how to make perfect juicy burgers without a BBQ [5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

salt crusted burgers salt crusted burgers

After last week agreeing with Michael Pollan that junk food is OK as long as you make it yourself, it seems like the perfect time to share my new favourite technique for cooking burgers.

Normally if I were on a burger-flipping spree, I’d fire up my barbeque to get a nice crusty patty. But recently I’ve been spending a lot of time at my Irishman’s new residence in the Snowy Mountains which is between barbeques at the moment (not that I’m complaining, the kitchen is new and a dream to cook in – electric oven with a gas cooktop, say no more.).

So when I read about a technique for cooking burgers in a frying pan that give juicy burgers with a lovely meaty crust, I was very keen to give it a go. I picked the idea up from Robert Wolke in his great food-nerd, I mean kitchen science, book ‘What Einstein Told His Cook’.

The theory goes, that if you cook your burgers on a thin layer of salt, the salt initially draws out juices from the meat. It then quickly congeals the juices to form a crust that prevents further moisture loss. It also prevents the burgers from sticking to the pan and encourages all the delicious brown crunchy bits to stay attached to the burger rather than the pan.

The result?

On my first attempt I was working from memory on quantities and actually used more than twice the amount of salt I should have. While these maiden burgers delivered in terms of their crust and juiciness, they were unbearably salty. Which didn’t stop us from devouring them but did result in copious water guzzling afterward.

Consulting the recipe for the correct quantity a few weeks later, the burger experiment was repeated with brilliant results. Even in my most un-nonstick pan, they cooked without so much as hinting they were going to attach themselves to the pan. And the flavour was everything a good burger should be: beefy with crispy caramelised bits and perfectly seasoned. Too easy really.

salt crusted burgers

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
salt crusted burgers

serves 2

Inspired by Robert L Wolke from What Einstein Told His Cook.

I know what constitutes the perfect burger is really a personal thing. So please feel free to take this recipe and customise it.

I’ve played around with using tomato sauce (ketchup) as well as mayo and even mixing the two together to make a crazy pink hybrid sauce. But the mayo on its own was a hands down winner.

I normally consider onions a burger essential, but to keep this under 10 minutes, I’ve added chopped chives to the burger meat to give a little oniony flavour burst without the time required to cook down onions.

250g (1/2lb) minced (ground) beef
1/2 bunch chives, finely chopped
mayonnaise, preferably homemade
mixed salad leaves
2 english muffins, pannini, or good quality hamburger buns

Place 1 scant teaspoon fine sea salt in a skillet or heavy based frying pan and shake to cover the base. Heat over a medium high heat for 3 minutes or until very hot.

Meanwhile, combine beef and chives and season well with black pepper only. Form into 2 burger patties.

Cook burgers for approx 3 minutes. Lift the burgers out of the pan, shake the pan to redistribute the salt to where the burgers were. Return burgers uncooked side down and sear for another 3 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

Spread mayo on the insides of your muffins or bun. Place beef on the bottom half. Top with leaves and finally the top of the muffin / bun.

salt crusted burgers

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  • These looks so good, they’re making my stomach rummble!

    I’ll try this out soon, it sounds so simple. I also love the idea of having a burger in a muffin, never thought of making that before. I really like the wholemeal muffin that we get here too.


  • Many, many years ago I dated a hunter. He would bring great “slablike” venison steaks to my house and then proceed to put salt over the base of a frypan, turn it up high and then throw the steaks in. The first time I was apalled at the amount of salt, but was amazed in a good way that the steaks didn’t TASTE salty. They were delicious. I’d forgotten all about it until reading this post and am of a mind to have a go with these burgers :-)

  • These are delicious! I grew up in a cold climate and my mother would have “winter picnics” and would cook our burgers this way! They are second best only to the grill!

  • The Crazy Pink Hybrid Sauce is basically what we Idahoans call Fry Sauce, which is amazing with everything dippable.

    • Thank you very much Steve! I just visited this site trying to find ideas for cooking burgers without a grill (which this recipe does sound appealing) and I came across him calling it the “Crazy Pink Hybrid Sauce”. All I could think of then was hoping that a fellow Idahoan had already seen it and mentioned fry sauce.

  • Hear, hear! Another great tip. It works for thick steaks, too.

    Of course I second the motion for mayo — but in my not-so-humble opinion the best mayo in the world is the Japanese type sold in plastic squeeze bottles with red caps under the brand “Kewpie” (and occasionally called “yum-yum sauce”.


  • Wow – that looks amazing – and such a clever idea. Will definitely put this in my “recipes to try” folder (which is growing more quickly than I can cook!). I’d have to add a 6th ingredient and add cornichons I confess – I love them! One of the best things about having kids has to be getting their pickles when we have burgers – memories like this mean you can cope with the witching hour when kids seem like less of a good idea and more punishment..

  • The pink hybrid sauce you mentioned is a staple down here in Argentina–they call it Salsa Golf (no idea why)–it’s just ketchup mixed with mayo…

  • Paul, they call it that in Peru, too. I used to think “golf” for “gulf” and “gulf” because it gets used as a shrimp cocktail sauce for “gulf shrimp”, but I just looked it up and I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Check this out: (In Peru, I’m pretty sure it also contains a little key lime juice — but that might be the mayo, because it always does, there.)

  • And I just finished making them! Even done medium-well (I am pregnant and being careful), these are delicious — a shade saltier than I normally go, but soooo good.

  • We’re eating our second batch tonight, with Branston pickle on top. Soooooo good. And I’ve been pimping this recipe to everyone I know.

  • I tried a similiar idea with steak before. You salt the steaks excessively for an hour before cooking. Then you wash off all the salt, season and grill. Amazing. It makes it so tender! Love this idea too. I’m definitely bookmarking it.

  • These were delicious… made them tonight. Quite a bit saltier than I expected, but I think I may be able to get by with doing slightly less than 1 tsp of salt the next time I do them. Otherwise, a fantastic way to cook good grass-fed beef.

  • Finally got off my duff and used this method for my burgers. Quite tasty, although I admittedly didn’t follow the directions when it came to what to mix into the burger! :D

    Admittedly, I like the idea now of an English muffin for a bun. I toasted mine first, and it was wonderful!

  • It was very good but I’d say less salt would be even tastier! Maybe like half of what it calls for :D!

  • I used this method today in a cast iron skillet and it worked wonderfully. Best non-grilled burgers I’ve ever had! Thank you. :) And it was salty… but that’s the way we like things so no complaints from the husband and I. This will be the only way we make our burgers from now on!

  • Thank you soooo very much for this recipe. Have been unsuccessfully cooking burgers on the stove for 20 years. This recipe really works for me. I can’t believe how the burger puffs up and yet the middle isn’t raw. Thanks again ever so much for taking the time to post this!!

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