Hello and welcome back to Kelly’s Kitchen. It’s great to see you again! This week we are celebrating an American classic: the diner burger. Classic diner burgers are cooked on a griddle, smashed thin and cooked crispy on the edges. This type of burger is often called a smash burger – a moniker popularized by the Denver chain SmashBurger in 2007. Many great burger chains cook their burger patties by smashing them on the griddle – think In-n-Out, 5 Guys, and Shake Shack. But the truth is, diners have been cooking their burgers this way for decades. So today, we’re talking how to make smash burgers.
Burgers on the bbq grill are tasty, but a burger cooked on a griddle means that the entire surface of the meat is in contact with the heat source, creating more Maillard Reaction – the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. Similar to caramelization, Maillard Reaction causes browning and gives seared meat its great flavor. More hot surface area = more Maillard = tastier meat. Griddle burgers are juicier too, because they are evenly and completely seared to lock in their juices and they’re cooked very quickly.
This is a simple burger, of course you can top it with whatever you like best, we are going with onions (cooked on the burger), American cheese slices (also cooked on the burger), classic special sauce, dill pickle chips and lettuce. The classic smash burger goes between a potato bun, but you can certainly use a regular white hamburger bun. Now, the lettuce should be shaved iceberg, but we have green leaf, so we’re going with that.
This recipe is all about the preparation. These burgers cook really fast (1 minute each side) so you not only want to have everything else ready to go, but you want to have your cook area prepped with everything you need, including a place to set down your spatula and press.
Let’s start with the Special Sauce.
Combine all of the ingredients together and mix well.
Let’s prep our white onion for the burgers. I have a mandoline slicer which is the easiest way to get super thin slices, but you can do it with a knife, the trick is to get the slices very thin.
Get 1 pound each sirloin and ground chuck, gently mix together in a bowl. You don’t want to over mix the meat into a paste-y texture; you want it to be looser so it smashes easily, cooks evenly and gives you all the craggy exterior bits that make this style of burger so good.
We will weigh out about 2-3 ounces of meat for each patty. Weighing the meat is an extra step, but well worth it to ensure your burgers are the same size and will cook at the same rate. Then loosely and gently form your meat balls. and set on a sheet tray. If you don’t have a kitchen scale (you totally should!), just make them small (golf ball-size), and make them as close in size as you can.
Remember, we want all the fixins, plates, chips, etc. set out and ready to go.
Get your American cheese slices unwrapped and set out on the sheet tray with the meatballs and sliced onions. Unwrap your buns and put them in a bowl near your prepped sheet tray.
Alex and I have a built in stovetop griddle, so going from right to left: we have our prepped sheet tray on the right side of the griddle and another sheet tray on the left side of the griddle for setting down the spatula and the bacon press. We also have a squeeze bottle of vegetable oil and our salt and pepper pinch bowl on the left. Set your cook area up for what makes sense to you; are you right-handed or left-handed, think about this because you want your cook area to be intuitive and easy, you don’t want to fiddle with, or search for anything.
If you have a stovetop griddle, use the flat side and set your burners: high for the burger side and medium for the bun side. If you don’t have a stovetop griddle, you’re going to set up your two largest skillets or fry pans. One will be for the burgers and the other will be for toasting your buns. We have our griddle temp set to 450 on one side and the other side is set at 250 for the buns. If you’re using pans, you’ll want the burger pan to be set on high heat and the bun pan set on medium. We’re going to cook these burgers for 1 minute on each side. The buns get about 2 minutes.
Once you have everything set up and your pans or griddle is hot, go ahead and oil your heat surfaces with vegetable oil and when the oil gets hot and shimmery, you’re ready.
A note on the oil: it’s important to use vegetable oil or other high smoke point oil such as: avocado oil (refined), almond oil, corn oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, or sunflower oil. These oils are neutral and better suited for cooking at higher temperatures.
Step 1: Salt and pepper your meatballs, then place 2 meatballs, seasoned side down on the griddle.
Step 2: Salt and pepper your meatballs on the griddle. Put a small handful of onions on one of your meatballs. Place your spatula flat on the other meatball and press down, flattening the meatball into a thin patty. A bacon press is a helpful tool to apply even weight, but you can use a can of beans too, just press down on the top of the can with the spatula between the can and the meat. Or if you feel like you have enough leverage, you can just use your own strength to flatten the meatball.
A note on the spatula: you want to use a metal spatula without holes in it to get the best smash. If you don’t have a griddle or grill spatula, you will need that can of beans to press with, to keep the spatula from flexing under the pressure of flattening the meatball.
Step 3: Smash the meatball with the onions on it. Let the patties cook for 1 minute.
Step 4: Flip both patties. Then lay a slice of American cheese on the patty without the onions. Put your buns on. Let the patties cook for 30 seconds.
Step 5: After 30 seconds, place your onion patty on top of the cheese patty and cook for 30 seconds more.
Step 6: Pull your burger off the heat and leave it on the spatula set on the extra sheet tray to your left. Check your bun, if it’s golden and toasted, pull it off, set it on a plate and place your burger on the bottom half.
Step 7: Slather the inside of the top bun with your special sauce, place your pickles on top of your cheese, add your lettuce, put the top bun on top! There you go, Smash Burger.
Repeat to make 4 Smash Burgers. Or if you have the space and the confidence, do two at a time!
I love mustard, so I added a dollop of French’s yellow mustard under my pickles!
Many years ago, I was a line cook at a fancy breakfast/brunch place in Tennessee. I have such fond memories of that cooking experience; I learned how to cook on a flat top, and in doing so, found that so many great dishes are made easier on a griddle – it’s so versatile! So for me, incorporating a built in flat top griddle was an important part of setting up our new kitchen.
Since last Thursday, May 28, was National Burger Day we wanted to celebrate that American food icon with the classic diner “Smash Burger” as a way to break in our new griddle. If you are interested in the origins of the classic American burger, check out The Great American Burger Book, by George Motz. It’s a fascinating account of regional burger styles and cooking methods throughout America.
I hope you enjoyed today’s recipe and give this one a try. You definitely don’t need fancy equipment to pull off a fantastic smash burger, just a few regular kitchen items and good preparation. Remember, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook too. Thanks again, everyone! Take care and be well. xo Kelly
is our 40s+ fashion & food contributor. She posts a Daily Look on Tuesdays, writes about Fashion on Thursdays, joins Beth for Fridays with Oscar and shares a new recipe Sunday evenings.
She’s 47, 5’0, and a petite 0/XS.
Kelly also has a food blog called Djalali Cooks, which you can find by clicking the world icon below.