Friday, May 1, 2009

Smashingly Good Burgers

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog already knows that my favorite kind of burger is a big thick lean rare burger made from freshly ground beef.

The problem with that burger, though, is that it takes a lot of effort to prepare. Mostly because you have to grind the meat. I simply don't trust store-ground meat cooked rare, so what to do when you want a burger faster?

Well, there are fundamentally two kinds of burgers in the world (with lots of variation of course): thick and thin. Or in the words of A Hamburger Today, East Coast and West Coast. I like some thin burgers. I like Kidd Valley in Seattle. I like UBurger in Boston. I like 5 Guys. I long to try In-N-Out.

So, while fresh ground beef would obviously be better, I decided to experiment with the store bought stuff and the smash method to see how good a burger I could make.

How good a burger did I make? Frickin' awesome, that's how good. And it is FAST. Blazing fast.

I think the home cook actually has some advantages in making really good burgers this way, the biggest of which is cast iron. For browning meat cast iron kicks the butt of all of the big commercial griddles out there - no one makes them out of cast iron any more. Plus I've watched the 5 Guys cooks smashing burgers - they leave an awful lot of the crust (i.e. flavor) on the grill the way they transfer the meat around. All of the flavor on mine stays with the burger.

What do you need? A cast iron pan or griddle (not grill), a cast iron press, a really good/sturdy spatula, and some parchment paper. The parchment paper keeps the meat from sticking to the press and pulling back up off the griddle, so you get superior browning every time and as a bonus you don't need to keep washing the press.

The procedure:
  • Preheat your cast iron. You want it HOT.
  • Oil it if you need to (if it is really well seasoned, you don't need to)
  • Plop a ball of meat on it. Yes, I mean a sphere. 85% lean, please. You need the fat to make this good.
  • Wait a minute, put the parchment paper over the meat and smash it flat with the press. (and remove the parchment paper)
  • Season liberally with salt and pepper.
  • Wait until you see signs of the cooking coming through the cracks in the patty and there is a really good crust on side A and flip, keeping as much of the crust on the meat (as opposed to the pan) as possible (this is why you need a sturdy spatula). You get bonus points for flipping it to a fresh hot spot on the griddle.
  • Season again and put cheese on if you want it. When cooked through and cheese has started to melt, transfer to a bun.
The irony is that grilling season just started and I no longer have any desire to grill my burgers. Doh!