Gone are the days of thick, fat bbq burgers. Give us paper-thin smash burger patties piled onto buttery buns with a killer burger sauce, loads of pickles, layers of crisp iceberg lettuce, cooked and raw onions, and of course some cheap melty cheese. Yes, cheap slices of American cheese necessary for making the BEST Smash Burger. This recipe for homemade Smash Burgers will no doubt replace any burger technique used in the past.
What is a Smash Burger?
At its simplest, a smash burger is a very simple and fast method for cooking an incredibly delicious burger. Instead of mixing up a meat mixture of ground beef, aromatics, and spices, you let the beef shine by smashing a large ball of ground beef into a ripping hot pan. The technique of smashing paired with the very hot pan browns the beef—creating loads of flavor and a lovely crust.
From there you can top it however you like, but traditionally there’s some kind of burger sauce (aka smash sauce), pickles, onions, cheese and lettuce.
Smash Burger Ingredients
We recommend using fattier ground beef than you normally would. Something with 15 to 20 percent of fat. We think 80/20 best for smash burgers patties because when heated and smashed on the griddle, the beef releases some of the fat into the griddle which encourages the beef to brown and create a crisp crust.
Also, keep in mind, fat is flavor! The fattier the beef, the more flavorful your smash burger will be.
We have a lot of opinions about pickles. And our favorite pickles for smash burgers are refrigerated whole kosher dill pickles. It’s all about the refrigeragted pickle in our opinion. They’re MUCH fresher, rarely have color added, and just taste better. Cut a few into chips for the burgers and slice some into spears for serving on the side.
When it comes to burgers, nothing compares to a few crisp layers of iceberg lettuce. It’s just the only way. We like to fold a couple of lettuce leaves to create multiple layers and exceptional crunch.
If you’re going to make a smash burger—you’ve gotta go all in. And that means using ultra-melty American Cheese. We like the ease of individually wrapped Kraft Singles, but you can also purchase a chunk of American cheese at most meat and cheese counters. We do not recommend hard or aged cheeses—to do a Smash Burger right is to use a cheap, melty cheese!
This recipe uses our very secret, very fancy (kidding) burger sauce. Our homemade Smash Sauce or “special sauce” is made with equal parts whole-grain mustard, prepared yellow mustard, and olive oil mayonnaise. There’s just something about this combination! We like to make extra and spread it onto grilled cheese, deli-style sandwiches, and even brats. It also makes a great fry sauce.
In the test kitchen we prefer to use brioche hamburger buns. They’re soft, buttery and ever so slightly sweet. Potato buns are also a great option.
How to Make a Smash Burger
1. Preheat a cast-iron, griddle or flat top.
2. Toast the buns then roll the ground beef into balls.
4. Cook until crisp and browned then press a few slices of onion into the patties and flip.
5. Place cheese over burger and cook until the cheese has melted and onions are griddled and golden.
What Toppings to Add to Your Smash Burger
The best smash burger is one that keeps the toppings simple and straightforward. Here’s what toppings you should include:
- Homemade Smash Sauce
- Sliced onion
- Iceberg lettuce
- Sliced dill pickles
- Sliced American cheese
How to Make Smash Sauce
We’re willing to go out on a limb here and say this is the best Smash Sauce recipe out there. It’s simple yet flavorful which makes it ideal for a Smash Burger.
To make Smash Sauce all you have to do is combine equal parts mayonnaise, whole-grain mustard and prepared yellow mustard. That’s it!
Smash Burger test kitchen Tips
- The most important step in making smash burgers is the smashing. (Shocking, I know.) We recommend using a solid, very heavy duty spatula that can withstand a lot of pressure without bending or snapping. If you’ll be making smash burgers a lot, get a burger smasher (they’re amazing!).
However, if you’re like us and don’t have one of those, you can use a solid spatula paired (no holes) with a potato masher. Simply press the beef ball down with the spatula then use the potato masher to press top-down until flattened.
- It can get pretty smoky when making smash burgers in the kitchen. We recommend firing up your kitchen vent or opening some windows before getting started.
- Be sure to prep any and all toppings you plan to use before you get started cooking. Because the burgers cook so fast, you want to be ready to assemble the moment they come out of the skillet.
- The Zestful Kitchen Test Kitchen uses Morton kosher salt for recipe development. If you are using Diamond Crystal, use this conversion: 1 ½ teaspoons Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt. You can learn more about kosher salt here.
Smash Burger Recipe FAQ
For the best results, we recommend using a fattier ground beef like 80/20.
We actually love to do this when we want to grill burgers but also want something resemblant of a smash burger. We just smash them between the butcher paper the ground beef comes in or between two pieces of parchment paper. You can also do if you plan to cook the smash burgers in a skillet—just give it a good press when you drop the patty in the pan to ensure even contact with the hot pan.
Tomato slices and bacon are great options. Instead of the smash sauce you could use just ketchup and mustard. Other than that, we encourage you to keep it simple!
We like to keep it simple and serve these burgers with potato chips for French fries. For something a little lighter, serve these with our Garden Salad.
Absolutely! We recommend a large cast-iron skillet but you can also use a carbon steel or stainless steak skillet.
We haven’t tried this, but we have seen other test kitchens test making burgers in an Instant Pot. To do this, form seasoned ground beef mixture into patties and then wrap in foil, then arrange the burgers on the trivet inside the Instant Pot. Cook 4 ounce patties on high pressure for 12 minutes. Quick release the pressure then let the burgers rest 5 minutes before unwrapping. Add the cheese and any desired toppings right before serving.
The key to getting smash burgers to stay flat is to smash them almost immediately after the meat is placed in the skillet. Smash the meat with as much muscle as you can and hold the spatula down for about 10 seconds before removing the spatula. Keep pressing it down as needed until you’re ready to flip the burgers. Or use a burger smasher!
To achieve those crisp, caramelized edges on a smash burger you need to do a few things. One, use a relatively fatty ground beef (we recommend 80/20). Two, smash the patties really thin. Three, don’t move or flip the patties until they are adequately browned and caramelized on the bottom side!
If your smash burgers are coming out of the skillet kind of torn up and a bit “rough” you were likely not cooking over high enough heat of these needed a bit more time in the skillet before flipping. If you’re using lean ground beef that can be the culprit as well.
Watch How to Make Smash Burgers
Smash Burger Recipe
- ¼ cup whole-grain mustard
- ¼ cup prepared yellow mustard
- ¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise
- 1 pound ground beef (80/20 or 85/15)
- Morton kosher salt
- 4 brioche buns, split
- 1 medium yellow onion, very thinly sliced
- ½ head iceberg lettuce, leaves separated
- 3 large kosher dill pickles, thinly sliced + more for serving
- 4 slices American cheese, such as Kraft Singles
- For burger sauce, mix together mustards and mayonnaise; set aside.
- Divide meat into quarters (about 4 ounces each) and roll into balls. Transfer to a plate or small baking sheet.
- Heat a large (12-inch) cast-iron, stainless steel, or carbon steel skillet over medium-high heat until ripping hot and smoking, about 5 minutes.
- Toast half of the buns, cut side down, in skillet until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Repeat with remaining buns.
- Increase heat to high.
- Add two beef balls to skillet; season generously with kosher salt. Smash beef balls down with a heavy duty spatula, using a potato masher to press down on top of the spatula for extra leverage, until very thin, about ½-inch thick. Cook, without moving, until bottom sides are crisp and browned, about 1 ½ minutes.
- Press a few onion slices into burger patties with spatula. Scrape up and flip patty.
- Place a slice of cheese over burger and continue to cook until cheese is melted and onions on bottom are griddled and golden, 30–60 seconds. Remove from griddle.
- To assemble, spread 1 tablespoon burger sauce on cuts sides of buns (tops and bottoms). Cover bottom buns with pickle slices then top with burger patty. Add a few slices of raw onion, a couple of folded sheets of iceberg lettuce followed by the top bun.
- Wipe out skillet with paper towels before repeating smashing and cooking process with remaining beef balls, onions and cheese.
- Serve burgers with pickle spears.
Why This Recipe Works
There’s a lot to say about this recipe but we’ll start with the fact that it’s an incredibly simple recipe to make and can easily be modified to serve less or—more realistically—serve a hungry army.
Getting Crisp Edges
The crispy edges of the burger patty is what makes smash burgers so delectable. With piping hot flat tops at the ready, it’s easy for fast food joints to churn these out all day. We needed to find a way to get that gorgeous char without the convenience of a flat top. Enter the cast-iron skillet. When preheated for about 5 minutes, you can get a nice sear on just about anything. We start by toasting the buns in the bare skillet before dropping on our beef balls.
All you need is a cast-iron skillet for this recipe. Everything is done in one pan and, start to finish, your burger is done in just 4 minutes. The first step is smashing the seasoned beef into the cast iron skillet. After a minute you layer on some onions, flip top with cheese and let the onions griddle while the burger finished cooking and the cheese melts.
The process is genius.
This sponsored post is in partnership with the Iowa Beef Council. As always the thoughts, opinions, recipe, photos and content are all my own.