What defines a smash burger, is the crust.
Now before I start showing off my Year 12 Advanced English essay writing skills (that haven't been used since then either) I would like to thank anyone reading this who has bought my smasher before. You a real one.
Anyway, lets first identify our objective when "smashing a burger". When you smash, you're attempting to maximise surface contact of the beef with your cooking surface. What this will do is allow the fat in the beef to render out, and caramelise when exposed to the high heat in a process called the 'maillard reaction'. To summarise all the fancy science, it pretty much is that deep rich brown colour you see, giving it a nice uniform crust on the surface and a ton of flavour. This reaction also happens on barbecue, steaks etc. and is what we should all be in pursuit of when cooking meat (unless we're doing low n slow).
Now that we understand WHAT it is we would like to achieve, let's now move into HOW we can achieve it.
If you've purchased my smasher before, there's a high chance you would've received the tiny little post card detailing the three pillars for a perfect smash. That being heat, stick and fat.
- Heat: You NEED heat for a smash patty to work, what heat will do is allow the meat to bind to the cooking surface almost instantly and begin to develop your crust right away. Without heat, your meat will be extremely hesitant to stick to the surface (and to the smasher instead), and allow you to lose a lot of the flavour that you want.
- Stick: What defines a smash patty is that signature solid brown crust that covers the entire top surface. That can only be achieved if you have a surface that STICKS. By sticking, I mean cooking on either a steel or cast iron surface that will allow the maximum surface area contact between the meat and surface to be reached, to allow the heat to work its magic. Non-stick pans are the enemy of smash burgers, and allow pretty much no crust to allow as it's virtually impossible to maintain that contact. SO if you can, do yourself a favour and invest in the ideal cooking surface, it'll make a big difference.
- Fat: Fat is the primary reason burgers, or any other type of red meat, can be labelled 'juicy' or dry. For smash burgers, it is absolutely necessary as it allows the meat to develop the crust, but by developing the crust it also holds all the meat together. Without the fat your burger will 100% be dry, and most likely fall apart/crumble - leaving you with something that can only be saved by drowning it in sauce.
Those three factors in combination will leave you with a solid smash burger most of the time, however to address another question I get a lot, I'll provide some tips on how to not get your patty to stick to your smasher. When cooking at the food truck, when using the smasher at the start of the shift it does sometimes stick, due to it being 100% clean and cold, however there is a bit of technique involved to negate this. Ideally you want to first smash down, and hold it there for a few seconds. This will allow the smasher to interact with some of the steam and fat on the patty that will enable it to lubricate. Make sure that you aren't applying pressure for the entire duration, as this may squeeze out fat that begins to render, rather only hold it there lightly. Next you want to then attempt to slide it off to a side and then off. You want to do this slowly as so to ensure you're not accidentally tearing up some of the meat that hasn't had a chance to bind to the surface yet.
Following this, all patties that you smash afterward in that cooking session should be a bit easier as the surface of the smasher has been lubricated. If you're still having trouble then I may suggest checking the three pillars because if they're in order - the meat should have more incentive to bind to the hot cooking surface instead of the burger smasher.
FINALLY, if all else fails and you aren't too fussed, feel free to use baking paper in between the meat and smasher, however I do think it's worth investing the time to perfect your technique as this will product much better burgers in the long run and allow the heavy stainless steel smasher to be used to its fullest.
Aside from flavour, the smash patty also allows for a great shaped burger. If you smash with even pressure and are able to shape the patty well while smashing - once you flip, the crust will allow the patty to hold to its shape and not shrink or become deformed as you might see with other cooking methods. While not a game changing factor, it really helps you get those internet points when flexing your creations.
I've often received the question "how come I keep losing my crust on the pan when flipping, is it a problem that the meat sticks?". This question tells me that the person has done pretty much 80% of the process correctly, and unfortunately failed the final part. It's a shame to see a perfectly smashed patty have all/part of the crust being left on the pan/grill when cooking. To fix this, you want to either use an extremely sharp spatula or use a paint scraper. Once you've got your scraper handy, you don't flip, you scrape the meat off. Essentially think of the move in two parts. First, scraping off every part of the meat off the grills from multiple angles, THEN flipping. Typically when cooking burgers another way or watching too much Spongebob, we think it's just a simple flip and happy days - unfortunately this way is that tiny bit more difficult, for a much better result.
Finally, I would just like to tell every dear soul reading this to NEVER add egg/breadcrumbs or any outrageous seasoning to your meat. Just like an expensive wagyu steak that only needs salt to bring out the flavour, your smash patties should be the exact same. Yes, you wont be using expensive wagyu, however the simple salt on the patty, along with your other ingredients such as sauce, cheese etc. will work together to create a great burger, anything else (in my opinion) is just too much and will allow for weirder tastes.
I hope amongst all the grammatical and spelling errors you were able to find some value in this piece, still do feel free to ask any questions and I'll do my best to answer you!