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How To Grill The World's Best Cheeseburger

Step one: Turn on your favorite playlist and drink a beer.

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This is chef Matt Jennings. He is a man you should trust when it comes to food, and he is going to show you how to grill a cheeseburger.

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Jennings started his career as a cheesemonger running the cheese shop Farmstead in Providence, RI. He later opened an adjoining restaurant, La Laiterie, and was a three-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation's 'Best Chef - Northeast' award. Earlier this year, he left Providence to focus on a new restaurant, Townsman, which will open in Boston later this year. If you know what's good for you, you will make it a priority to try Townsman once it's open.

Here are the tools you will need:

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(Clockwise, from left):

Charcoal Grill (Gas works too, but charcoal grills rule, and you should learn to light one.)

Plates to hold burger toppings

Medium mixing bowl

Grill chimney

Cutting board

Charcoal briquettes (not "matchlight")

2 seasoning trays or baking sheets

Grill brush

Grill spatula*


Sharp knife

Parchment paper

*Our grill spatula is comically large. Yours doesn't have to be.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

For the special sauce:


Sour cream

Apple cider vinegar

Prepared horseradish


Dijon mustard

For the burgers:

Iceberg lettuce

Spanish onion

Cabot extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Ground chuck

Martin's Sandwich Potato Rolls (or any hamburger buns)

Beer (optional)

(There are exact quantities for all the ingredients in the full recipe at the end of this post.)



Your version of a sick playlist might be different. This is Chef's "Perfect Cheeseburger Playlist." it could be essential to your burger success.


Divide your meat into equal portions based on the number of burgers you're going to make.

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If you're making eight burgers, divide it into eight portions. They might look big; keep in mind that the burger patties will shrink as they cook. Also, America.

Throw the balls of portioned beef against the cutting board, twice on each side, to get any air bubbles out.

But no more than twice on each side. Try not to leave too much fat on your cutting board — scrape it off and put it back on the burger.


Then use your fingers to create a dimple in the middle, just on one side.

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The meat will expand as it cooks; this divot keeps the patty from puffing up and turning into a softball shape.

Season each patty liberally with salt on both sides.

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You can definitely season the burger meat BEFORE you portion it out into individual burgers. A lot of chefs would do it that way. This way, though, allows us to show you how aggressively seasoned each burger is, which is important.


Put all of your seasoned patties on a tray or baking sheet, and put the tray in the fridge.

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Seasoning in advance gives the meat a chance to absorb the seasoning, which is a very good thing. You can season the patties up to 2 hours before you grill them (which gives you PLENTY of time to light the grill and make your sauce), but no more.


Get a grill chimney here for $14.99. It's totally worth it, and is something you'll use forever. It allows you to easily light / heat the coals without using lighter fluid (a.k.a. poison).

Crumple a sheet of newspaper and put it in the bottom of the grill chimney.

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A grill chimney has two compartments: a big top compartment and a little bottom compartment. The top, larger part is usually for the coals, the bottom part is where a lot of people put the crumbled newspaper. Jennings actually just shoves his newspaper in the bottom of the top compartment and makes sure that some is sticking through the bottom, as is pictured here, so he can light the paper on fire with a lighter. Other people put the newspaper in the bottom compartment and light it through one of those slots that are on the bottom rim of the chimney. Either way works.


Put the chimney on the BOTTOM rack of your grill and pour in a layer of coals, a second layer of crumpled newspaper, and a second layer of coals.

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Your grill should have two racks — a top and a bottom. The bottom rack of your grill is the one that coals go on. The top rack is the one you cook the food on.

The second layer of newspaper going in the chimney is not at all essential, but it's good insurance that your coals will light, Chef says, especially on a windy day.


The SPECIAL SAUCE ingredients are:

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3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon sour cream

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons ketchup (Chef didn't actually measure, he just suggested a "2 count squeeze")

*these "tablespoons" = if you take a regular spoon and put in a spoonful, in case you don't want to measure.


By now, your coals should be almost ready. When they're ready, they look like this:

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The coals in the chimney are ready to go in the grill when all the coals are almost white — the ones on top won't be white yet, but you should take the coals out of the chimney while there are still a few on top that aren't white. Chef put it like this: "You want your coals to be medium-well, not well done, because once your fire is out, your fire is out and you're fucked."

Dump the hot coals out of the chimney onto ONE SIDE of the grill.

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Before you dump your coals on the grill you might want to take note of which way the wind is blowing and dump them so that any ash will blow away from your face.

Only put them on one side of the grill.

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The side they are on will be the "hot" zone where you'll cook your burgers. The side without any coals under it will be the "cold" zone where you can move burgers that are done and put cheese on.

Put the grill grate on top and let it sit for a couple of minutes to get REALLY hot.

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Once it's hot, use a grill brush to get it as clean as possible. "The more shit that is on your grill grate, the more the burgers will stick, so scrape it clean."


Put your hand over the grate: If you cannot keep your hand there for more than 3 seconds, that means the grill is hot enough to put your burgers on.

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Do not pour coals into a grill and then immediately put your burgers on a cold grill rack. That is dumb, like putting meat in a cold pan. You want to hear SEAR AND SIZZLE.

Lay four patties down on the hot side of the grill and DO NOT TOUCH THEM.

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DO NOT TOUCH YOUR BURGERS. No fiddling or pressing down with the spatula; pressing releases delicious fat that you want to keep inside the burger. Also, don't try to grill too many burgers at once; you don't want to crowd them, so cook them in batches.

PRO TIP: Drinking beer suppresses the urge to touch your burgers.

After 3 minutes, use a grill spatula to ROTATE (NOT FLIP) your burgers 1/4 turn.

When you rotate them, the burgers should look cooked on the underside, but still raw on top. This rotations is all about aesthetics — creating that criss-cross hatch mark look — and not actually essential.


Let them cook for 3 more minutes. They will be almost medium rare.

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The burgers will be completely cooked on the outside but still very tender. Chef described the feeling of a medium-rare burger as being, "tender like a fresh loaf of bread." That might be confusing to you, but the idea is that when you poke the burger with your finger, the meat on the inside is still soft enough to "give" a little bit. Your finger will make a little crater, but the meat is cooked enough that the crater will almost immediately spring back up.


Cover the grill and continue to grill so the cheese melts over the first batch.

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Put the grill cover on, but open the holes on top halfway. If it's totally closed, you'll block oxygen from getting into the grill and extinguish the fire (BAD).


Perfect Grilled Cheeseburgers with Special Sauce

Recipe by Matt Jennings

Makes 8 burgers


For burgers:

4 pounds freshly ground beef chuck, about 20 percent fat

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 potato sandwich rolls

1 medium spanish onion, thinly sliced

1 small head iceberg lettuce, torn into large leaves

8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick

For special sauce:

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons ketchup

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon sour cream

1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar


Shape patties:

1. Divide the ground chuck into 8 portions. (Each will weight about 1/2 pound.)

2. Take each portion and throw it against a cutting board from 8-12 inches above, once or twice on each side, to get rid of air and make a denser patty. Then shape each portion into large patties, about 4-inches in diameter and 1 1/2-inches thick, by rotating it in your hand using a light touch. Use your fingers to create a dimple (about 1/2-inch deep) in the middle of each patty, just on one side.

3. When your patties are formed, season them liberally with salt and pepper on both sides, lay them on a baking sheet or tray, and refrigerate them. You can season the meat as far as two hours in advance of grilling them, but no more.

Prepare your charcoal grill:

Pack 1-2 sheets of newspaper into the bottom of a grill chimney, then fill the chimney 1/2 of the way with coals (preferably charcoal briquettes), add another sheet of newspaper on top of the coals, then add another layer of coals to reach almost the top of the chimney. Light the newspaper under the chimney and set it on the bottom rack of the grill. Let the briquettes heat until all but the ones at the top are white, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare your special sauce and toppings.

Make special sauce:

Add all sauce ingredients to a medium mixing bowl and stir everything together to combine. Transfer sauce into a smaller serving bowl and refrigerate.

Grill burgers:

1. When your sauce is made, patties are formed, and coals are hot, dump the coals out of the chimney onto the bottom grill rack and pile them on only one side of the grill. Don't spread them over the entire bottom of the grill, since you want some grill space that's a little bit cooler. Put the top grill grate on and let it get extremely hot, about 3-5 minutes. Use a grill brush to clean the grill as thoroughly as possible, to prevent the burgers from sticking. (If using a gas grill, preheat the grill to hot, leaving at least one of the gas burners off so that there is a cooler part of the grill.)

2. When the grill is clean and hot, place four patties down on the hot part of the grill. It's important not to crowd them (they shouldn't be touching), so you are going to work in batches of four. Let these four burgers cook for 3 minutes WITHOUT TOUCHING THEM, then use a grill spatula to rotate each patty 1/4 turn, or 90 degrees. (This 1/4 turn is mostly for looks — it is what creates the criss-cross hatch marks, and it isn't essential. Note that you're not flipping the burgers, you're just rotating them.) Let the burgers cook for 1 minute more, then flip them with the grill spatula, still working only on the hot side of the grill. Let the burgers cook for 3 minutes more, then use the grill spatula to move the patties to the cooler part of the grill, and top them each with a few slices of cheese.

3. Put the other four raw patties on the hot side of the grill. Then cover the grill so the cheese will melt on the first batch, and cook about 1 minute. As soon as the cheese is melted, take the burgers off the grill and let them rest on a tray or plate. Keep cooking your second batch of burgers exactly the same way you did the first batch, using the cool side of the grill to melt the cheese.

4. Once the second batch has cheese on it, toast the buns over the coals on the hot side: Split them open and place them, split side down, on the hot side of the grill so that they heat and just start to toast, about 30 seconds.

5. Spread the bottom half of each toasted bun with about a tablespoon of special sauce, then top with a cheeseburger, a lettuce leaf, and a few slices of onion. Top with the remaining half of the bun, and serve immediately.