how to make smash burgers | kelly’s kitchen

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.

Grill vs. Griddle

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.

4 Cup Measure | Silicone Spatula | Bamboo Cutting Board | OXO Mini Measure

5 from 9 votes
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Burger Special Sauce

Course Brunch, dinner, lunch, Main Course, Sauce
Author Todd Wilbur

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp French Dressing
  • 4 tsp Sweet Pickle Relish
  • 1 tbsp White Onion, minced
  • 1 tsp White Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Granulated Sugar
  • 1/8 tsp Kosher Salt

Instructions

  1. 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.

Mandoline Slicer | Bamboo Cutting Board 

The Burgers

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.

Weigh Your Meat

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. 

Digital Scale | Half Sheet Tray

Remember, we want all the fixins, plates, chips, etc. set out and ready to go. 

Melamine Plate 

The Set Up

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. 

Cast Iron Stovetop Griddle | 13” Cast Iron Skillet | Electric Griddle | Griddle Spatula 

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.

The Cook

Step 1: Salt and pepper your meatballs, then place 2 meatballs, seasoned side down on the griddle. 

Griddle Tool Set | Cast Iron Bacon Press 

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. 

Griddle Spatula | Griddle Tool Set | Cast Iron Bacon Press

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! 

Looking Back…

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.

Inspiration

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

Kitchen Equipment Featured in This Recipe

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30 Comments

  1. Carroll Niesen wrote:

    Love your tank! The color is perfect for you

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Thanks so much, Carroll! We finally have some some sun here in Athens, so a tank felt appropriate today! 🙂 Thanks for reading today’s post, xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  2. Sylvia Espinoza wrote:

    5 stars
    Hi, Kelly! Agree with Blog Sister Carroll that your tank top color is perfect for you. It’s a favorite color of mine, too. Your recipe today immediately brought back memories of being introduced to Smash Burgers by our very excited grandson who was about 6, now a member of the Class of 2020. He loved them and wanted us to try them. We enjoyed them so much and treasure the sweet memory of our intro to Smash Burgers. You’re a great teacher. Clear, direct instructions! Though I’ve been yearning for a thick, juicy homestyle burger, am tempted to relive the Smash Burger memory 🙂 This is off-subject, but recently discovered Audry Coyne on You Tube, who like Beth, shares fashion knowledge. She reminds me of you, and you remind me of her. Love that you girls are in my life now! Happy Weekend to you!~

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Good morning, Sylvia, thank you so much for sharing such a lovely memory of your grandson (congrats to him, by the way!). I love hearing folks’ food memories, it often makes me reflect as well. I am so happy that you find my instructions clear; I often find recipes unclear so I try to be as clear as possible and to address any questionable instruction. Thank you again for writing in today, I enjoy hearing from you. I will look for Audry Coyne, Thanks again! xo, Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
      • Susan wrote:

        Kelly the burgers look so good. I have a small charcoal grill that I use for burgers. I might have to invest in a griddle. Thanks for sharing the yummy burgers.

        Posted 5.30.20
        • Hi Susan, You will not regret buying a stove top griddle. They are wonderful for pancakes, fajitas…eggs, bacon…So many things. Thanks so much for reading today’s post. I do hope you give these burgers a try, they’re a keeper! Take care, xo Kelly

          Posted 5.30.20
  3. Nancy Ekdahl wrote:

    Your food photography is very beautiful, really like art, & extremely difficult to do well. Congratulations on such skill

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Thank you so much, Nancy! I am practicing a lot and it can be challenging! I do all the food photos with my iPhone, it’s amazing what our phones can do! Take care, have a great weekend! xo, Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  4. Denise wrote:

    5 stars
    Enjoy your recipes and love the step by step instructions. Burgers on the menu tonight! Thanks!

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Hi Denise! I am so happy you enjoyed today’s post; If you have a chance, drop me a line about how they turn out for you. Have a great weekend! xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
      • Denise wrote:

        5 stars
        Made your burger recipe with a few tweaks, I didn’t have American cheese so substituted mild cheddar. They were delicious, loved the special sauce! All the years I’ve been cooking and never owned a Mandoline slicer, ordered one last night! You rock!

        Posted 5.31.20
        • Hi Denise! That’s so awesome you got a mandoline slicer! They are so helpful in the kitchen. Be sure to use the holder device to protect your fingers! I have had many nasty cuts from a mandoline, they are super sharp! I am so happy you made the smash burgers, cheddar is a perfect substitution for the American cheese. I am so glad you liked them! Thanks so much for tuning in and for dropping me a line to let me know you made the recipe! Makes me so happy! xo Kelly

          Posted 5.31.20
  5. Arna wrote:

    5 stars
    We are definitely going to try this. We love burgers on the grill. I think we have all the equipment we need. Thank you for these great step by step instructions.

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Hello Arna, I am so happy you will give this recipe a try! It’s simple, but so good. Let me know how you like them! Have a lovely weekend, xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  6. This was interesting. Love burgers and now I am hungry for a Smash burger. Thanks.

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Hello Linda, Thanks so much for stopping by today! Give these burgers a try, they’re sure to be a hit! Thanks again, xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  7. Beth Crawford wrote:

    5 stars
    I have a Lodge griddle with a ridged side and a flat side. The flat side usually gets used for pancakes, but I will be using it soon for these burgers. They look amazing !! Thank you for showing us exactly how you do your set up it will be so easy to follow your examples.

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Hello Beth! …mmmmm pancakes…Griddles can seem like a lot of work in terms of set up and clean up, but every time I use ours, I always feel it’s worth it. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Let me know how your smash burgers come out for you! xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  8. Cheryl wrote:

    5 stars
    Hi Kelly,
    These look so good!!!! Maybe. A bit unhealthy…but, still. A little bit of oil and fat once in awhile won’t kill us.
    Going to try these soon. This recipe is a keeper.
    As is your recipe for German Potato Salad from last week. One of my Mom’s best friends was German and made a terrific warm potato salad, much like yours. She died before I ever got the recipe, so I’m going to keep yours and say it’s my Aunt Vera’s. Thank you.
    Stay healthy. Keep cooking! 😷

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Hi Cheryl, definitely a bit on the unhealthy side of the spectrum, but you’re right, a little bit every now and then is ok. I am honored the German potato salad will live on in your house as your Aunt Vera’s 🙂 Thank you so much for your wonderful support. xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  9. Judi Hume wrote:

    5 stars
    Those smashburgers look delicious! I love your recipe posts and find them very helpful and inspiring!

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Thanks so much Judi! It makes me very happy to share my ideas with you, and that you find them helpful and inspiring. Be well and have a great weekend! xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  10. Suzanne Smith wrote:

    Oh, my mouth is watering. So simple, but I can almost smell them. Yum. I love the idea of the bacon press! Thanks for the drool session here! I’m totally in!

    Posted 5.30.20
    • Yay Suzanne! You have to try these burgers! They’re so good! Thanks so much for tuning in today, I really appreciate your wnoderful support 🙂 xo Kelly

      Posted 5.30.20
  11. Karen in Texas wrote:

    5 stars
    Hi Kelly, we can’t wait to try your smash burgers! They remind me of the flat top burgers at the Camellia Grill in New Orleans. We ordered a slice of pecan pie there, and they heated the pecan pie on the flat top too—it was divine!

    Posted 5.31.20
    • Hi Karen, pecan pie on a flat top sounds amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your memory, New Orleans is a wonderful city – so much to see, and eat! Take care and have a great Sunday! xo Kelly

      Posted 5.31.20
  12. Terry wrote:

    5 stars
    Kelly, I’m going to make this today, I’ll let you know how they turn out..they look so delicious yummm

    Posted 5.31.20
    • Sounds great, Mom. Let me know ho they come out! xo Kelly

      Posted 5.31.20
  13. Lynn wrote:

    Are the pickles you use on the burgers sweet or dill?

    Posted 6.3.20
    • Hi Lynn, The pickles are classic dill pickle chips. Although, I bet sweet pickles would be good too! Take care, xo Kelly

      Posted 6.3.20

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