What Temperature For Burgers?

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We all have different preferences when it comes to burgers. Some people love a thick burger, some people want their burgers stuffed with cheese, and still others love smash burgers. Then when you throw in the toppings discussion, it can get crazy.  However, we need to know what’s the safest way to make burgers. We…

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What Temperature for Burgers

We all have different preferences when it comes to burgers. Some people love a thick burger, some people want their burgers stuffed with cheese, and still others love smash burgers. Then when you throw in the toppings discussion, it can get crazy. 

However, we need to know what’s the safest way to make burgers. We want to enjoy our burgers and not be sick for days because it wasn’t made or cooked properly. So at what temp are burgers done? Per the United States Department of Agriculture, the safe hamburger temperature is 160°F. 

Now that raises a number of questions, right? Why can I cook a steak medium-rare per USDA guidelines but not burgers? Why can I order a medium-rare burger at a restaurant? Can I make a safe burger that is cooked to medium or medium-rare? How the heck do I cook a burger to 160°F without it being dry?

That’s a lot of questions, but we’re going to tackle them all. 

Why Does The USDA Recommend 160°F For Burger Internal Temp?

We know that the whole point of cooking food to a recommended internal temperature is for food safety. All raw meat has some sort of bacteria presence that we need to destroy. We also know that internal temperature can vary widely depending on the meat. Unfortunately, when it comes to ground meat, all that bacteria is worked throughout the meat.

That’s what makes hamburgers so different from steaks. When steaks are cut from a larger roast, only the exterior of that steak is exposed to bacteria. The middle of the meat is still protected as long as proper care and storage methods are observed. So you can sear your steaks over high heat while still keeping the internal temperature between 130°-135°F. 

However, anytime you have ground meat like the kind used to make burgers, you’re grinding all that meat together. So whether you’re grinding up chuck roast, brisket trimmings, or whatever your preference is, all the bacteria from the surface of those cuts is getting worked throughout the entirety of the ground beef. 

So while you can safely grill or sear your steak to your preference, there’s a lot more risk with a medium-rare hamburger. 

What Are The Risks Of Ignoring Safe Burger Temperatures?

There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get sick from eating a medium-rare burger, and you know that. The vast majority of people have consumed burgers that aren’t cooked to 160°F and have not gotten sick. Yet the threat of food poisoning still remains.

If you’ve never had food poisoning before, that’s a good thing. While the long-term effects of food poisoning are small, it will definitely ruin a few hours to a few days of your life.  Per the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms are diarrhea, stomach pain and/or cramps, fever, vomiting, and nausea. 

However, there are some long-term risks if you have a severe case of food poisoning. The CDC recommends that you see a doctor if your diarrhea is bloody and/or continues for more than three days, a fever of 102°F or higher, if vomiting prevents you from staying hydrated, and dehydration in general.

If you have a more severe case of food poisoning or a related food-borne illness, you could deal with kidney issues (damage or even hemolytic uremic syndrome which can lead to your kidneys actually failing,) meningitis, arthritis, and even damage to your brain or nerves.

So now that we’ve covered the nightmare scenarios, we need to ask ourselves a very important question.

Why Can I Order My Burger Patty Medium-Rare At A Restaurant?

If the risk of an undercooked burger can be so severe, why can restaurants serve burgers cooked to a temperature below USDA regulations? Well, restaurants typically have a disclaimer on the menu about the health risks of ordering foods like burgers at temperatures that would be considered undercooked. That type of disclaimer then transfers the liability to the customer rather than the restaurant if the consumer gets sick from a medium-rare burger.

Now, that does not remove the restaurant’s culpability if a customer gets sick from a hamburger cooked to the proper temperature. That would be a food-handling issue, not a doneness issue. 

How Do I Keep Track Of My Burger Internal Temp?

So now that we know the risks of undercooked hamburgers, how can we know for certain what our hamburger internal temp is? The easiest way to monitor burger internal temps is by using an instant-read thermometer. 

Instant-read thermometers are one of the most important accessories whether you’re focused on grilling, smoking barbecue, or even just a general home cook. These thermometers give you accurate temperatures quickly so you know when your burger is about to hit 160°F. If you don’t have one, you absolutely should get one. Check out our favorite instant-read thermometers for some quality options whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest in technology without concern for cost or if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option. 

Regardless of the type of instant-read thermometer you purchase, they’re all fairly simple to use. You insert the sharp end of the probe into the thickest part of the meat and observe the readout on the screen. Some of these thermometers give you a readout in less than a second which is perfect if you’re searing burgers over high heat.

Speaking of heat, you’re probably trying to figure out how you can cook a delicious burger to 160°F without drying it out, right?

What’s The Best Way To Cook Burgers So They Don’t Dry Out?

No one wants to serve (or eat) a dry burger, right? We want to enjoy burgers that are full of juices. Well, there are a couple of different ways to ensure that your burgers are still as moist as possible while you ensure they are safe to eat. You want to use 80/20 or even 73 percent ground beef, and you want to use two-zone cooking methods if you’re going for a thicker burger. 

Note: If you’re a fan of smash burgers, you don’t have to worry about two-zone cooking because these aren’t going to be thick at all. You’ll want to go with at least 80/20 fat ratio. Some people like 73 percent as well.

As for a more traditional hamburger, the fat ratio question is both a matter of preference and a matter of your cooking method. Some people very much prefer lean ground beef, potentially for health reasons. It’s going to result in a drier hamburger, though. So I would only make a hamburger with that fat ratio if it’s a health-related choice.

As for 80/20 versus 73 percent, we know that 73 percent ground beef will be more moist due to the fat content, but there are two side effects of that. One, your burgers will lose more weight. Second, the potential for a flare-up is much higher. If you’re cooking over direct heat, whether it’s charcoal or gas grill, all those drippings can drop down and catch fire. 

Now those drippings can vaporize and create more flavor, but grease fires are a reality of grilling. So that’s just something you want to be aware of when choosing the fat ratio for your burgers. More fat equals more moisture, but it also creates more chances of an uncontrollable fire.

The other important way to ensure your burger is cooked properly and stays moist is by starting the burgers over indirect heat before quickly searing them over direct, high heat. Slowly bringing the internal temperature up before just a quick sear will keep you from ratcheting up the internal temp too quickly. It also helps you to cook your burger properly so you get to your temperature target without burning the outside of your burger so much it matches charcoal.

This can be done on a charcoal grill, gas grill, using a pellet grill, or even in your kitchen. If you’ve got a charcoal grill, you’ll want to position your fire to one side of the grill. If you’ve got a gas grill, you’ll want to have one or two of your burners on with the rest off. If you’re using a pellet grill, set it to 225°-250°F as if you’re reverse-searing. You’ll do the same with your oven if you’re cooking inside.

Once your burgers are around 140°F, you’ll want to transfer them to the hot side of the grill to finish searing. If you’re using a pellet grill with a direct flame option, then simply reveal the firepot for searing. You can also preheat a gas grill or charcoal grill for the searing part. If you’re starting in the oven, preheat a cast iron skillet (or your preferred cooking implement) on the stovetop. 

If you’re concerned about keeping an eye on that internal temperature during the slow part, you can always use a leave-in meat thermometer like the ThermoWorks Signals meat thermometer. It even will allow you to keep an eye on multiple burgers at the same time on your phone. 

Once your burgers are on the hot surface, check the temperature regularly and pull the burgers around 155°F. There will be enough thermal carryover to get you to 160°F for safe yet still juicy burgers.

Is There A Way To Grill Burgers That Are Safe To Eat At Lower Temperatures?

If you can’t fathom eating a well-done burger that’s been cooked to 160°F but you still want to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses as much as possible, you do have an avenue to enjoy a medium-rare or medium burger at home. However, it is more ambitious than simply setting up a grill for two-zone cooking. You will need to grind your own ground beef at home.

So why does that make a difference? If you grind your own ground beef at home while observing proper procedures right before you grill the burgers, the bacteria doesn’t have time to reproduce the same way it would through pre-ground meat. Also, if you’re grinding your own beef, there’s less likelihood of contamination due to different cuts of meat from different animals being combined.

Not only does this make it safer to grill your burgers to a lower temperature, but you’ll also have a better burger in general. The meat is fresher and you can pick what cuts of meat you use (bonus for using up those brisket trimmings.) 

You must keep your meat and your utensils clean and cold. Everything should be under 40°F to prevent any bacteria from reproducing. You can get a meat grinder, use a food processor, or even chop it with a good knife. You’ll want to put everything in the fridge for up to an hour before you grind the meat. For the food processor, that’ll be the bowl and blade.

So once you’ve got your meat ground, what temperatures can you grill your burgers to? The temperatures for burger doneness are the same as our steak chart that I’ve included below.

Steak Doneness Chart

If you’re a fan of medium-rare burgers, you’ll want to grill them to a temperature between 130°-135°F. As for your medium burger temp, that’ll be between 135°-145°F. If you want the tiniest hint of pink for a medium-well burger, you want a final internal temperature of 145°-155°F.

Wrapping It Up

If you’re purchasing ground beef from the grocery store or your local supermarket, you should be targeting 160°F for your burger internal temp. It’s a safety issue, and while plenty of us have cooked our burgers below that for years and been okay, you’re trusting the quality of the ground beef you’re picking up from a store. That can always blow up in your face, and you don’t want that happening during a big summer cookout.

If you want to enjoy burgers cooked to whatever your desired level of doneness is, take the time, effort, and investment into grinding your own beef at home. You’ll get a better burger in terms of quality while also being able to cook to lower temperatures safely.

Do you grind your own burger meat at home and have any tips and tricks? Or do you have a go-to method of cooking the perfect burger? Let us know in the comments!

Jeremy Pike

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