I tell you what, I think I have settled on my most favorite way to cook a cheeseburger. I've tried it all, grilled, sous vide, fried, forming patties by press, forming patties by hand...But, the one that I feel trumps it all, is the smash burger. Why?
- I get a fantastic crust (maillard reaction) on the outside of the burger. Grilling, while not a bad cooking method, tends to flare up and sometimes you get overcooked/burnt spots if you aren't extremely careful. "But, Eric, I want to cook my burgers on my grill!" Look at my picture! I used my Baking Steel as a griddle on my grill (Baking Steel even has a griddle version), added a few chunks of cherry wood to give it a smokey flavor, and I got a fantastic grill flavor. What a lot of people don't realize about grilling is the reason why you get the char flavor from grilling is because fat drips onto the hot coals or flavorizer bars, burns and smokes. That's where that grilled flavor comes from. So how do we get that flavor if the food isn't on the grill grates? Just spray some fat onto the coals or flavorizer bars and BOOM you get smokey goodness. In this case I used some wood, worked great and I got a smoke flavor.
- My burgers don't turn into giant, awkward, meatballs. I know, you're supposed to add a dimple to your burger patty to counteract the meatball effect. My problem adding the dimple is, what does that do your doneness? You have even thickness everywhere else, except for the center, wouldn't you imagine that the center would overcook? Smash burgers I start out as basically meatballs, get a crust on both sides and smash it down. Ever since I started doing this, I have never had a burger meatball back up. They stay in patty form!
- You don't over work the meat. People tend to add a bunch of stuff to their ground beef, mix it up, portion out the patties, form the patties. By the end, the strains of ground beef are compressed, and can lead to a dense burger. The smash burger, yes you roll into a ball, but the inside stays nice and lose, leaving to a very juicy and flavorful burger. Then, on top of that, since we get a beautiful crust on the burger from the griddle, we get a burger that doesn't fall apart. You bite into the crust and get a very juicy and flavorful burger, rather than one that may be dense, dry, and falling apart.
Gently form portioned ground beef into balls. Don't over work them, just press them enough to form them. These are 1/2 Lbs burgers, you can use this technique with whatever size burger you want, I made sliders this way as well! Season with salt and pepper on the tops.
After preheating your Baking Steel, Griddle, or Saute pan over medium high heat. Put the season side down on to the grill. Then season the other side with salt and pepper. Let it sear for a minute or two. (I also put a couple slices of onion onto the griddle, caramelized onions are the Bee's Knees!
Using a pair of tongs, flip meatballs over and sear the other side for a few minutes until crust is formed.
With a metal spatula, smash burger down into a patty. Once one side is fully seared, flip and completely sear the other side. Cook to your desired doneness. Top with cheese (if you wish) and serve!