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4 Tips to Building the Perfect Burger + Hot Dog

It’s easy to take hot dogs and hamburgers for granted. After all, they’re everywhere: at fast food joints, picnics, ballparks, even peddled from carts on the street. But don’t be fooled—there’s an art to the well-crafted hot dog, brat, or burger. These guidelines and the recipes that follow will teach you how to take the ordinary to the next level.

4 Tips to Building the Perfect Burger + Hot Dog
 
For the best grilling results, use these surprisingly simple techniques and tips to build better hamburgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst.

How should I shape a burger patty?

First, portion the meat loosely into a ball, then use a fork to gently press the top and sides into a patty. This helps keep the meat from becoming compacted and tough. The patty should be larger in diameter than the bun—it’ll shrink to fit as it cooks.

What’s the best way to warm the burger buns? (Stop snickering.)

For steamy soft burger buns, a few minutes before the burgers are done, set the bottom half of the bun on the burger, followed by the top. The burger’s steam will soften the bread. Toasting the buns on the grill is also an option.
 

What’s the best temperature for grilling hot dogs and brats?

A fairly hot grill is best for these meats, about medium-high. But be careful—if it’s too hot, the casings will split and leak juices, drying out the meat. For the same reason, use tongs or a spatula to turn, never stab with a fork.

Aren’t all hot dog buns the same?

No. It seems like a simple concept, but people make this mistake all the time. Buy unsliced hot dog buns for dogs and brat buns for brats (they’re bigger). And rather than slicing the bun from the side, cut them open from the top. They’re easier to fill and to eat.

BUYER’S GUIDE

HAMBURGER

Ground beef is categorized by its fat content. Packages of hamburger can contain up to 30% fat (it may be labeled “70% lean”). At the other end of the spectrum is ground sirloin, only about 10% fat (“90% lean”). Neither should be used for burgers—high- fat beef will shrink and cause grease flare-ups. Lean beef tastes bland and can dry out.

For great burgers, your best bet is ground chuck or ground round. At 15–20% fat, both types stay moist on the grill, yet aren’t greasy. Regardless of which beef you use, cook it to 160° for food safety reasons.
 

HOT DOGS

If your hot dog brand of choice is whatever is on sale, then you’re missing out on some exceptional eating.

I recommend hot dogs with natural casings. Usually made with all beef or a beef- pork combination, these dogs will “snap” when you bite into them. They’re often more flavorful and have less fillers than standard hot dogs. They can be a little harder to find so examine labels. For national brands, some of my favorites are Boar’s Head and Nathan’s. Regional favorites include Wimmer’s and Vienna Beef.