Like the changing of the seasons in NYC or Timothée Chalamet’s career, lacy-edge burgers (or smashburgers if you live on either coast) seemed to happen all at once. Unless you’ve been trapped at the bottom of a well for the last decade, chances are you’ve probably consumed one of these burgers, or, at the very least, seen them around.
How is it that these thin, crispy-edged patties have simultaneously been around forever and also just showed up on the scene? Do Shake Shack or Instagram have something to do with it? Probably. Should you get stuff to make these at home? Yes, definitely.
Whether you’re a seasoned burger chef who hasn’t ventured into this territory yet, or you just usually pay more experienced folks to make these burgers for you, you’re going to want to try this out. Not only is making your own smashburgers relatively easy and cheaper than going to the pros, it’s genuinely some of the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen. (This is coming from someone who once brought a carton of double-yolked eggs home). So here’s a rundown on the ingredients, equipment, and proper technique you need for crispy, juicy, umami-filled success.
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Most burger joints stick to an 80/20 ground beef blend (80% lean and 20% fat), while others create their own blends using things like brisket or short rib. If you have access to a meat grinder, you should experiment and see what you’re into - otherwise that 80/20 blend can be found at most supermarkets, and it should work really nicely.
I’m assuming you have salt at home. It may have even come with your place. But if you aren’t using kosher salt for recipes like this already, it’s time to take the next step. The only real difference between kosher and table salt is the size of the crystals - and bigger crystals like the ones in kosher salt make keeping track of your seasoning a lot easier.
Shake Shack and a host of other burger spots use Martin’s Potato Rolls. They’re incredibly soft, dense, a bit sweet (think brioche), and have a depth of flavor you can’t really get from your standard white-bread hamburger buns. If you can’t find them at the supermarket it’s because everyone else bought them up for their barbecues already, but you can buy them here:
Burgers should have pickles on them. Good pickles. A hamburger pickle should be salty and tart. If anyone tries to hand you a burger that has bread-and-butter pickles on it (why are we still making bread-and-butter pickles?) politely decline and head home, where you can make your own burger with dill pickles on it instead.
You’ll want American cheese for this. For those of you in the back who are yelling something about cheddar, I’m sorry to inform you that you are dreadfully incorrect - but I respect your zeal. The reason you’ll find American cheese and not cheddar at pretty much every lacy-edge style burger spot is because it melts beautifully and keeps a creamy consistency, unlike cheddar which can split and get oily.
This is the last thing I’ll bother you about. If you don’t like mayo that’s totally fine, but making yourself a burger sauce with some good mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and pickle brine will really take everything to the next level. Ultimately you’re going to lose a decent amount of fat when you smash a burger down into a crispy little patty, and some good mayo can add fat back into the equation. I like this one for my burger sauces.
Now we have everything we need on the food end, and we can get to the fun part. All you’ll need to start smashing is three things: a flat cooking surface, a good spatula, and something to press down with.
This griddle from Lodge is a great and really affordable option that you can put right on your stove, an outdoor grill, or (since it’s made from cast iron) even an induction cooktop. It comes pre-seasoned, so you don’t have to worry about any tedious setups, and it’ll give you an incredibly crispy sear on your burger. Plus, if you’ve always wanted to make your own hash browns, this is the perfect thing to do it on. It’s basically like having access to the kind flat top grill you’d find at a diner - but in the comfort of your own home.
Holding this thing in my hand is the closest I’ve ever felt to being Thor. It’s got a nice weight to it, a very solid handle, and its curved edges really let you get under your burgers so you won’t lose any of that precious crust. It also doesn’t hurt that if you lightly tap it or scrape this against your griddle, it lets out a tuning fork-like hum that makes it feel like you’re holding a mythical sword. You’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s a lot of fun.
You can use a lot of things to press your spatula onto a burger’s surface: the bottom of a wine bottle (be careful), a dictionary (don’t do that actually, it’ll get really greasy), or something like this grill press. Its surface area and handle make it really easy to press down as hard as you can onto that spatula and flatten your burger out for maximum sear and crust. You can also use it as a weight for things like steak or bacon.
Finally, we’re ready to get started. Keep in mind that when you smash a burger, it’ll cook incredibly fast. (In case you wanted a history lesson, that’s why these burgers were invented in the first place. Drive-in burger joints in the Midwest needed to find a way to serve hungry customers as quickly as possible, so they smashed their burgers down to cook them faster. If you did not want a history lesson, I am sorry.) Anyway, make sure you have all of your ingredients ready and accessible.
I could keep talking your ear off about the most important steps to take while making a burger this way, but what do I know? Honestly, I know some stuff, and I’ll share those things with you - but other people know more, so I went and spoke to some of those people.
“The first thing we need to make sure of,” says Allen Yelent (owner of Goldburger LA, “is that we’re cooking with really high heat. Crank up your griddle as hot as you can possibly get it.” According to Allen, that’ll help get a quick sear and “lock up all those juices so that they don’t run out.”
A quick side note about your meat: don’t mix any seasonings into the meat itself, and don’t overwork it - we’re not making meatloaf here. All you need is some ground beef shaped into a loose ball, and smashing will take care of the rest. Once your griddle is good and hot, place a ball of beef (around 3-4oz) down and sprinkle on some salt. (Since these patties are going to be thin, you only need to season one side.) You don’t need any oil here either, because once a sear is formed the griddle will naturally let go of your burger (plus, the Lodge griddle comes pre-seasoned). After about 30 seconds, roll the burger over so the seared side is facing up. This will ensure it won’t stick to your spatula while you press down.
Next, place the bottom of your spatula atop your burger-ball, grab your grill press, use it to smash your spatula down, then gently pull the spatula away from the meat. After about a minute or two, you’ll be ready to flip - and here’s where I’ll let Curtis Rund, Owner of Chicago’s The Region, take over.
“It comes down to proper technique,” says Curtis. “When you’re turning it, you don’t want the crust of the burger to fall off - you really want metal to metal. You want to feel that smoothness between the spatula and the griddle. If you’re not feeling that smoothness just take back and try it again as opposed to just going for it and ripping [your burger] apart.”
Once you’ve flipped your burger to reveal the deeply brown and glorious crust that will make you kneel down and thank the Maillard gods, the rest is up to you. Try out different toppings, invite your friends over for a smashed burger party, and consider coming up with a cool name for that spatula. I’m certainly doing all of those things.