The Definitive Guide to BBQing the Perfect Swedish Hamburgers (...and American Ones, Too!)
If you’ve ever wondered about how to make the perfect hamburger on your BBQ, wonder no more! Here’s the definitive guide to grilling burgers! 

Swedish Hamburgers

Swedish hamburgers?! Aren’t they supposed to be American? 

Actually, the tradition of BBQing meat dates back over a million years (and evidence can be found in South Africa, not America), though what we call a “barbeque” does come from America and the Spaniards who “discovered” America (never mind there were people already living there). 

As for the story of the hamburger, well, it goes back to Roman times, perhaps even as early as the 4th century. That said, the idea of putting a hamburger in a bun came from America...but no one seems to be able to agree on who did it first. (If you're a history buff, you can read a bit more at the end of this article.)

Even if the hamburger is originally American, most countries around the world have adapted it and made it their own. In Sweden, we've done the same. Sweden is no exception. And as we happen to have some really high quality meat, we'd bet our burgers are as good as the Americans', if not better! 

Now, let’s figure out what you need to successfully make the perfect burger—from how to make the patties and choose the hamburger bread to how to grill it on the BBQ (and what BBQ and equipment to use!). 

Get the Right BBQ

We can be here all day and night arguing whether it should be gas or charcoal, but here’s what you need to know: 

- If it’s gas, the burgers won’t get that smoky flavor. But with gas it is often easier to control the heat and you can add some flavor using wood chips…see below.
- A lid is a must as it will help lock in flavor, keep the temperature constant and melt the cheese on burgers. 

That's really all you need to know to make a choice. Beyond that it's simply choosing a high quality grill that will last more than one season. 

The Difference Between Charcoal and Charcoal (and Using Wood Chips for Both Gas and Charcoal BBQs)

Should you decide you want to add that smoky flavor to your burgers and opt for a charcoal grill, the next decision is what charcoal to use.

The type of charcoal you use affects the flavor of whatever you’re grilling. Lumpwood charcoal is revered as the best of the best. (But we understand if you stop by the gas station and pick up whatever’s on offer because the sun happened to come out from behind the clouds that day and you were hit by a wave of irresistible longing for a properly grilled burger!)

Want to up your game? Use wood chips. 

For red meat, cherry and applewood add sweetness. Hickory and oak work well with pork and fish, on the other hand.

You can use wood chips even if you have a gas BBQ. Meaning you can get that smoky flavor after all! 

You want to soak the wood chips for 30 minutes to two hours, drain properly, then put them straight on the coals just before you start grilling the burgers. If you have a gas grill, put them in a smoker box attachment. 

Your Grilling Equipment

There are all kinds of fancy BBQ equipment and if you’re a pro, then go for it. If not (and if you’re a pro who knows what you’re doing) an oven glove (and no, not gran’s knitted mittens that will catch fire in three seconds flat), a stainless steel spatula to flip burgers, and a pair of tongs will have you rolling. Do buy a good pair of tongs so they don’t become disjointed within two days. 

The other thing you need? A bucket of water. If your oven mitt catches fire (worse yet, your fancy chef’s apron), you need some water at hand (also good for sticking your hand in if you happen to make contact with the BBQ). An alarm that goes off whenever a kid comes anywhere near would also be useful, but alas, we don’t think there’s one in existence. Just remember the water, okay.

A thermometer to check the temperature of the meat is always useful, but not necessary. 

Plates to put the cooked food on (not the same as the uncooked was on…in case you’re having a blonde moment), and a tray are also good to have on hand so you don’t have to run to fetch them just when the burgers have cooked to perfection (because then they’ll end up over cooked and you’ll start cursing about how this could have happened). 

How to Make the Perfect Burger Patty
This is where the debate begins. How do you make the perfect burger? 

You absolutely avoid pre-packaged processed meat versions. If you insist on buying burgers, buy the ones without additives. 

If you make your own (pro that you are), you start with choosing the right meat for your burger. That means good meat. The hamburger consists of one ingredient and one ingredient only and that’s ground beef. 

The steak the minced meat is made from should be marbled as you need a decent amount of fat to make the burger juicy, but you don’t want so much fat it falls apart. Some say 80/20 is the right ratio (80 being the meat, 20 the fat, just in case you had a moment of doubt).  

We sell Angus beef that's been minced into the perfect mince for hamburgers. The meat comes from cows in Skåne, in Sweden, and the animals are raised without the stress so many other cattle experience on big farms. Instead, they wander the fields happily munching on grass. Angus beef is well known for being perfectly marbled and juicy.

And what about seasoning? Simple. A touch of salt and pepper (but DON’T add it until you’re about to start grilling them—the salt draws the juice out of the meat). That’s it. 


That’s all you need for a good burger. And that’s why the quality of the meat is so important—you will taste it.

Now, some of you will say you have a secret ingredient…or two. Perhaps finely chopped onion and thyme, or a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a little bit of stout, parmesan, crushed garlic, smoked paprika, or some other magical ingredient. Fine. Go for it. But the traditional burger does not require anything but the meat and a touch of salt and pepper.

Of course, you can make burgers with other meats, ranging from game meat (we sell some ground venison, moose and wild boar if you're keen to try it!) to ground chicken, or turkey. And why not make a salmon burger or a halloumi burger? However, some meats might need a binding agent (such as egg) if they don’t have enough fat. Also, if it’s anything but red meat, you need to ensure it’s well cooked. 

Now, about shaping the meat into patties. This requires some skill, though it’s not hard. 

Wash your hands, then have a clean bucket of water to dip them in before shaping each burger (will ensure the meat doesn’t stick to your hands). If you have a cut or sore of any kind, use disposable rubber gloves. 

Put the meat in a bowl. Give it one good stir (not more). Grab a handful (about 5-6 ounces) of meat and toss from hand to hand to shape a ball. Gently squeeze between your hands to flatten, then make a “dimple” in the middle. Otherwise, when you cook them, they sort of pop up in the middle, landing you with a ball like shape instead of a flat patty. 

The patty should be at least as wide as your bun and about 3/4 to 1 inch or 2-2.5 cm thick.

Alternatively, you can simply put a “lump” of meat on top of a plastic tupperware lid and use another lid to press down. 

You can make your patties ahead of time and keep them in the fridge.

When to Start Cooking Your Burgers

You should cook your burgers when you’re hungry, right? Er, no. You should cook them when the charcoal turns gray and glowing. The heat will then be even then. Which means you have to get the BBQ going quite some time before then. But don’t worry, there’s always beer/cider/wine/non-alcoholic cocktails you can drink while you’re waiting and snacks to eat in the meantime (do ensure you have snacks, it’s half the fun).

Burgers require medium to high heat if you want a crispy exterior and juicy interior. 

But how hot exactly is your BBQ? If you have a thermometer, that answer is easy: whatever it says on the thermometer. 

No thermometer? You have to be the stand in and gauge the temperature yourself. 

We stole this from Jaime Oliver, who stole it from DJ BBQ: 

Hold your hand about 12 cm (5 inches above) the grill and see how long you can hold it there comfortably (ie. without screaming).

- 6 seconds = low heat
- 4 seconds = medium heat
- 2 seconds = in DJ’s words “hotter than a goat’s butt in a chilli pepper patch” (we didn’t say that, they did)
- 0 seconds = Hospital. Now.

Also, if you oil the grate with a neutral-flavored oil (canola or vegetable oil), it should start smoking when the BBQ is hot enough. And do remember to oil the grate to ensure your burger patties don’t stick to it.

Chances are you also want an area of the grill where you can keep things warm, but not cook them. The easiest way of accomplishing that, is to move all the charcoal to one side. 

Grilling Your Burgers

Once your BBQ is hot, get the burgers out of the fridge (up to half an hour before using, but cover so you don’t end up with insects on them) and put them on the grid. Either season just before you put them on, or season when on the grill. 

Let the burgers cook for about five minutes, then flip over (they should slide off the grate easily at this point, that’s another indication they’re ready to be flipped). 

While the burgers are cooking, don’t press down on them as it will squeeze out the juice and make your burgers dry (the “dent” you make in the middle of the patty should help keep them flat without you needing to push them down). 

Once flipped, season the other side. 

You then let them cook for another 2-4 minutes depending on how you like your burgers. One minute before you want to remove them, add the cheese and close the lid to the grill (or the cheese won’t melt properly). 

See the cheat sheet below: 

- Medium Rare Burgers: Cook them for about 7 minutes until the internal temperature of the burger reaches 57°C (135°F).
- Medium Burgers: Cook them for about 8 minutes until the internal temperature of the burger reaches 63°C (145°F).
- Well Done Burgers: Cook them for about 9 minutes until the internal temperature of the burger reaches 66°C (150°F)​

Choosing the Best Hamburger Toppings 

Here you can get fancy, but if you’re making a traditional burger, keep it simple---BBQ sauce, melted cheese, and some fried onions (can be made in foil on the barbie—just slice, add a touch of salt, honey/sugar, and oil, wrap into a parcel and toss on the grill) go a long way. You can swap the onions for a slice of bacon if you’re feeling indulgent. 

Most people also appreciate a salad leaf (or two) and a slice of tomato.

Of course, you can add pickles if you like, too. And some say it isn’t a burger without ketchup and mustard…you do you. 

Some of us are ridiculously addicted to whatever toppings we grew up with, going as far as labeling them as holy, but if you want to try some good combos, here are some suggestions:  

- Avocado, tomato, and aioli (don’t breathe on anyone afterwards)
- Cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, and bacon (add salad and tomato if you like, or swap the bacon for some onions)
- Cheddar cheese, jalapeños (and salad or if you want to start a debate: add a slice of barbecued pineapple) 
- Fried onions (can be made in foil on the barbie—just slice, add a touch of salt, honey, and oil, wrap into a parcel and toss on the grill) or thinly sliced onions (put the onion slices in an ice bath beforehand and it will remove some of the strength and add sweetness), mustard, ketchup, and pickles 
- Blue cheese and salad 
- Remoulade and toasted onions 
- Tzatziki and salad (especially on a halloumi burger, but aioli and salad are great, too)

Scandinavian Toppings: 

- Remoulade 
- Bostongurka 
- Sweet mustard
- Skagenröra (shrimp salad) (usually on a salmon burger, but as people eat it with sausages in a "tunnbrödsrulle," why not try it on a burger?!)


Apart from bread, what do you serve your burgers with? 

Some salad and a handful of chips (try OWL truffle mayonnaise chips for something a little extra!) is a great idea. Or just the salad if you want something lighter.

Or why not potato salad? Buy ready-made, or make your own (if you buy ready-made Swedish potato salad, try adding a peeled and finely chopped Granny Smith apple to it---it adds a fresh flavor and some crunch). 

Coleslaw is another traditional side dish. 

Of course, there’s always corn on the cob when you BBQ (you can flash boil it before BBQing it, or if it has the husks still on, dipping it in water and popping it on the grill).

French fries are a classic side, but perhaps not something you want to make while barbecuing, though if you buy some ready made ones that just need to get tossed in the oven, then it’s easy as pie!

That's it. You now know all about how to make the perfect burger and what to serve it with! 

Hamburgers—A Very Short History

Now that you’ve figured out how to grill the perfect burger, perhaps you’d like some history? Where did the burger come from?

There's evidence that people (Homo erectus) started BBQing a very long time ago in South Africa. Think over a million years ago. And as Swedes we’re pretty sure the vikings BBQed their meat over fires in epic style. But the first barbeque with that name dates back to when the Spaniards came to America and the art of slow grilling meat over an open flame (from Spanish barbacoa). 

The burger itself has an interesting story—there are mentions of ground meat turned into patties as early as the 4th century in the Apicus cookbook—a Roman collection of recipes. 

The steak tartare (raw "burgers") appears to have become popular in Russia and from there come to Germany when the two countries did trade in the 1600s. This led to the “Hamburger steak” (Hamburg offered a big dock in Germany so it's understandable that foreign influences would come to the city). 

As the Germans immigrated to the States, they took the steak with them and there it underwent several transformations. At first, it was often served raw, or lightly cooked. The meat was also sometimes smoked. 

The oldest document that refers to the Hamburg steak is a Delmonico's Restaurant menu from 1873 which offered customers an 11-cent plate of Hamburg steak that had been developed by American chef Charles Ranhofer (1836–1899). 

But there’s also another dish that’s very similar: the meatball. This might have originated in and around Turkey (kofta) or even in Asia. It may well be that this influenced the hamburger as we know it today.

Whoever had the idea to first put the hamburger in a bun is unclear. Several people have taken credit for it and perhaps several people tried it independent of one another. One widely accepted story credits Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin. In 1885, at the Outagamie County Fair, he flattened a meatball and served it between two slices of bread, making it easy for fairgoers to eat on the go.

Other claims for the creation of the hamburger include Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas, who reportedly sold hamburgers at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and the Menches brothers of Ohio, who claim to have invented it at a county fair in 1885 when they ran out of sausage for their hot dogs and used beef instead.

As you can tell, there’s no exact proof for how the hamburger came to be, but there are plenty of origin stories and you can entertain your friends with your knowledge at the next BBQ…