Smash burgers entered the Aussie food scene a few years back. And they didn’t look like the burgers we were used to in Australia. There was no beetroot or pineapple or fried egg. No whopping chunk of meat nestled inside a bun with a million other ingredients, a leaning tower of burger teetering on the edge of collapse. The smash burger’s patties are thin, smashed into the cooking pan, charred so the edges are crisp and a little bit chewy. And even if they don’t say so on the menu, many of the country’s best burgers are technically of the smash variety.
Where did they come from?
The smash burger is said to have been born 50 years ago in Ashland, Kentucky, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. Bill Culverston, the owner of Dairy Cheer hamburger joint, popularised the smash burger when he witnessed a cook smashing a burger patty with a tin can while it was on the grill. The result? The best burger he’d ever tasted. Since then it has become synonymous with US burger chains such as In-N-Out Burger, White Castle and Shake Shack.
How are they made?
A typical smash burger patty consists of mixed cuts of beef, often chuck, sirloin or brisket with at least 20 per cent fat content. By smashing the patty as thin as possible against the searing heat, the fat is pushed out of the patty allowing the crust to form while cooking and caramelising directly in its own fat. Then it’s slipped between a bun (often milk, potato or brioche), with some burger sauce or mustard and ketchup, and some pickles.
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What’s the science behind the smash?
The secret to the smash burger is tied up in three elements: the heat, the thickness of the patty and fat content. Combined, these three elements trigger the Maillard reaction. The term is used to describe the reaction of sugars and proteins when impacted by temperatures above 150°C and is why chefs brown a smash patty’s meat at a high heat before slow-cooking it. When the meat hits the pan and sears, the proteins react with the sugars and are reduced to their amino acid state, allowing them to bond and form a new flavour structure. It increases the umami while also pumping up the relative sweetness of the meat on the palate.
I want to make my own. Do you have a recipe?
Of course. We asked Andrew McConnell and Troy Wheeler, of beloved Melbourne butcher shop Meatsmith, to share the cracking cheeseburger recipe from their new cookbook, Meatsmith.
“This burger is unashamedly based on a fast-food chain burger, but without all the additives,” the pair write. “Still, there’s something great about occasionally treating yourself to something that’s not exactly healthy. We like to use potato rolls – they’re like sweet puffs of nothing but are great at soaking up the burger juices (so they end up in your mouth rather than on your clothes). We also like using American cheese, which doesn’t add much flavour-wise but helps glue the whole thing together and gives the burger structural integrity. The trade-off? We use quality meat in the patty – a blend of short rib, chuck and rib cap, plus a little bone marrow. The stewed onions are not essential but do come highly recommended.”