In my constant hunt to for great burgers in NYC, I’ve found worthy contenders in almost every imaginable category, from Jersey-style sliders to dry-aged steakhouse patties. But sadly, the New York burger landscape has a serious deficit in my favorite genre: the smashed burger.
Many people now associate this style of griddled burgers with the Denver-based chain Smashburger, which has done a fine job of bringing the thin-patty gospel to the masses. But really, the technique dates back to the early days of the American fast-food burger, before places started using frozen meat. Working with a malleable hunk of fresh beef allowed cooks to smash it into their grease-splatted griddles with a spatula, thus increasing the surface area and boosting the caramelized flavor.
Smashed burgers are still alive and well at old-school roadside burger joints around the country, but they’re hard to find in the city (though Steak n’ Shake and Harlem Shake both do them very well). Thankfully, they happen to be one of the easiest and cheapest types of burgers to make at home.
I claim no credit for inventing the technique described below—it’s basically an amalgamation of tips I picked up from Josh Ozersky, the Paupered Chef, and other burger gurus, filtered through my own laziness. But I can say this: It’s basically fool-proof and has consistently impressed friends and family who are generally unimpressed by most things I do.
In my opinion, this is the best homemade burger you can make without relying on high-end ingredients.
How to Make a Smashburger
What you need:
- Ground chuck (mix with Montreal seasoning, Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning, or simply salt and pepper)
- Buns (Martin’s potato rolls, or any basic white-bread bun like Arnold’s or Pepperidge Farm)
- Cheese (yellow American cheese slices, duh)
- A cast-iron skillet or stainless steel sauté pan
The incredible thing about these burgers is that they do not require fancy ingredients. You don’t need to go to a speciality butcher or get your buns from an artisanal bakery. All you really need is ground chuck (about 80%-85% lean), basic store-bought buns, and American cheese slices. The success of this burger is all about texture—the seamless melding of gooey processed cheese, soft white bun, and just the right amount of caramelized beef.
Grilled onions, avocado, and jalapeños all go great on a smashed cheeseburger, but they’re really not necessary.
A few notes:
- Before you start cooking, open the windows and turn on the vent above your stove—this is a high-heat operation.
- You could go greaseless—as Serious Eats notes, this technique increases the points of contact between meat and pan, thus maximizing crust. But I like the extra flavor from the butter.
- There are other ways to get even more caramelization and a thinner patty, but I prefer the technique described here for two reasons: 1) It’s straightforward and almost impossible to mess up, and 2) I like the little bit of medium-rare meatiness that it leaves on the inside of the patty (you’re going for semi-thin, not paper-thin).
Crank your stove to high heat and let the pan get extremely hot. Take about three ounces of ground chuck and roll it into a loose ball (about the size of plum).
Salt the top of the meatball liberally.
Add a sliver of butter to your pan to grease the area where you will cook the burger.
Place the meatball into the pan, putting the salted side in contact with the metal.
Give the side that’s facing upwards an extra dose of salt for good measure.
After letting the meatball sear briefly (about 10 seconds), roll it over.
You want develop that little crust so that when you smash, the top of the patty doesn’t stick to the spatula. However, it’s important to perform the smash early in the cooking process—if you press it down while the meat is still cold, you won’t lose any juice.
Smash time! Push directly downwards, using your body weight to press the meatball into a thin, flat patty. This is the first and last time you will press down on the burger.
Let it cook on that side for about a minute.
Flip the patty over and admire the caramelized crust. You are halfway to the promised land.
As soon as you’ve flipped the patty, you can drape a slice of American cheese over the top.
Let it cook for about another minute, or until cheese cloaks the burger and is just beginning to liquify around the edges. (Pro tip: If any cheese drips onto the pan, it turns into delicious, crispy grilled cheese bits—scrape it off and use it to top the burger.)
Slip the burger directly onto a bun.
Add condiments if you want (grilled onions, avocado, etc.), but you don’t need any—the burger is incredible as is.
You should never cut smashed burgers in half when you’re eating them, but let’s take a look inside for the purposes of this exercise.
The holy trinity of cheese, meat, and bun.
The proportions of the single-patty construction are perfect, but don’t be afraid to double stack for the sake of gluttony.