Word from Nancy Luna, the Fast Food Maven, is that Smashburger, a Denver-based burger chain started by the founder of Quiznos, has raised $15 million to expand the concept nationally with as many as 500 outlets.
And what's the concept? From the Smashburger site: "The beef had to be fresh-never-frozen, smashed on the grill to seal in all the beefy flavor, and cooked to juicy perfection."
Luna also notes that Smashburger seems to be all about giving the customer freedom to choose and then makes the comparison to The Counter, whose famously long list of options earned it raves from Oprah and her buddy Gayle King.
Ed Levine, who sits across from me here in the AHT–Serious Eats office, is now asking me, "Isn't smashing the patty against everything that burger purists hold dear?"
To which I reply: SCREW THE PURISTS!
But, Ed asks, don't all the serious chefs doing burgers tell you to handle the meat as little as possible and to avoid disturbing it while it's on the grill?
To which I say, I've never had a chef-driven burger anywhere near as good as a lot of the mom-and-pop places in Kansas, where I grew up. And all my favorite places there practice the art of the on-grill smash, starting with a four-ounce-or-so ball of fresh beef, letting it cook a bit on a hot, hot griddle, and then giving it a good WHACK with the back of a spatula.
In Crust We Trust
Does some juice get lost in the process? A bit, sure, I'll give you that.
But if you're doing it right and not cooking those burgers to death, you can still get a good amount of juice and still manage to get a little color in the interior of the patty.
The technique leads to a crisp-crunchy crust with an artfully irregular shape, and best of all, creates more surface area for the Maillard reaction to occur. I mean, look at the photos of a good Bobo's Drive-In (Topeka, Kansas) burger above. Look at that patty! And look at the great browning on this burger from Town Topic (Kansas City, Missouri):
It's no secret that I'm not a fan of a lot of chef-driven burgers or the pub-style softballs of meat that seem to be de rigueur in most of the celebrated burger haunts in New York City, where I live. Give me a thin, fast food–style smashed-down burger with a great salty crust any day.
I'd love to try the burger from this Smashburger place. (Though, I guess that's not saying much, because I love to try burgers from whatever place is new to me.)