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An Answer to the Age-Old Question, "How Often Should You Flip a Burger?"

From J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats: A friend—who for some odd reason trusts my musical advice, or at least pretends to—asked me a question about the great Who number "Pinball Wizard" the other day, and as always happens when I think about that song, the best line got stuck in my head for a good three days. There's something about the image of a kid who's "got crazy flipping fingers" that's just funny to me.

All this has nothing to do with burgers, other than the "crazy flipping" part. I posed a simple question on my Facebook page the other day: When cooking a burger, how many times do you flip it?

As you can imagine, the responses fell overwhelmingly into the "single flip" camp. It seems that so-called "nervous flipper"—you know, the backyard griller who, like a chimp at the Bronx Zoo, can't seem to leave his meat alone—have a bad rap in the food world. Some commenters even went so far as to resort to ALL CAPS: "How can you even ask this question? ONE FLIP!"

Yikes!

Well, I've always been of the mind that if an answer exists—and clearly, there is an answer to this—then the question is worth asking. Fortunately, this question is one that's fairly straightforward to test.

Those on the "one flip" side (22 out of every 23 people, according to my Facebook data), claim "more even cooking," and "better flavor development," as the selling points of the method. Curiously, the few people on the "multiple flips" side (which, incidentally, has some heavy-hitting supporters including Harold McGee himself) claim the exact same benefits from multiple flips, adding in "shortened cooking time" to the mix.

So who's right?

To test this, I formed a dozen 1/2-pound burgers into equal-sized patties*, seasoned them just before cooking with an equal amount of kosher salt and black pepper, then seared them in a steel skillet pre-heated to 450°F (which I temped with an infrared thermometer before adding the patties). The ambient air in the kitchen was at an unbearably hot 76°F (my Colombian wife was home, and thus the heating was on full blast**). Each patty was cooked to an internal temperature of 125°F, and was then rested for five minutes at room temperature before being autopsied for examination.

*The theories tested here only apply to thick burgers—thin patties are an entirely different beast.

**Are you all tired of hearing about her yet? I apologize. We both work from home, so we don't get to see much of the real world.

A scale and ruler were used to collect data on moisture loss, external browning characteristics, and internal cooking pattern, while the overall degree of pleasure contained within each patty was ascertained via a standard oral mastication assay (aka, eating it).

The only variable in cooking was the number of times the patty was flipped, ranging from once every three and a half minutes (resulting in a single flip during cooking), down to one flip every 15 seconds... Go to Serious Eats to see the results along with great photos.

 

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