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A Genius Trick to Take Burgers to Another Level

Food52

It’s hard to believe, friends, but this year is speeding by and we’re already in June! And although it might not technically be summer yet, our thoughts are already turning to sunshine-filled summer cook-outs— and that means burgers!

After all, is there anything more all-American, more perfect for outdoor festivities with family and friends, or more summery than a line of burgers sizzling on the grill? Whether you like them with classic toppings or wrapped in more adventurous ingredients, made with all old-school beef or cooked vegetarian-style, we think it’s a safe bet that you won’t make it to Labor Day without enjoying at least one— nor would you want to!

So of course we’re obsessed with finding all the best tips and tricks for making sure those burgers taste as good in reality as they do in our summertime dreams. While there’s always the method of dressing up the patty and the toppings with unique recipes – one that we’re pretty fond of using, we must admit! – we started wondering if there was a way to make sure even the plainest, most basic burger was still the juiciest and tastiest.

That wondering led us to our friends at Food52, and what we learned from them was actually SUPER surprising, because what they discovered about burger-making absolutely flies in the face of what we’ve been taught our entire lives.

It all comes own to this: you know how everybody tells you NOT to press down on the patties while they cook, lest the juices run out and leave a dry, flavorless burger behind? Turns out, that “wisdom” is wrong, wrong WRONG.

Food52
I KNOW. To be honest, friends, when I first heard this piece of advice, I was really skeptical, too. But once I really thought through Food52’s explanation, I had to admit that it made a lot of sense.

The reasoning is this: When the burger first hits the grill – or pan, if you’re cooking indoors – both the meat and the fat are cold, so there isn’t even any juice to lose yet. Once the burger hits the heat, then, you absolutely should smash it, just once and super decisively.

And why would you want to do so, even if you’re not worried about losing juice? Because you increase the points of contact the meat makes with the heat, leading to a deliciously caramelized singed layer and a “salty, beefy crust” that leads to fabulous flavor in every bite.

Food52 explains:

[. . .]if you smash your burger once, decisively, as soon as it hits the hot skillet—while the meat and fat are still cold—there won’t be any juices (yet) to lose. You’ll maximize the points of contact with the raging hot pan, which is effectively like singeing a layer of caramelization and Maillard reaction goodness onto every last bit of surface area, so it all sears into a salty, beefy crust [. . .]

I love this variation because it’s very much my kind of burger, for all the reasons I’ve been describing (did you see when I said “most umami-fied” up there?)—I’ve never been drawn to burgers that are taller than my mouth [. . .]

But even more than the noted benefits of smashing, I love this burger because it takes out pretty much all guesswork. As long as you have an extremely hot pan and you follow the protocol, this all happens so fast that you don’t need to test anything for doneness, or worry much about under or overcooking—you just need to move.

Yes, you read that last part correctly! When you smash your burgers flat like this method requires, they cook up REALLY quickly— only about 45 seconds to “medium” doneness. According to Food52, this trick was made popular by burger joints like Smashburger and Shake Shack, and Harlem Shake chef J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab. It’s the latter’s burger recipe Food52 features on their site, and we have to admit it looks pretty delicious. (The patties are so thin, you can layer two with cheese in between them!) Definitely head over there for your copy!

So what do you think? Will you be smashing your burgers from now on? Are you convinced by Food52’s argument? Head to their site for more info, and tell us what you think!

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