Just let me put it out there. I am NOT a fast-food fan. In fact, it’s definitely been over four decades since I’ve had a fast-food burger. BUT, there’s been this resurgence of late among many of our revered culinary magazines (read Bon Apétit, Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking) singing the praises of Smashed Burgers.
These diner icons share the same thin, verging-on-well-done profile as typical fast-food burgers, as well as their all‑American array of fixings: gooey American cheese; creamy, tangy burger sauce; crisp lettuce; thinly sliced tomato; and a soft bun. But with a smashed burger, extra-special attention is paid to making the brownest, crispiest, most savory crust.Cook’s Illustrated
Now get this. Smashed burgers are fast and easy to make. Since the patty is thoroughly cooked and the crust delivers so much flavor, there’s no need to be choosy about the cut of beef or grind your own meat. In fact, commercial 80-percent lean ground beef makes better smashed burgers than home-ground chuck does because the former is more finely ground and thus stays more cohesive when it’s flattened. And to think I’m usually singing the praises of the latter.
You have to get the toppings just right, because smashed burgers—more than any other style of burger—rely on the condiments to deliver the moisture and tenderness that are sacrificed in pursuit of the ultimate crust. Along with that sauce, use a soft brioche bun to finalize the package.
The sticking point? To flip the burgers, you’ll need to scrape them loose from the pan—and that’s a good thing. Sticking means that the meat has made full contact with the pan and browned deeply and uniformly. Burgers that don’t stick shrink and thicken, reducing the amount of brownable surface area and thus savory flavor. Make sure to use a thin metal spatula for best results.
Among family and friends, I am known for my homemade ultimate grilled burgers weighing in at nearly a half-pound each, with medium-pink juicy interiors that dribble down your chin. I knew not to expect that outcome with these smashed burgers, and was very pleasantly surprised with how good—and simple to make—they ended up.
Are smashed burgers our new replacement? No, but it’s always a good thing to have an arsenal of culinary varieties that you can fall back on depending on your circumstances. So the THIN versus FAT burger dilemma will have to go another round or two in our household. Might even venture to say there could be two winners…
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped dill pickles plus ½ teaspoon brine
- 1 ½ teaspoons ketchup
- ⅛ teaspoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- 2 hamburger buns, toasted if desired
- 8 ounces (80 percent lean) ground beef
- ¼ teaspoon vegetable oil
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 slices American cheese (2 ounces)
- Bibb lettuce leaves
- Thinly sliced tomato
- FOR THE SAUCE: Stir all ingredients together in bowl.
- FOR THE BURGERS: Spread 1 tablespoon sauce on cut side of each bun top. Divide beef into 4 equal pieces (2 ounces each); form into loose, rough balls (do not compress).
- Place oil in 12-inch cast-iron or carbon-steel skillet. Use paper towel to rub oil into bottom of skillet (reserve paper towel). Heat over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- While skillet heats, wrap bottom and sides of small saucepan with large sheet of aluminum foil, anchoring foil on rim, and place large plate next to cooktop.
OR, use the bottom of a 28-ounce can oiled with cooking spray, which we did.
- Increase heat to high. When skillet begins to smoke, place 2 balls about 3 inches apart in skillet. Use bottom of prepared saucepan (or 28-ounce can) to firmly smash each ball until 4 to 4½ inches in diameter. Place saucepan/can on plate next to cooktop.
- Sprinkle patties with ⅛ teaspoon salt and season with pepper. Cook until at least three-quarters of each patty is no longer pink on top, about 2 minutes (patties will stick to skillet).
- Use thin metal spatula to loosen patties from skillet. Flip patties and cook for 15 seconds. Slide skillet off heat. Transfer 1 burger to each bun bottom and top each with 1 slice American cheese.
- Gently scrape any browned bits from skillet, use tongs to wipe with reserved paper towel, and return skillet to heat. Repeat with remaining 2 balls and place burgers on top of cheese.
- Top with lettuce and tomato. Cap with prepared bun tops. Serve immediately.