Blogwatch: The Paupered Chef Investigates the Smash Technique
Nick does an in-depth study of the "smash technique," a method of cooking burgers that is seemingly antithetical to the received wisdom that tells you never to press down on a patty.
I have to admit, Nick's post was a bit of a nailbiter—for a couple reasons.
First, he quotes me in it as I rave about smashed burgers. As I scrolled down the page reading his words, it turns out the technique doesn't work. Had Nick made me look a fool in front of the internets? More important—was the smash technique fundamentally flawed?
Not to worry. Nick solves the problem, and it's a solution that's pretty simple. Simple, unremarkable, yet absolutely essential, it turns out.
You see, Nick starts out by simply scooping some freshly ground chuck into an ultrahot skillet. (Scooping, mind you—not pre-forming a patty—is also essential to the process, as Hamburger America alludes to here.) Once in the skillet, he immediately presses down, but that leads only to ground beef, and not a patty.
And that's where I figured my beloved technique—and I—had been exposed as a sham.
But wait! Nick figures out that you have to at least pre-form a little meat ball, place that on the griddle, let it cook for a bit, flip it and then smash. If you squint, you can see that's what's happening in the photo above.
The cooked bit of the patty holds the rest of the meat together. And the bonus—nay, the major reason why this technique rocks the casbah—is that you get a crunchy seared crust on the meat, as can be seen above.
If Nick had asked me why I thought his initial run of smashburgers were falling apart, I would have been at a loss. But in retrospect, it is something I've watched numerous Midwestern burger cooks do, from Town Topic to Bobo's Drive-In to The Cozy Inn. Even some smart New York burgerslingers have adopted the technique—the Shake Shack and Harry's at Water Taxi Beach, among them. (Not coincidentally, both those places serve a couple of my personal top-rated burgers.)
It just took someone dogged enough in his attempt at re-creating the burgers he loved to deduce and articulate how and why the smash technique worked.