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!



John Duncan said...

When I was in NC earlier this month, I had a smashed style burger at a hole in the wall place in Siler City. The method was the same as you described except on a diner griddle and sans parchment.

The cook would scrape the grill after the burgers were done and make a salad of the scrapings.

And the cheese was Velveeta.

David said...

They make burgers that way in several places, including 5 Guys.

The parchment is not required, but if you don't use it the meat bounces up off the griddle when it sticks to the press, which causes some of the meaty goodness to get lost to the griddle. If you don't have tons of practice (and I never will) then I think it makes it easier.

My cast iron is very well seasoned and basically nothing sticks. There are no scrapings - it all stays on the burger. I think it helps that I don't move the burger after I smash it (they do at 5 guys). I should put up some burger porn pictures, or something I guess.

I did not use Velveeta. ;-)

Cabot sharp slices FTW.

John Duncan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Duncan said...

David Klatte is why I am fat.

The boy and I put down 2 x 6oz burgers each for dinner. With deep fried tater tots on the side.

Jack approves of this burger style, but still likes fresh ground rare fattie burgers from the grill better.

And, yes, I used Velveeta.

David said...

Sure, blame me. I am certainly the reason why I am fat.

I like the fresh ground rare burger thing better too. But I like this a lot and it is quick and easy.

We did it for dinner again tonight too. I had a double with cheese + peppers, mayo, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, and tomato. Very sort of 5-guys-ish. Minus the whole peanut thing. And no fries - unlike you I did not think to fire up the fryer.

John Duncan said...

I must confess the fryer was already out on the counter and all I had to do was turn it on.