Ever tried a stuffed burger (sometimes called a “juicy lucy” for the gooey cheese inside)? The fillings can be as simple as onions and cheddar cheese, or as sophisticated as feta cheese and roasted red peppers. The thinner patties are easily overcooked, especially if you want melted gooey cheese inside. But careful temperature control with both an infrared thermometer and a super-fast instant read lead to perfect results. We have the thermal tips you need for the perfect sear and a deliciously decadent filling.
3 Stuffed Burger Cooking Tips
In his post, Foolproof Jucy Lucy*, Kenji Lopez-Alt describes the challenges of cooking a stuffed burger. One of the challenges to overcome is having perfectly cooked meat (not overcooked) with filling ingredients that have been fully heated. Follow one or more of the following tips for the juiciest, most indulgent stuffed burger you’ve ever eaten!
*A Jucy Lucy is a burger stuffed only with cheese.
1. Precook the Filling Ingredients
The thin layers of meat won’t take very long to cook. If you fill the burgers with raw onions or mushrooms, the filling will still have a firm, raw texture when the meat is done because of the short cooking time. Completely cook ingredients like onions, bell peppers, or mushrooms prior to assembling your burgers.
2. Use the Right Cheese
Use shredded cheese or American cheese slices. American cheese melts very readily to an ooey-gooey consistency. Shredded cheese has a greater amount of exposed surface area and will melt faster than sliced hard cheeses. We used shredded Swiss and cheddar for our stuffed burgers.
The outer edges of the thin burger patties will cook fairly quickly in a hot pan. That’s why you want cheese that melts quickly before the meat overcooks. Other cheeses like feta and gorgonzola melt well, they just need to be crumbled rather than left in chunks. Hard cheeses like parmesan add great flavor, just be sure they’re finely shredded.
3. Grind Your Own Meat (optional)
When you grind your own meat it can be cooked to a lower doneness temperature and still be food safe. We used the leftover chain meat from our filet mignon project and mixed it with ground chuck roast meat. For more information on the benefits of grinding your own meat for burgers, check out our post Grind your Own Burgers.
Don’t want gray, overcooked hamburger meat? Cook your stuffed burgers to medium rare (125-135°F [52-57°C]) if grinding your own meat, or to 160°F (71°C) if using pre-ground beef.
➤ Thermal Tip: Carryover Cooking with Hamburgers
Even though hamburger patties are small, there will still be a small rise in temperature after being removed from the heat source because the grilling or pan-searing temperatures are so high. Plan on 3-5°F (1-2°C) in carryover cooking.
Use An Infrared Thermometer for the Perfect Sear
A Flavorful, Crisp Crust
What makes a good sear? Searing imparts browned, full-bodied flavor, and a crisp texture to the outer edge of the meat. This process of food browning is called the Maillard Reaction. This reaction begins at about 230°F (110°C) and becomes very active at 350°F (177°C). For more information about the Maillard reaction read through our post, Thermal Tips: Searing Meat.
Infrared Thermometers: Measuring Temperature From a Distance
The trick with cooking these stuffed burgers is to get a brown, flavorful crust on while maintaining a perfectly cooked, juicy interior. For this, you need high heat. But how do you know when your pan is ready??
How Do You Know If Your Pan is Hot Enough?
An alarm sounds when your oven is preheated, but gauging the temperature of a pan on your stovetop is often left to guesstimation. You can try waiting for the oil to “shimmer” or smoke, holding your hand above the pan to see if it “feels hot,” or splashing the oil with a couple of drops of water to see if they instantly evaporate. But just as so many homespun methods of testing for meat for doneness are inaccurate, so are these methods of testing to see if your pan is preheated.
You need to know how hot the pan is, and it just so happens that the physical properties of cast iron make it easy to measure with an infrared thermometer. Cast iron is the opposite of reflective and so it has a very high emissivity rating. (Emissivity is a measure of a material’s ability to emit infrared energy. It is measured on a scale from just about 0.00 to just below 1.00.) The emissivity of cast iron is nearly 1.00.
Use an IR Thermometer with a High-Temperature Range
For the best sear on your burgers, the pan needs to be at a high temperature (500-550°F [260-288°C]). The best way to quickly and accurately measure surface temperatures is with an infrared thermometer like the ThermoWorks® Hi-Temp Industrial IR w/Circle Laser (IRK-2). We chose the IRK-2 because its thermal range (-58–1,022°F [-50–550°C]) is high enough to measure the high temperatures of searing. Be aware of temperature ranges noted in product description specs to be sure the infrared thermometer you’re purchasing will work for your needs.
Check out our post, Infrared Thermometer Basics & Best Practices for more tips on how to use an infrared thermometer.
➤ Thermal Tip: Infrared Thermometers and Shiny Pans
If you’re using a stainless steel or aluminum pan to sear your stuffed burgers, take a surface temperature reading with an infrared thermometer after coating the pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil. It has an emissivity rating of 0.95 and will yield accurate readings.
Stuffed Burger Temperature Spot-Checking
The meat patties need to be pressed quite thin when assembling your stuffed burgers. This thin area of meat is best measured with a tiny sensor like the one embedded in the tip of a Thermapen® Mk4 for temperature spot-checks. The Thermapen’s highly accurate thermocouple sensor is in the last 1/8″ of the reduced probe’s tip. This makes quickly spot-checking the internal temperature of the stuffed burger’s thin layers of meat a snap.
Stuffed Burger Recipe
Makes 8 finished stuffed burgers
*Printable version of this recipe is available at the bottom of the post.
- 2 lbs. (.9 kg, or 907 grams) 80/20 ground beef (chuck)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp. (30 ml) vegetable oil for the cast iron pan
- Swiss cheese, shredded
- Sliced, sautéed mushrooms
- Caramelized onions
- Caramelized onions
- Bacon, cooked and crumbled into bits
- Jalapeño slices
- Infrared thermometer, like the IRK-2
- Cast iron skillet
- Scale the ground beef into 2 oz. (57 grams) portions.
- Flatten out each 2 oz. (57 grams) portion into 1/4″ (2/3 cm) thick discs.
- Arrange filling ingredients in the center of half of the patties, leaving about a 1/2″ (1-1/4 cm) border around the edge so you can seal it shut.
- If the filling extends to the edge of the patty it will not seal completely, and will likely ooze out the side of the burger as it cooks.
- Top with another flattened meat patty and pinch around the outer edge to seal well. Once you pinch the edges together your stuffed patty may look a bit like ravioli. Just shape the outer edges back into a uniform patty shape. Set the burger patties aside while you prepare your pan.
- Preheat your cast iron pan over high heat with enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Heat until it reaches 500-550°F (260-288°C) (the oil will start to smoke slightly). Check the temperature of the pan with an infrared thermometer like the ThermoWorks IRK-2.
- Season the burgers with salt and pepper right before placing into the pan.
- Cook the burgers about 2-3 minutes per side. Frequent flipping ensures even cooking and browning.
- Spot-check the thin layers of meat with the very tip of a Thermapen. Verify temperatures in multiple areas of the burger since there are varying thicknesses throughout.
- The meat’s lowest temperature should be 130-135°F (54-57°F) for medium-rare doneness if you ground your own meat, and 160°F (71°C) if you’re using pre-ground beef.
- Once the burgers have reached their pull temperature, remove from the cast iron skillet and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before assembling and serving.
Stuffed Burger Filling Combinations:
We used two very simple fillings for our burgers, but here is a list of other ingredient ideas that might suit your taste.
- Bleu cheese and hot sauce
- Mozzarella, tomato, and basil
- Spinach and Swiss cheese
- Feta cheese, lemon juice, and oregano
- Pepper jack cheese, roasted bell peppers, and caramelized onions
- Gorgonzola and sun-dried tomatoes
- Smoked gouda, barbecue sauce, and caramelized onions
- Horseradish, steak sauce, Swiss cheese
For the best stuffed burger remember to use the freshest ground beef, use shredded cheese, and precook the filling ingredients. Follow these tips, and your juicy stuffed burgers are only a few temperature spot-checks away!