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The basics for a perfect smash burger
Smash burgers are everywhere in Arizona. Researching and writing out this project shone a light on the fact that many people across the country have not heard or seen smash burgers. That’s crazy! Let’s talk about the core elements for an easy smash burger recipe and my top 3 tips to make sure you have the most success.
Just to clarify, this article is not about the SmashBurger chain, though extremely delicious. We could spend a few hours debating on where the smash burger originated from, but we’re going to talk about the elements of what makes a great smash burger.
Trust the Crust. Smash Burgers are different.
The obvious answer is smashing the burger, rather than having a thick, juicy patty. Classic burger wisdom says “don’t press on your burger!” which is incredibly wrong in this situation. We want maximum crust!
When you place a loose ball of meat on the griddle and smash it down firmly, you’re increasing the surface area for browning, the Maillard reaction. This is the chemical reaction creating that savory brown crust we all love on steaks.
Step by Step Video
Check out the YouTube video above for an interactive walk-through of the process, with 2 quick recipes.
The juice is still there.
Let’s address why you can’t press down on a typical burger, but you can with a smash burger.
Classic burger patties are thick juice bombs, crust on the outside and a perfect pink in the middle. You’ve created a nice crust to capture the juices. Pressing down forces the juices out, leaving you with a dry burger.
Smash burgers are different because you’re working fast. The fats are still solid in cold ground beef. The strategy is to smash your burgers quickly so you don’t lose juices. You lose very minimal liquid when pressing down on the cold ground beef, allowing it to brown and cook immediately.
Tip 1: Beef
It starts with the product. We’ll talk about 2 different elements here: quality and how to prep it properly.
Quality and fat content are both important. If you can grind your own, or you’re willing to, it’ll easily be the best result. I highly recommend 80/20, which will give you the best possible crust when you’re searing. 85/15 will work too, but anything leaner and you will not have the same results.
These days I’m ordering a lot of product online for convenience. Omaha Steaks does a great job of packaging aged ground beef in portions, which has an amazing flavor too. The most important thing to know about their beef is that it isn’t compacted into tubes… which is literally the worst you can buy. It’s nice and loosely packed, perfect for a smash burger recipe. Check them out here.
You want to use loose meat, forming loose balls of beef for patties. I cannot stress this enough (see photo above). It’s important because the meat will spread out more easily and you will also press out less juices when you’re smashing. The burgers will have more texture and flavor. Show them the love!
Tip 2: Accessorize
You don’t need much for success: Flat top and a press.
The flat-top could be an iron skillet or a griddle. Smash burgers are pretty messy from the splatter, prompting me to cook them outside. I’ve made them on my cast iron over open flames, but the griddle is my preferred choice. This allows you to cook multiple burgers and toast your buns at the same time.
The press for smashing is just as important. You can certainly use a heavy spatula, or if you’re willing to spend a little more, a heavy steak press.
Wax paper sheets are pretty handy too, preventing the meat from sticking to your smasher. They can also be used to hold the meat as you’re setting it on the flat top, keeping your hands clean. I’ll link a few suggestions below if you need some references:
Tip 3: Less is More
This refers to the toppings you’d put on. Smash burgers have a more intense flavor of beef, given that it is mostly delicious crust. Every great smash burger recipe should have these toppings:
- Cheese. American cheese is the classic choice, but don’t let that stop you.
- Sauce. Not much, just enough to add some excitement. Mayo or a burger sauce are my recommendations.
- Something crispy. Pickles, shredded lettuce, onions or jalapenos are my suggestions. Not all of them, but 1-2 of them. Having some contrast in texture.
Get out your spatula and American cheese! We’re going to tackle a classic-style smash burger with some jalapenos and chipotle fry sauce.
- Ground beef 80/20, formed into 3oz loose balls per patty
- Potato buns
- American cheese
- Pickled jalapenos
- Red onions, sliced thin
- Salt & pepper for seasoning
- Butter for toasting the bread
Chipotle Fry Sauce
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped fine
- Make the fry sauce. Mix all ingredients together and set aside.
- Heat the flat-top to medium-high heat. Add the butter and toast the buns to your preference, watching closely so they don’t burn.
- Apply the sauce to both buns, and the veggies to the bottom bun. The burgers cook fast so this will save you from scrambling to assemble.
- Add the beef to the griddle. Take one of the 3oz patties in your wax paper. Season the top, and place on the hot surface so the seasoning is on the bottom. Repeat for each patty.
- Quickly lay the wax paper on the burger, place your spatula or press on top and press down firmly. Make sure all edges are flat. Remove the paper and repeat quickly with each one.
- Flip the burgers when there is barely any pink left on the top, and it’s crispy on the bottom. You may need to scrape them, this is normal. As soon as you do, apply the cheese.
- After 15 seconds, stack the burgers and the cheese together, and then assemble on your bun. Enjoy!
Make sure you don’t leave the beef on the griddle for very long before you smash. I recommend smashing within 30 seconds after you place it down for maximum juice.
Keywords: burgers, smashburgers, griddle, cast iron