How to Make Classic Hamburgers on a Charcoal Grill

Hamburgers hold an enduring place in the tradition of family BBQs, whether enjoyed in the backyard, at a picnic, or on a camping excursion. Reflect on your earliest memories near the BBQ, and chances are, hamburgers played a starring role on the menu. Few culinary delights evoke the same sense of satisfaction and nostalgia as the classic hamburger. If you're aiming to capture the authentic taste of this beloved dish at your next BBQ, several key factors come into play - from the choice of grill and ground beef, to the recipe and cooking technique. In this article, we'll delve into several essential tips for mastering the art of cooking hamburgers on a charcoal BBQ with your Napoleon. Let's get started!


Why Use a Charcoal Grill for Hamburgers?

The type of grill that you will use will impact the quality of your hamburgers. So let’s compare the gas grill and charcoal grill.

One of the biggest benefits of using a gas grill is its convenience. Using a gas grill means you don’t need to wait for the charcoal to ignite for you to start cooking. Clean up is an easier process as well. However, the main drawback is that gas grills oftentimes do not give the same smokey flavour that charcoal grills can provide. However, if you do not own a charcoal grill and want to achieve the same effect on your gas grill. This can be done using a smoker tube or box, as well as with a cast iron charcoal tray!

Charcoal grills tend to cook with a high and dry sort of heat, resulting in a thicker charred crust on hamburgers that goes so well with the signature smokey flavour. Without a doubt, using a charcoal grill is essential in achieving the classic hamburger taste because using this type of grill affects both the taste and flavour of the dish.




Buying the Best Ground Beef

Buying the best ground beef is essential to making amazing hamburgers. Whether you’re buying from the supermarket or from the neighborhood butcher, you can get quality meat as long as you know what to look for.


Freshly Ground

Whatever you do, avoid products like frozen pre-formed patties or ground beef in sealed tubes. You can never be sure about freshness or what type of meat you are getting with processed food such as these. What you want to look for is beef that is ground right in the store where you are buying. You can even ask the butcher to grind the meat on the spot.


80/20 Ground Beef

80/20 ground beef means that it is made up of 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fat. Although this may seem like a large portion of fat, the fat tends to seep out as you grill the hamburger. Therefore, starting with 20 percent fat in the ground beef will result in moist, juicy hamburgers with a rich flavour.

Beef chuck fits the 80/20 ratio. So if you ever see ground chuck available, that would do perfectly. Alternatively, you can ask for “store trim” as this type of ground beef often fits the 80/20 ratio as well. When buying store trim ground beef though, make sure that it is ground in-store and is ground the same day.


Classic Hamburger Recipes

Before we talk about how to grill your classic hamburgers to perfection, let’s talk about the spices and flavours you can use to complement the natural flavour of ground beef.


The Basic Recipe

Ingredients (serves 3 people):

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder

  • ½ teaspoon of salt


  1. In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and salt together.

  2. Form the patties. A patty thickness of about ¾ of an inch is ideal.

  3. Refrigerate the formed patties for at least 30 minutes or until ready to grill.




Adding Hamburger Seasoning

Though some of us would want to stick to the basic recipe above so as not to interfere too much with the natural flavour of the beef, some would prefer extra spices to spruce up these hamburgers. If you prefer the latter, then this seasoning recipe is for you. You can even customize your burgers by adding or omitting your favorite spices to create your own unique recipe.

Ingredients (good for 4 pounds of ground beef):

  • 1 tablespoon of paprika

  • 1 tablespoon of minced dried onion

  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon of dry mustard

  • ½ teaspoon of oregano

  • ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes

  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper


  1. Place all ingredients in a jar and stir or shake them up to mix them completely.

  2. Close the jar with a tight lid. This can be stored for about a year.

  3. When you are ready to get cooking, mix in 1-2 tablespoons of this seasoning per pound of ground beef.


A Step-by-Step Guide on How to BBQ Classic Hamburgers on a Charcoal Grill

And now for the meat of the subject. Whether you’re using a grill from Napoleon Grill’s Charcoal Grill Series or Apollo® Series, you can be sure that your classic hamburgers will come out delicious, smokey, and juicy after following the steps here.

  1. As we’ve mentioned in the previous section, you need to prepare your patties beforehand and refrigerate them. This process will allow the patties to remain intact while grilling. Remember that a patty thickness of about ¾ of an inch is ideal.

  2. Light a load of charcoal using your favorite method. Prepare to use the two-zone fire by piling the coals to one side. If you use a charcoal chimney starter once lit, pour the coals to one side of the grill. Once the coals are lit and in the grill, leave the cooking grids in the upper position and preheat for at least 10 minutes to get the cooking grids hot.

  3. Place the patties on the grill over the lit coals. Let them cook for about 2 minutes until grill marks appear.

  4. Flip the patties and allow them to cook for 2 minutes more until grill marks appear on the other side.

  5. Although it may be a common practice, do NOT press the patties down with a spatula. This will make the patties lose some of their moisture which will then reduce our burgers’ juiciness.

  6. Once both sides have grill marks, move the patties away from the coals to indirect heat. Allow the patties to stay on this part of the grill for a few minutes depending on the level of doneness that you want to achieve, although it is recommended that you cook all burgers to an internal temperature of 160°F to 165°F.

    • For medium-rare burgers, grill for 2-3 minutes 135°F to 140°F

    • For medium burgers, grill for 3-4 minutes 145°F to 150°F

    • For well-done burgers, grill for 5-6 minutes 160°F to 165°F


People Also Ask:

How Do You Cook Hamburgers on a Charcoal BBQ?

To cook hamburgers on a charcoal BBQ, start by lighting the charcoal and allowing it to heat until it reaches a medium-high temperature, typically around 375-400°F (190-205°C). Remember to create direct and indirect heat zones in case of flare ups. Replace the cooking grids to a lower level to ensure the best searing over the charcoal. While the BBQ is heating, shape the ground beef into burger patties of your desired size and thickness. Press a dimple into the center of each patty to prevent puffing and keep the meat as cold as possible. Once your BBQ is ready, place the burger patties directly over the heat source and cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until they reach your preferred level of doneness. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the burgers reaches at least 160°F (71°C) for safe consumption.


How Do You Keep Burgers Moist on a Charcoal BBQ?

To keep burgers moist when cooking on a charcoal BBQ, consider incorporating ingredients such as grated onion, small chunks of butter, or finely chopped mushrooms into the ground beef mixture before forming the patties. Additionally, avoid overhandling the meat and pressing down on the burgers with a spatula while they cook, as this can squeeze out juices and contribute to dryness. Always season the burgers when you are just about to put them on the grill as salt has a drying and curing effect on ground meat. And remember that cooking the burgers to the appropriate internal temperature without overcooking them is crucial for retaining moisture. Use a BBQ thermometer to ensure perfect doneness.


Do You Cook Burgers Over a Charcoal BBQ With The Lid Open or Closed?

Whether to leave the charcoal BBQ open or closed while cooking burgers depends on the specific cooking method and desired results. For direct barbecuing, where the burgers are cooked directly over the coals, it's generally recommended to leave the BBQ lid open to allow for proper airflow and prevent flare-ups. However, if using a two-zone cooking method or smoking the burgers using indirect heat, you close the BBQ lid to regulate temperature and promote smoke circulation. Most people subscribe to the “looking ain’t cooking” school of thought. While this is true in most cases, the incredible heat retention and distribution of cast iron cooking grids will provide an excellent sear for direct barbecuing burgers.


How Much Charcoal Do You Use for Burgers?

The amount of charcoal needed for cooking burgers on a charcoal BBQ can vary depending on the unit’s size, desired cooking temperature, and cooking method. As a general guideline, a single chimney of lit charcoal with some unlit in the charcoal basket will provide you with ideal heating for direct grilling and creating an indirect zone to finish, keep burgers warm, and provide a safe area in case of flareups. You should take into account how many burgers you are cooking as well. If you are only feeding direct family, 4 to 8, a single chimney should be fine. If you are marathon barbecuing for the whole neighborhood, you will want more. Weather and type of charcoal can be another factor in how much charcoal you need as consumption rates will differ between types and brands. As you work with charcoal more, it will become second nature.


How Do You BBQ Classic Hamburgers on a Charcoal Grill?

Do you have your own awesome tips on how to grill classic hamburgers? We’d love to hear from you. Follow Napoleon on our Instagram or Facebook and share your favourite hamburger recipes and tips!

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