Grilling Knowledge

Should You Grill Hamburgers With the Lid Open or Closed?

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Matt Hollingshead | May 4, 2023
should you grill hamburgers with the lid open or closed

Do you ask yourself the same question every time you fire up the grill to cook hamburgers: should I leave the lid open or closed?

You’re not alone! It’s a common thought amongst barbecue newcomers.

Quick Answer: You should grill hamburgers with the lid open if you’re cooking directly over the flame. However, you can close the lid if you’re cooking burgers with indirect heat or if the patty is thicker than 3/4 inch.

Keep reading to discover the advantages and disadvantages of grilling burgers with an open or closed lid. I’ll also let you know when you can use both methods simultaneously.

Why Does It Matter if the Lid Is Open or Closed?

Most outdoor grills come with a dome-shaped lid. This lid traps heat inside the grill instead of letting it disperse into the surrounding air.

The result is an evenly heated environment that cooks your food all the way through, even very thick cuts of meat. Better yet, keeping the lid on retains that authentic smoked BBQ flavor.

Grilling without a lid disperses heat, which means your food will cook at a lower temperature.

Sometimes, this is a good thing. For example, you don’t want to overcook the center when grilling thinner meat, such as a thin burger patty.

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Why Burger Thickness Matters

Some meats are thicker than others and require the lid to be closed when grilling—for example, chicken or tomahawk steaks.

However, most burger patties are relatively thin, so they’ll cook fairly quickly. In this case, you can cook the burgers with the grill lid open.

This notion is especially true if you want to get a delicious char on the outside without overcooking the inside.

However, not all burgers are created the same. For example, some patties are extra thick. You know, the ones that require two hands to pick them up.

Pro Tip: If you grill extra thick patties (greater than 3/4 inch) with the lid open, you risk burning the outside while waiting for the center to reach the safe internal temperature. So, in this case, keep the lid closed.

This balance isn’t just an issue of preference. It’s one of food safety. Serving meat that isn’t fully cooked can cause many health issues, including food poisoning and salmonella. [1]

However, you’ll also need to consider where you place the burger on the grill because that impacts the cooking temperature. We’ll go over this next.

Where You Place Your Burger on the Grate Matters

A critical factor that many beginner pit masters overlook is where they place the food on the grill grate. Some may know when to use the top or bottom grate, but there’s more to it.

You can change the outcome of your dish by adjusting where you concentrate the heat. This technique is known as direct vs. indirect heat.

With direct heat, you can keep the grill lid open. That prevents the temperature from getting too high and burning your food. Additionally, with the top open, you can effortlessly monitor your burgers.

With indirect heat, keep the lid closed, so the heat circulates and cooks the meat.

However, you don’t have to choose one technique over the other. You can use both! We’ll talk about this next.

Use Direct and Indirect Heat to Cook the Perfect Burger

Many people grill burgers with direct heat because it’s faster. However, if you have extra time, you can use direct and indirect heat to make a delicious burger.

Here’s how to cook with direct and indirect heat:

  1. Place the burger patties over direct heat and cook them for 2 minutes on each side.
  2. Move the patties to the side and cook with indirect heat (lid closed) until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.

You’ll notice I didn’t provide a cooking duration for the indirect heat potion. That’s because too many factors are at play to specify a cooking time.

So instead, cook until the internal temp is 160°F. You can confirm this by using a meat thermometer.

Remember: This method works best with thick burger patties, as thin ones will burn if you leave them on the grill for too long.

However, don’t wander away from the grill because even thicker burgers cook faster than other cuts of meat, such as bone-in chicken.

Final Thoughts

You’ll need to close the grill lid if you want to cook burgers with indirect heat. Shutting the lid maintains (and circulates) the heat and imparts that smoke flavor that makes burgers taste delicious.

However, if you don’t have much time, you can cook the hamburger patties over direct heat, and you won’t have to worry about closing the grill lid.

Matt Hollingshead is the founder of Grill Mentor, a site with everything you need to know about grilling and barbecuing, from tips and techniques to recipes and more.
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