It’s hard to control the spread of bacteria in these conditions. That’s why it’s critical to know how to prepare and consume ground beef. 

Health Risks with Ground Beef

Some meats, like ground beef, are also riskier because the grinding process spreads pathogens and bacteria throughout the meat. Any bacteria that was on the surface of the meat is now ground up and spread throughout the tiny pieces. 

Spoilage bacteria are less harmful than pathogenic bacteria but still cause food to lose quality and have an unpleasant taste. 

Kill harmful bacteria in foods by cooking them to a target temperature. It’s important to use heat here, as freezing does not kill e coli or salmonella, common pathogens in ground beef. 

raw hamburgers

Tips to Reduce Risks of Food Poisoning 

Serve meat that is safe by following these tips when preparing your meal. 

  • Keep meats cold and within the temperature safety zone until ready to prepare and cook. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils, cutting boards, and serving dishes for raw meat and cooked meats. 
  • Use hot, soapy water with clean cloths to wipe prep areas and spills. 
  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter or outside.  
  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator. Never leave meat at room temperature for over 2 hours, as it will enter the temperature danger zone.

Using a Food Thermometer  

A common grilling mistake is not using temperature checks with a food thermometer when grilling burgers.

People often check to see if their hamburgers are ready in other ways, like the color of the burger. Other factors, like the animal’s diet or how meat was processed, affect the color of the meat. So using visual cues is not an accurate method for reaching a safe temperature. It may look done on the outside but the inside may need longer. 

Find an instant-read thermometer or digital thermometer and only use it for cooking meat. Check your hamburger’s internal temperature by inserting the thermometer through the side of the patty. This places it in the center of the patty, where it takes the longest to cook. 

Grinding Your Own Meat 

Grinding your own meat gives you a little flexibility with temperature since you’re able to reduce the risk of bacteria in the meat. You can also store your meat cut in the refrigerator longer than ground meat. Fresh meats last 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. Ground up meat only lasts in the refrigerator for around two days. After this timeframe, either cook your meat or put it in the freezer. 

Grinding your own hamburger

Many of us don’t have a meat grinder and that’s okay. You can grind beef with a food processor or hand chop your meat into small pieces. 

Customize Your Meat Blends

Pre-packaged meats may say a blend or special grind but may not say the exact cut of meat. Grinding your own meat allows you to customize your meat blends. 

Grinding your own meat gives you more control over the percentage of fat in your burgers. Choose your meats based on lean to fat ratio, cost and flavor. Chuck steak is often used for burgers and is typically 15% to 20% fat. While chuck has a good lean to fat ratio, you might choose to blend it with another meat for added juiciness.  When making the Angry BBQ Smash Burger; a 80/20 lean/fat ratio is used.

Whatever you choose, the fat content can affect how long you need to cook your burger. Leaner meats will take less cooking time, so monitor your meats with your thermometer. Medium-well burgers cook best with a meat blend that is about 40% fat, while a medium-rare burger can be a lower percentage of fat.

Temperature and Burger Doneness 

Based on food safety guidelines, serve store-bought ground beef when the meat has reached an internal temperature of 160°F. Ground meats can be blended from multiple cuts of different cows, which makes it harder to control what bacteria are introduced to the meat. 

Keep in mind that carryover cooking means your meat will continue to cook for a few minutes after you remove it from the grill. You can pull your burgers about 10° lower than your desired end temperature. For example, remove your well-done or store-bought patties from the grill when the hamburger temp is 155°F. 

When you grind your own meat into patties, use the following guide to determine minimum temperatures to grill to your tastes and preferences on doneness. 

Hamburger Doneness Table

Use our burger temps chart for your next cook.

Rare120°F-125°FIt is unsafe to eat burgers cooked at this temperature.
Medium Rare130°F-135°FIt’s not recommended for most people to cook and eat burgers that are cooked at this temperature
Medium140°F-145°FAt this temperature, your meat will still have a little pink throughout the inside. Self-ground burgers made with quality ingredients can be safe to eat
Medium Well150°F-155°F You are now on the verge of a dried out disappointing wreck of a burger
Well done160°F-165°F Yup. You’ve ruined it.
Medium rare grilled burger patty close up

Use the Two-Stage Method with Temperatures

Just throwing your burger on a hot grill is a recipe for an overcooked, dry hamburger. Instead, use the two-stage method. It helps you reach the perfect temperature and get the doneness you desire. 

Set up your grill with a lower-heat side and a high-heat side. 

First place the burgers on the lower-heat side. Once the patty is 20°F below your target temperature, move them to the high-heat side. Remember, don’t place your cooked burgers on the lower heat side or near your raw meat. 

Final Thoughts

Cooking tasty burgers has a lot to do with temperature. The next time you fire up your grill for hamburgers, use your meat thermometer and follow temperature guidelines to become the grill master cooking up the perfect burger.

Now that you know so much more about hamburger, try out these recipes that use ground beef.

Julie Harris - Registered Dietitian

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