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Doug Trattner reports: How to make the perfect smash burger

This American classic with a twist is sure to be a smashing success at your next cook out.

CLEVELAND — Unless you live a social media-free existence, you likely have seen smash burgers popping up in your feeds. These trendy burgers are cooked on a flattop, where they are smashed (duh), stacked, topped and stashed in a soft bun. The rise of the smash burger outside their typical dwelling – a diner or fast-food joint – coincides with the increased popularity of propane-powered griddles. 

These portable flattops allow people to whip up killer smash burgers in their backyards, in the woods while camping or on the road alongside the motorhome. My wife and I bought our own RV amidst the pandemic to travel safely in, and Barb the RV has seen quite the fair share of smash burgers in her day already.

Credit: Megan Gallagher
An example of a cook top griddle ideal for smash burgers
Credit: Doug Trattner
Doug and his wife Kim with Barb the RV!

For this delicious story, we invited Gavin Pinto from Certified Angus Beef Brand of Wooster, Ohio to chat about the rise in popularity of smash burgers and show us how he likes to make them.

“Smash burgers, I would say, over the past two years have really just gone nuts,” says Pinto. “A smash burger is so much more than just being a thin patty; it’s all about taking that ball of beef and smashing it into your cooking surface.”

These burgers need a screaming-hot flat surface to work. These cannot be made on a regular grill without a cast-iron griddle plate or cast-iron pan. Ideally, the work surface will be large enough to accommodate four to six patties at a time. It should be thick metal so that it retains heat well.

“It has to be extremely hot when you go to smash that burger to get that Maillard reaction, which is that beautiful browning that everybody loves on a good steak or good burger. It’s all about the flavor that you get with that crust," Pinto explains.

These burgers are characteristically thin and crisp-edged, far smaller than the typical tavern-style burger. But they can be stacked two or even three patties high, which doubles (or triples) those gloriously crispy edges. When it comes to toppings, it’s best to go light so as to not bury those beautiful beefy flavors.

“I like keeping it simple,” says Pinto. “To me, burgers are a great, simple food. I do lettuce, tomato, onion and sometimes a special sauce, things that highlight the burger without going over the top.”

Follow these steps to make the smash burger of your dreams.

Classic Smash Burger

Recipe courtesy Certified Angus Beef Brand (click here for the recipe on their website)

Serves 4

Burgers

  • 1 1/2 pounds Certified Angus Beef ® ground beef, 80/20 lean
  • 4 white hamburger buns
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 8 slices vine-ripe tomatoes

Special Sauce

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon grated yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Steps:

  1. To make the special sauce, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, grated onion, hot sauce and Worcestershire in a small mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Refrigerate until needed.
  2. To make the burgers, divide the ground beef into 8 equal balls about the size of a ping-pong ball (3 ounces each if using a scale). Keep refrigerated until needed.
  3. Preheat a large cast-iron griddle or 2 large cast-iron pans to high. When hot, butter and toast the buns. Place a tablespoon of special sauce on the bottom buns and set aside until needed.
  4. Space the beef balls on the hot cooking surface. Using a large metal spatula, smash each ball to 1/4-inch-thick patties. (Tip: Using the handle of a second spatula to push down on the top of the spatula adds leverage. Using parchment between the patty and the spatula helps avoid sticking.)
  5. Season patties with salt and pepper. Sear 2 to 3 minutes or until some fat begins to bubble up in the center of the patties. Carefully scrape up and flip the patties and top half of them with a slice of cheese. Sear another minute. To assemble, place a plain patty on top of a cheese patty and remove to bottom bun.
  6. Top with lettuce, tomato and serve.

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