How to Season Burgers

Are you seasoning your burgers at the right time? Timing makes a big difference.

January 25, 2024

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Woman's hand forming a beef meat for a hamburger party. Portioning ground meat. Homemade burgers. Making food at home. close up

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Woman's hand forming a beef meat for a hamburger party. Portioning ground meat. Homemade burgers. Making food at home. close up

Photo by: Valeri Pavljuk/Getty Images

Valeri Pavljuk/Getty Images

By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen

Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

What’s the one thing that can turn good meat into a great burger? You might like yours grilled, pan-seared or broiled, with or without cheese. But the one thing every hamburger needs is proper seasoning. Here’s everything you need to know about salt, pepper and more.

How to Season Burgers

Beef burgers need nothing more than a sprinkle of salt, preferably kosher salt, to cook up juicy and delicious. Some black pepper is also welcome, and there’s no reason not to branch out with any number of hamburger-friendly seasonings: herbs, spices, onions and more. The biggest question is when to season: before forming patties, or after? Each has its advantages, so read on for the pros and cons.

When to Season Burgers

Timing is everything: Here’s what you need to know about seasoning patties either before or after you form them.

How to Season Before Forming Patties

Mixing salt, pepper and any other seasonings right into your ground beef is one way to season them. This method has the advantage of distributing the flavors throughout the meat, and it’s the only realistic way to get add-ins like minced onion or herbs into the mix.

What’s the downside? Salt can begin to draw moisture out of the meat, a process that could dry the burgers out. That said, unless you mix your burgers several hours before cooking it's not likely to be noticeable. A more serious issue is the effect extra handling and compacting has on many ground proteins: The more handling, the tougher the finished product. Counteract this by breaking the beef first into smaller chunks, then gently folding the ingredients into the meat with your hands. Don’t overwork the meat by trying to distribute everything absolutely evenly; a little more here or there won’t be noticeable.

How to Season After Forming Patties

Seasoning your burgers after you form them couldn’t be easier: Just gently form your patties directly from your ground beef, then sprinkle them generously on both sides with salt, pepper and anything else you’d like just before cooking them. This keeps the beef loose for tender results.

While this method has advantages (one being how easy it is!), there are a couple downsides. Your seasonings won’t be distributed throughout the burger, although that probably won’t be noticed once the patties are garnished and sandwiched in buns. But including things like fresh herbs or diced onion or shallot isn’t realistic in the method, so it limits your creativity.

"Four raw salmon-burger patties on a white plate sitting on a blue placemat. The patties are made with ground Coho Salmon,chopped red onion,chopped capers, chopped Kalamata olives and an egg white. They are waiting to jump into the frying pan."

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"Four raw salmon-burger patties on a white plate sitting on a blue placemat. The patties are made with ground Coho Salmon,chopped red onion,chopped capers, chopped Kalamata olives and an egg white. They are waiting to jump into the frying pan."

Photo by: DebbiSmirnoff/Getty Images

DebbiSmirnoff/Getty Images

What About Seasoning Other Types of Patties?

Most of the rules that apply to beef burgers are applicable to other patties from other proteins, with a few exceptions.

Bison burgers: Bison is sweet, lean and flavorful. Ground bison is often sold in pre-formed patties, which is perfect: The flavor of bison is hard to improve on, so just sprinkling patties with salt and pepper, and maybe a few spices, is perfect.

Lamb burgers: Ground lamb has a distinctly gamey, earthy flavor and aroma that matches well with spices and mix-ins. Warm spices, herbs, onions, garlic and even lemon zest are good bets.

Plant-based burgers: Patties for store-bought plant-based burgers come pre-seasoned, so they can be cooked straight from the package, no seasoning required.

Turkey burgers: Ground turkey is very lean and mild so it benefits from seasonings mixed throughout the patty. Many cooks also like to include binders like breadcrumbs or egg, so mixing everything together is the way to go. Be sure to fold your ingredients together gently to keep the mixture tender.

Salmon burgers: Salmon burgers are usually tastier with a few additions to cut the fish’s rich flavor. Unless you’re a purist, mix the salmon with herbs and seasonings before forming it into patties. These burgers can be delicate, so a binder like breadcrumbs is usually added as well.

raw minced meat and rosemary

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raw minced meat and rosemary

Photo by: Igor Ploskin/Getty Images

Igor Ploskin/Getty Images

What Seasonings and Spices Are Good for Burgers?

Salt and pepper are the standards, but the list of other good mix-ins and sprinkle-ons is vast. Here are a few of our favorites.

Granulated Garlic: While fresh garlic is preferable in most dishes, granulated garlic is a great ingredient to add to burgers. Its flavor is less sharp than raw garlic and it can be mixed into or sprinkled on top of burgers easily.

Herbs: Parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary and oregano are favorites with beef, while mint, dill and cilantro are also popular with other proteins. Fresh herbs are excellent mixed into ground meat while dried herbs are the best choice for sprinkling on top.

Onion: Minced onion can be incorporated into ground meat for distinctive flavor and a bit of moisture to add tenderness. If you’re looking for a less pronounced flavor you can cook and cool the onion before adding it.

Spice blends: A pre-made blend of seasonings sprinkled on patties before cooking is easy and tasty. You can buy any number of spice blends, or make your own: Cajun Spice Mix and Barbecue Dry Rub are great on beef with the added benefit of helping to develop a nice crust on the burgers.

Worcestershire sauce: This umami-rich sauce is excellent with beef, turkey and lamb. You can either mix it into your meat or brush it on the patties before cooking.

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