Saturday, April 12, 2014

Smash Burgers

There are two kinds of burgers out there in the world. First is the big, juicy burger...the kind served up at your favorite dive watering hole. It's a half pound of delicious ground beef, oozing the most incredible juices with every bite. The second is the smash burger. It's almost paper thin and it is characterized by an incredible crust that is charred into both sides of the meat. If you are from the Twin Cities, Lion's Tap in Eden Prairie and Convention Grill in Edina serve up some of my favorite smash burgers.

When you enroll in Hamburger College, the first thing they teach you in Hamburger 101 is to never press down on your hamburger. I am here to tell you differently. That rule applies only to big, juicy burgers. To achieve smash burger nirvana, you have to smash the shit out of that burger. But you only do it once...and the beginning of your cooking session

Let's start with talking about the beef. You can certainly buy store-bought ground beef, but there is no telling what cuts make up that beef (do you like cow lips in your burger meat?). I prefer to buy chuck, short rib or sirloin and grind my own. I do that because it's higher quality meat and those cuts have higher fat content. Ideal is around a 65/35 lean to fat ratio. (If you buy store-bought ground beef, get at least an 80/20 lean to fat ratio. Fat is your friend!)

But you do not need a meat grinder. Just use your food processor with the steel blade. Grinding up a one pound cut of beef takes less than thirty seconds. Take that one pound of beef, cut it into four pieces and toss it in your food processor. Use short, little pulses until you get a nice, coarse grind to your meat. You do not want little tiny beef pellets. You want coarse. Once you get coarse, you are going to roll the meat into little four-ounce balls.

These little balls are the larva that you are going to turn into full-fledged smash burgers. You are going to heat a griddle or cast iron pan to very high heat. Then you are going to drop the balls on your heating surface and smash them. You smash only once. If you are real strong, you can smash them with a spatula. If you are not so strong, you can smash them with another pan. I prefer a designated tool for smashing...the grill press.

The key to a great smash burger is "you got to be thin to win". Once smashed, the burger should only be about a half-inch thick and somewhere around 4 1/2 inches in diameter. The thin burger allows you to realize the Maillard Reaction, which is the technical name for putting a nice, crisp crust on your meat. In crust we trust. This is what you are shooting for:

Smash burgers cook quick. If you are going for medium rare (which is only recommended for meat you have ground yourself), we are talking just 2 minutes of cooking time. And then don't forget to add a favorite slice of cheese and condiments. The gods gave us condiments, so let's use them, folks. Now if a quarter-pound smash burger is not enough, you can do like Lion's Tap does and make double or triple smash burgers. Get smashing!

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef, divided into 4 oz. portions and rolled into loose balls (that's what she said)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
4 toasted, buttered hamburger buns


  1. Add oil to a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet (or griddle) and wipe around with a paper towel. Set skillet over medium heat and allow to preheat for about 5 minutes. 
  2. Increase heat to high until skillet is smoking. Add balls to skillet and using a firm, stiff metal spatula (or other tool), smash down on each one until they're roughly 4 to 4 1/2-inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook without moving for 1 1/2 minutes. Use the edge of the spatula to carefully scrape up and flip the patties one at a time. Season the meat again with salt and pepper. If using cheese, add now.
  4. Continue to cook until patties are cooked to desired doneness—about 30 seconds longer for medium rare. Top buns or patties with condiments, transfer patties to buns, close burgers and serve.

Pairing: An ice cold pilsner would be my choice. If you want wine, try a Merlot or Syrah.

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