I’m partial to hamburgers. And I’m certainly not alone. Americans eat nearly 50 billion burgers a year. That translates to a hefty three burgers a week for every single person in the United States.
Everybody eats and that’s never more apparent than at a house party. People gather around the kitchen, snacking and talking about food. I was at a friend’s party recently and one of the guests heard that I’m part of the Smashburger chain. That guy definitely wanted to talk burgers, and I’m all for that. He was especially curious why it’s called Smashburger.
Quite simply it’s called that because we take a ball of raw Angus beef and smash it with a handheld steel mold onto a butter-brushed grill for ten seconds.
That smashing is part of the secret to a great burger, but it’s not the whole story. In fact, before we officially opened our doors, we had to unlearn what we thought we knew about making the humble burger.
We had purchased a single restaurant, Icon Burger in Denver, and used it as our laboratory. For six months we tested recipe after recipe and we definitely made mistakes along the way.
There’s a lot of regional lore about food and the team and I all had our own ideas about the best way to make a hamburger. I grew up in Michigan where my mom would always enthusiastically knead the meat, so that’s what I thought you were supposed to do. I think a lot of us grew up with that and just kept doing it when we started cooking. Probably like her own parents, after mom had kneaded and kneaded the hamburger, she would add breadcrumbs and ketchup. What we’d end up with was a big fat burger that was dry and tough.
Let’s just say that all of us in the test lab had a lot to unlearn, and mom’s recipe didn’t make the cut. Sorry mom.
Remember Eddie Murphy’s bit in “Delirious” where he had the kind of mom that if he wanted a McDonald’s hamburger his mom would say, “No, we’re not going to McDonald’s. I can make that at home.” Then when she was done he’d be the kid with a huge burger ball stuck between two pieces of disintegrating Wonder Bread. Eddie was not pleased.
Well, the good news for Eddie and you is that if you’ve ever wanted to make a Smashburger at home, let’s have some fun. I’d like to share with you the rest of the secret to Smashburger’s epic burgers.
Follow these five steps in your own home and you’re going to make one of the best hamburgers you’ve ever had.
One: we use always fresh, never frozen, very high quality local Black Angus beef. It might be tricky to buy never-frozen meat from your grocery story, but it’s one of the keys to holding in the meat’s juices. For fresh beef, try a local butcher shop or a food store that specializes in natural foods.
Two: when you’re buying your beef, it’s worth looking at the different grinds available in your grocery store. At Smashburger we gently bowl-chop the beef to create a loosely packed meatball.
To replicate that at home, you’ll want to avoid beef that’s been through an extrusion process. Extrusion is when meat is processed through a machine that forces the meat through an opening in a perforated plate and is then cut to a specific size by blades. Hamburger that’s been extruded is what you’ll mostly see at your grocery store. It looks kind of like long continuous strands that are coiled together, sort of like macaroni noodles, but not cut up.
The reason you want hamburger that hasn’t been through extrusion is because that process is very similar to kneading the meat. Just like when you bake, if you over knead dough, it can become tough and ultimately too chewy. The less you handle the hamburger the better to prevent the proteins in the beef from getting sticky and binding together. That’s what can make meat tough.
The meat counter at your grocery store might offer beef that’s not been extruded. If not, again, try a local butcher shop or a food store that specializes in natural foods.
Three: the next step is to get your grill really hot. At Smashburger we grill on a metal flattop but at home I cook directly on my grill. So when I smash the burger it can get messy. If you want to avoid that, set the burger on a piece of foil. If you’re using foil, put it on the grill so it gets really hot.
Five: take the loosely packed meatball that you’ve already gently bowl-chopped, and smash it down for ten seconds using a clean spatula, preferably metal. The pan-side of the patty should now have a caramelized sear and that will begin to lock in the juices because they can’t leak down out of the burger. Wait until you see those juices from the meat bubble up, then flip the burger. On my grill, that takes about a minute and a half.
Leave it alone until it reaches the doneness you like and remove. I take it off my grill after about a minute to a minute and a half, depending on how thick the burger is.
Next up are your toppings and bun. Here you can really go off-roading if you like. Try unconventional toppings like avocado, fried eggs or mushrooms sautéed in truffle oil, and a multi-grain bagel or even a pretzel roll.
But me? I’m old school. Just like my mom, I throw on a little onion, pickle, and ketchup and wrap it all up in a sesame seed bun.
Now I have a question for you.
Click on your choice above and next time I’ll let you know how you and the rest of my co-workers voted. Until then, I’m going to go enjoy one of my three burgers per week right now.