How to Soften Hamburger Buns

How many times has this happened to you– it’s time to serve up the succulent burgers you just grilled with love, only to find that the leftover buns they were destined for are simply lackluster? Unfortunately, a burger patty can only be as good as the bun that contains it, so what can you do to bring some life back into those buns and soften them up?

Some ways that hamburger buns can be softened include steaming them in the microwave or stovetop, toasting them on the grill or in the oven, or basting them with butter.

What Causes Hamburger Buns to Harden?

When hamburger buns harden or otherwise go stale, the reason is that the carbohydrates in the bread have recrystallized. The process of baking bread breaks down the carbohydrates, which is why fresh-baked bread is so soft and luxurious, but the older it gets, the more it hardens. When steam or types of heat are added to bread that has begun going stale, the carbohydrates break down again, creating a softer bun. 

Methods of Softening Hamburger Buns 

Any method that introduces heat into a hamburger bun and delays the process of recrystallization will successfully soften it. Some tried and true ways of doing this include microwave or stovetop steaming, grill or oven toasting, and butter basting. 

Steaming Hamburger Buns in the Microwave

Using the microwave to steam your hamburger buns is a quick and easy way to soften them up. All you need is a paper towel and to follow these steps:

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  1. Dampen your paper towel. You don’t want the paper towel dripping wet, so ensure you wring it out to remove any excess moisture. 
  2. Wrap hamburger buns in the dampened paper towel. 
  3. Microwave the buns for approximately 10 seconds. The actual time needed may vary,  so feel free to add or subtract seconds as needed. 

This method will introduce moisture into your buns and stave off any staleness that has begun setting in. 

Steaming Hamburger Buns on the Stovetop

A steaming basket is a great ally to have in the kitchen, especially when it comes to reviving hard, lifeless hamburger buns. This method can be used for up to two hamburger buns at a time. To steam hamburger bus on the stovetop:

  1. Fill a medium-sized pot with a few inches of water and place it over high heat until it boils. 
  2. Place a steamer basket over the boiling water. 
  3. Place the buns in your steamer basket, add a lid to the pot, and allow the buns to steam for a minute or until they have achieved your desired softness. 
  4. Use tongs to remove the buns from your pot carefully– they will be hot. 

When adding your steaming basket, ensure the water is not coming up through the perforations in the basket. If it is, you will have to drain some water from your pot, or the buns will get soggy. A colander can be used with similar results if you don’t have a steamer basket. 

Toasting Hamburger Buns on the Grill

Grilling your hamburger buns is not only very effective, but incredibly convenient if you already have the grill lit for your patties. Follow these instructions to get them perfectly toasted.

  1. Spit open your hamburger buns; you will be toasting the inside edge of the top and bottom buns. 
  2. Place the hamburger buns on the hot grill, making sure the cut-side is facing the flame. 
  3. Grill buns for about 10 seconds, or until they are your desired golden brown. 
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This method of softening buns imparts extra flavor from the grill. The goal is not to get a char on your buns but to get a golden brown toast that adds a pleasant crispiness to your burger. 

Toasting Hamburger Buns in the Oven 

Toasting your hamburger buns in the oven will create an excellent texture that is both soft and firm, crunchy and chewy. To toast your hamburger buns in the oven:

  1. Set your oven to 350F.
  2. Split your buns and place them cut-side-down on a baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven. You can also place your buns directly on the rack, but you may end up with crumbs in your oven. 
  3. Toast buns for 5-7 minutes until they reach your preferred toast level. 
  4. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven, or use tongs to remove the buns from the oven rack. 

The above is a popular method for getting a perfect toast on your buns; however, if you’re concerned it may leave your buns too crispy, you can avoid that happening by wrapping them in aluminum foil. 

Toasting Buns in the Broiler

Next to the microwave, the broiler is one of the fastest-acting appliances in a home kitchen. Harness its heating power to get your buns nice and toasty by following these steps:

  1. Set your oven or toaster oven to the BROIL setting and allow it 5-10 minutes to heat up. 
  2. Split your buns and place them cut-side up on a baking tray on the highest rack, directly below the broiler. 
  3. Allow buns to toast under the broiler for about 30 seconds, keeping a close eye on them to prevent burning. 
  4. Carefully remove buns from the broiler. 
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This method is quick but requires a close eye as the broiler operates at around 550F and can quickly burn your buns if you step away for even a moment. 

Butter-Basting Hamburger Buns

Basting your hamburger buns involves brushing a toasted bun with melted butter, allowing it to soak into the bread and provide some much-needed moisture. This method works for toasted buns but does not lend itself well to steamed bun methods. To baste your hamburger buns:

  1. Melt 1 ½ sticks of salted butter. 
  2. Toast your buns using any of the above methods, steaming excluded.  
  3. Use a basting brush to apply melted butter to the toasted side of your bun and remove it from heat. 

Everything is better with butter, and a hamburger bun is no exception. So baste yours with butter to take those buns from unimpressive to undeniably indulgent. 

Final Thoughts

A hamburger bun is like a burger’s first impression– you want it to be good. Take your hamburger buns from drab to fab by steaming, toasting, or basting them, and you’ll surely taste the difference.