Smashed Burgers

With the warmer weather finally arriving I’ve developed a bit of a craving for a burger. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been telling Kaleigh that I need to clean the grill out and get it ready so we can fire it up once we finally see a sunny weekend. However my impatience got the better of me when Kaleigh mentioned that she too could go for a burger. Instead of running to a restaurant or grilling in the rain we decided we’d do it indoors.

We’ve cooked burgers indoors before, but we tend to avoid it because it smokes the entire house up and leaves it smelling of beef for the next week. Plus they just don’t taste the same off of a pan as they do on the grill. So this time instead of doing regular burgers we decided to smash them.

The idea behind smashed burgers isn’t all that new. There are several fast food and fast casual restaurants that use the technique on their flat tops. The theory behind it is quite simple. Commonly recipes will tell you not to press down on the beef or else you’ll squeeze out the juices. As Kenji has shown however, if you do the smashing while it is still cool (the first couple seconds of cooking), you won’t see any moisture loss. What you’ll see instead is a beautiful dark crust formed by the maillard reaction.

The maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs in proteins, or more specifically amino acids and simple carbohydrates, when high heat is applied to them. It causes the ‘browning’ you see on meats after cooking them. It is also responsible for rearranging the molecular structure of these amino acids and sugars into much more flavourful ones. By pressing the burgers down against the pan we are aiding the maillard reaction by increasing the surface area of the beef that’s exposed to high temps, resulting in more browning, and more flavour.

If you’re looking to cook up some burgers indoors, this is the way to go about. Although you still end up with a fair bit of smoke, it’s less than if you were to cook a thicker, more traditional burger. And if that doesn’t convince you, the flavour will.

Kaleigh and I started off with some quality beef. Sure you can go to the supermarket and pick up a package of ground beef, and it will make a decent burger. But if you’re after the best than I’d recommend going to a butcher shop and having it ground for you, or better yet grinding it yourself. The prepackaged beef in supermarkets is often not as fresh, it’s ground finer, and is tightly mashed together, and you don’t have any control over what cuts go into it. Picking it up from a butcher also gives you more control over fat content. For burgers it’s best to go for high fat content, in the 20-30% range, and one of the best cuts for that is chuck. Ground chuck has become a staple in burger making and you’ll see many restaurants advertise it. We went to Trotter’s (located in Guelph) for ours, and I could not recommend this shop more, for ground beef or otherwise.

For burgers I believe simple is best, and so I don’t mix anything extra with the ground beef. Some people will toss in bread crumbs, eggs and a variety of other things to mix in with the beef. Too often this results in very dense patties that are closer to a meatloaf than a burger. Since we’re using good beef, we want that flavour to really shine through.

After forming the patties they get a generous sprinkle of salt just as they go into the pan, and then it’s time for the smashing. Doing this right after the burger hits the pan is crucial, as the fat in the beef has not had time to warm up or render, so we ensure all the juiciness that comes with it stays in our burgers. Once you see the meat up the side of the burger start to change colour and cook, you flip it, top it with cheese and let the other side cook.

For the toppings we went the simple route again. We used tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced onions, quick pickles, and of course cheese. I decided to go with a fairly mild cheddar this time. For the sauce we used Kenji’s recipe for In-n-Out sauce. We started off with some homemade mayo, which I find makes a huge difference in these types of recipes. Although homemade mayo is definitely better than the store bought stuff, I find it makes an especially big difference when using it as an ingredient in other sauces, such as caesar or in this case In-n-Out sauce. Buns are an all too often often overlooked part of burgers, so were sure to avoid the cheap supermarket buns and instead opted for burger buns from a local bakery.

Over all we could not be happier with the results. Although our house was still fairly smokey, and still had the lingering smell of beef for the next day, it was worth it. The smashing technique results in a burger that tastes quite different from one done on the grill. Thanks to the increased maillard reaction, you end up with a more intensely flavoured burger, with more caramelized flavours rather than the ‘raw’ beefiness that comes with thick burgers. Although I wouldn’t necessarily say smashed is better, it definitely offers some competition for the grill.

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