Smash Burgers 101: Why They're Popular & How to Make Them

Last updated 9/22/23

If you've been following along in the grilling world, you've heard of smash burgers. We're here to break down what makes smash burgers so great and how to master making them.

Is it really as easy as it sounds? Yes! 

Smash Burger vs. Regular Burger: What's the Difference?

To smash or not to smash? That is the question. The basics behind the two styles of burger-making, regular burgers and smash burgers, is the same: ground beef on a grill. However, the science behind them, that's a different story.

Regular Burgers: What Happens on the Grill?

When cooking a classic, thick burger on the grill, the meat’s natural sugars and proteins react with each other under the extreme heat, breaking down into hundreds of different compounds that give the burger that browned outer edge. This is known as the Maillard reaction. For thick burgers, this happens at about 250F degrees and increase with the increase of heat. However, the higher the heat, the more likely you are to lose all the moisture in the burger at the expense of the flavor. 

Smash Burgers: How is it Different?

With smash burgers, the concern of moisture in regular burgers goes away! Here's why.

First of all, when you smash the patty, you're creating more surface area for the Maillard reaction to take place. This means more flavor! The reason this doesn't dry out the meat is because the thinness of the burger increases the quickness of the Maillard reaction, which forces the juices in the meat to go upward (aka: back into the burger). It sounds like a lot, but it's really not. 

What's the Catch?

The key to getting the smash burger technique to work is high quality, fairly-fatty meat, and NO SHAPING. That's right. Gently roll the meat into a ball, smash it, and grill it. This is key, because overworking the meat can make the proteins too tough, delaying the Maillard reaction and keeping the juices from soaking back up into the burger.

How to Do Smash Burgers Right ...

There are two things you need to make smash burgers, and luckily, both of them are fairly simple to get right. 

1) Use a Griddle

Its OK if you don't have a high-tech, $500, table-top griddle. You can get affordable grill mats that turn your grill into a griddle whenever you need to. If you're not sure what we're talking about, take a look at our griddle mats.

2) Employ a smasher

You could go out and buy a tool specifically for smashing burgers, or you could just get a spatula that does the same thing. (After all, that's what the Smashburger restaurant uses.) If you need a spatula, check out our original Grillight spatula, which has LED lights for grilling in the dark. 

Enjoy your smash burgers!

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