Imagine my surprise that the thin crusty cheeseburger my dad made for me in a cast iron skillet decades ago is now an entire burger category called smash burgers. LA is in thrall with them, and why not? I do love a contemporary take on a good thick 90s bistro burger, but that requires a relaxed inside dining experience. Smash burgers seem more of the moment when you’re as likely to be eating them in the car or on the couch, the takeaway bag spread out in front of you like a tablecloth.
Personally I love everything about them. I like the thin patty cooked crusty but not charred. I especially love the crown of a generous amount of melted American cheese. I love onions, raw and grilled. And I especially love the zip of yellow mustard, all on a regular (aka not brioche bun). While many choices in the smash burger oeuvres include baroque adornments, I say keep it simple and save the complex toppings for that bistro burger.
The beauty of a smash burger is the texture and high flavor you get from all the contact the meat has with the grill. It’s the best example of the Maillard or browning reaction I know. The Maillard reaction is a series of cascading transformations that happen when protein meets high heat. The protein molecules break apart into smaller compounds over and over again as they react to the high heat, which is what creates the complexity of flavor of deeply browned food.
Strangely enough, smash burgers aren’t always well done. It’s possible to smash a burger as soon as it hits the heat, so you get all the browning without the wait that can lead to a dry burger.
If you decide to make your own, use a cast iron pan or a griddle that sits on a good heat source. Buy the chuck cut of meat, and grind it yourself, or buy from a butcher that grinds their own meat. Don’t go for a lean option. In this instance, more fat leads to more juiciness. And if you want to gild the lily, do what my mom used to do and butter the buns and sprinkle with a little garlic salt before briefly griddling them.
Where to buy smash burgers in LA:
Burgers by Standings - Pop-up at Tabula Rasa Bar in East Hollywood and Glendale Tap.
-They use grass-fed meat ground in-house. They pre-smash the patties, but the high fat content ensures lots of flavorful browning. This pop-up is most mentioned by other smashers.
Goldburger: Brick and mortar in Highland Park, another location in Los Feliz is coming soon.
-Get the grass-fed California Classic, which is a double patty with cheese, shredded lettuce, onion, pickles, and garlic-mustard aioli.
Hangaburs: Pop-up in El Sereno.
-Alicia Lopez and Cecilia Ledezma are a married couple and the only female-run/created smash place. They have angus chuck patties with the option of Tepic style (grilled ham slice, American cheese, grilled panela cheese and spicy mustard creme).
Tripp Burgers: Pop-up in Palms and Sepulveda/West LA. Also at Boomtown Brewery in DTLA and Three Weavers Brewing in Inglewood.
-Their meat mix is sirloin, chuck and bacon.
Hamburgers Nice: On Thursdays, they’re at Commodity in Long Beach, and then pop-ups all other days of the week.
-Famously open for breakfast burgers at 8 a.m. Their breakfast burger is made from beef and sausage, and has an egg, raspberry jam, plus American cheese, onion and jalapeño.
Love Hour: Smorgasburg food festival in DTLA, plus Koreatown.
-They keep it simple with a choice of a single or double cheesy patty. And you pick your own condiments.
Heavy Handed LA: A truck in Pasadena and Sherman Oaks.
-Meat patty is 100% ground short rib.