Grill the perfect burger, tailgate style

Sep 5, 2011 at 10:39 p.m. ET

Nothing says tailgate party like a juicy burger fresh off the grill. Follow these easy steps to grill like a pro.

Firing up the tailgate grill

Step 1: Start with a clean grill

Make sure your grill is clean and the grates are cured and oiled. Light your grill and prepare for grilling over high heat.

If you're fairly new to grilling and want to eliminate the guesswork of charcoal readiness, opt for an electric or gas grill. If you go with electric, make sure you have an accessible power source.

Grills come in all shapes and sizes. If you're not planning on grilling massive amounts of meat, then a small portable patio grill will suffice. If you need a little more space, try a trailer hitch grill. It's easy to transport, and you don't even have to detach it from your hitch.

Step 2: Use high-quality meat with 20 percent fat

Fat equals flavor and moisture, which is exactly what you want in a burger. Ground chuck, ground sirloin or a good ground beef -- organic, if possible -- are excellent choices. Don't pack the burger patties too tightly. Make plump, loosely packed patties about 3/4 of an inch thick. Never flatten the patties on the grill. Instead, make a small indentation with your thumb in the middle of each patty as you form it; this will combat the bloating that happens when burgers grill.

Step 3: Season the meat

Many people mix the seasonings right into the meat. By attempting to mix the seasonings in evenly, they unintentionally overwork the meat. Avoid this mistake by simply seasoning the patties after they've been formed.

If you're using salt, add it just before placing the burgers onto the grill. Salt draws the moisture that makes for a juicy burger.

Step 4: Put the patties on the grill

Place your perfectly formed, just-seasoned patties onto the hottest part of the grill to sear the meat and create a crust, locking in flavor and moisture. Depending on the size of the patties and how you like them prepared, cook them for approximately five to six minutes. You should see juices coming through the top, indicating that the burger is cooking in the middle.

When the juices become clear, flip the patties and grill for a couple minutes less than you did for the first side.To retain moisture, remember these two rules: flip only once and do not press down on the burgers while they're on the grill.

Step 5: Let them rest

Allow the burgers to rest for a couple of minutes so the juices distribute evenly.

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