Solutions for Everyday Kitchen Mistakes

You can learn from your mistakes, but it may result in ugly cakes, calorie overloads, and even singed arm hair (ouch!).  Learn from our cooking, nutrition, grilling, and baking mistakes instead!

The Most Common Cooking Mistakes

Learn how to avoid these common mistakes for success every time.

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Your Burger "Meatballs" on the Grill
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

55. Your Burger "Meatballs" on the Grill

It's a classic backyard snafu: You flip the patties on the grill, and suddenly what seemed like perfectly bun-wide servings of meat contract into domed pucks. This is the dreaded meatball effect, which is the result of too much shrinkage: Proteins in the ground beef coil up during cooking, squeezing out moisture as the patty tightens into a ball. Adding more beef isn't an option for health-minded cooks, and it won't work anyway. And flattening the patties with a spatula as they grill—a technique we've witnessed many times—simply pushes out delicious juices, causing flare-ups and sooty, dry burgers.

The solution: Make the raw, 4-ounce patties a bit larger in circumference than the hamburger buns. Press the mixture together gently; overworking it increases contraction and makes the cooked meat dense and dry. Use your thumb to make a nickel-sized indentation, a little more than ¼ inch deep, in the center of each patty. This prevents the burger from doming into a ball, keeping it flat and even as it cooks. Voilà: no meatballs in sight.

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