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Why do restaurants smash hamburger patties on the griddle?

Doesn't doing so dry out the meat?

I never do this at home -- whether I am cooking a burger on pan or on the grill.

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  1. They cook faster, and more evenly throughout the patty, I suppose. My panini machine toasts sandwiches faster that I can with a skillet . . . unless I squish it with my spatula. Which I do.

    9 Replies
    1. re: onceadaylily

      Is it really about time?

      I mean most hamburger patties are pretty thin as it it is, and the griddle is always heated up so it's not like you have to wait around for the burners to light up and then fry the patties.

      For example, Smashburgers claims that when it mashes its burger patties it creates a nice char to sear in the juices. I'm just not sure I buy that explanation.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        I don't buy it. They are just pressing out the good stuff.
        I think its just like the generational cutting off the ends of the roast thing.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Never heard of Smashburgers... If they state "it creates a nice char to sear in the juices" ~ I'm positive i don't want to make their acquaintance!!

          1. re: Uncle Bob

            From the Smashburger restaurant blog:
            _______________________________________

            In fact, what the heck is a Smashburger?

            It starts with a ball of fresh–not-frozen–100% certified Angus beef that’s literally smashed on a buttered grill for ten seconds with a cookie-cutter-style press. This searing process locks in the juices, and then the meat patty is seasoned with Smashburger’s garlic and herb mix. Put it on a soft Artisan-style bun and add the extras to order. The end result? A five-napkin burger that tastes as good or better than homemade–ready to eat in about six minutes. How can you beat that?

            _______________________________________

            http://www.smashburger.com/blog/2009/...

            1. re: ipsedixit

              So you are buying the claim that "this searing process locks in the juices"?

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Oh Ok....I read it as "I'm just not sure I buy that explanation" ~~ Thanks for the clarification!

              1. re: ipsedixit

                I'd sure be willing to try that. When I cook burgers at home, I press mine out as flat as I can before cooking it, though not while, because I like them thin and crispy and just pink inside. I leave DW's thick and cook her's medium rare.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              As escondido said, more precisely than I, below, it ensures better contact with the grill. The thinner it is, the faster it will cook.

              I also assert that it can feel good, very satisfying, to squish something.

          2. If I press a sandwich while frying it browns more evenly and more quickly. The same goes for bacon or chicken breast. If you press the meat, which is bumpy, more of it will be in direct contact with the hot griddle for faster cooking and more "exterior" to brown.

            1. Having done some quality conrol compliance checking for 5 Guys corporate, I was privy to their hamburger cooking training video.

              5 Guys ONLY serves their hamburgers well done, but requires that they be juicy and not dried out. They use fresh ground beef and the grillman is required to flatten each burger one time with a 'patty press' after it is flipped the first time. This ensures that the patty is an uniform thickness and cooks evenly.

              It doesn't have to dry out the meat.

              I would never do this myself, as I prefer rare burgers and am not in as much of a hurry as a short order cook or grillman might be at rush periods.

              14 Replies
              1. re: bagelman01

                Ok, I understand why a restaurant would prefer serving only well-cooked hamburger patties, which is why they would want them thin.

                But why not smash them BEFORE cooking? As opposed to during the cooking process?

                Wouldn't smashing them before cooking retain more of the juices and still allow for a quick even cook throughout the entire patty? A win-win?

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  As a burger cooks to well-done it tends get thicker in the middle. Also, thin burgers can tend to curl as they cook. Pressing them keeps both of these things from becoming an issue.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      A little dent in the middle fixes the middle bulge, but I have never had a burger "curl". I would think they would be *really* thin to do that?

                      1. re: sedimental

                        That little dent in the middle makes a huge difference. I do this all the time (I cook bugers to medium or med well). No lost juices and the patty finishes to a relatively uniform thickness.
                        I never squish them after they are in the pan.

                        1. re: sedimental

                          The dent works great with thick patties. I never make thin burgers, so I don't know how that would work out. As far as curling goes, I've seen it with pre-made patties, but they weren't very good to begin with.

                          1. re: sedimental

                            probably like me, you make your own patties. after a party i ended up with some 'premium' preformed patties. they were good size, not too fatty, but thin... and they definitely curled at the edges, with the meat around the edge shrinking as it cooks, it forms a low 'dome'. if you don't smash it down, that part wont get any char at all on it.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          ipsedixit,

                          At Smashburger the patties are smashed before cooking; the second they are put on the griddle. and they do retain more of the juices. Smashburger makes an excellent burger in my opinion. The only burger I like better is served at Krug's Tavern in Newark, N.J. It is prepared the same way as Smashburger.

                          bagelman01,

                          Have you had a Smashburger? If so do you like it better than Five Guys?

                          1. re: hotdoglover

                            From the Smashburger blog post (linked above here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7701...) it says that they smash during the cooking process, not before.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I'm pretty sure the ball of beef is smashed down on the heated griddle before it's cooked. I saw a video somewhere. I'll try to find it.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Semantics, semantics...

                                At Smashburger they put raw beef on the griddle and smash it. So the smashing is getting done "during the cooking process" because the meat's on the heat. But it's also "before cooking" since the meat is still raw (or nearly so) at the time it's smashed.

                                The real problem occurs when somebody smashes a burger that's nearly done, forcing out juices that would otherwise contribute to the overall burger-y goodness.

                          2. re: bagelman01

                            I don't squish them because the juice runs out. Maybe I am missing something?

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              I sorta understand the purposes of the restaurant industry's methodology...It works for them ~~ Most people seem to say that the ground meat should be handled gently...Only enough to form the patty. Seems the compressing of ground meat changes its texture somewhat..more compact.. (a little tougher?) ~~ For the home cook I can see no need/advantage to "smash" it before, during, or after cooking.

                            2. Having worked at restaurants serving burgers "cooked to order" there were a couple reasons for "pressing" the burgers down on the grill.
                              Insures even contact with the grill surface for even cooking.
                              Release some of the "juices" from the meat so it won't stick to the grill(even on a seasoned grill) when you want to turn it.
                              On burgers cooked medium to well done it insures there's no "bloody" juices left in the burger that make people who order medium to well done burgers queasy.

                              1. If the meat is not formed into a patty but is mounded and then flattened on the flat top you will get a burger that still has a loose texture and will not be dense.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  This is the methodology taught by Kenji in the burger lab at SeriousEats. You can compare them at home side by side. The compressed burger is tough.

                                2. Steak N Shake does this with their burgers. They start out as thick, fat hockey pucks of meat, and then are flattened onto the blazing hot flat top with the bottoms and edges of two metal spatulas. It's really something else to watch someone who clearly does this hundreds of times a day flatten a dozen lumps of burger in just a few seconds. I can attest to the burgers being both crispy-edged and juicy, while being cooked to well-done -- quite a feat, IMO.

                                  I would *never* press down on a thick burger, but the super-thin patties they use at Steak N Shake need such treatment! :)

                                  1. Both Steak 'n Shake and a local burger place (and probably more) do it. I will not get into the argument of fat hamburgers vs thin ones; that's another thread. But what happens with the smashed, thin ones is that the edges become crispy, giving that yummy seared beef taste. Our local spots seats 16, no more, and the grill is no farther than 4 yards from the farthest seat. The owner says the secret of his burgers is first of all, getting them to the customers quickly. And I can tell you, that first bite, in particular, is divine.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lemons

                                      You gotta be talking about Carl's Drive Inn . . . mmmmmm . . .

                                    2. I'm not sure why restaurants do it, but I do it when making that style of hamburger. I suspect some restaurants do it for the same reasons: flat patty with a lot of contact with the cooking surface.

                                      1. It increases the contact between meet and whatever heat element by an enormous factor. And just because it sizzles doesn't mean that it squeezes out more than a negligible amount of moisture. If you really wanted to "dry out" meat, aside from overcooking it, you'd probably have to wring it dry using some abnormal apparatus.

                                        1. Also some of these places use fattier beef than you might cook with at home and it can stand up to the pressing more.

                                          1. HOW TO COOK THE PERFECT BURGER AT HOME; Form the patty. It doesn't have to be Mcdonalds thin. Heat the skillet (or pan) high, you want a loud sizzle. Place the patty in the greased pan and cover with a lid. This helps cook the burger through. 1 minute for each ounce over 4 so a 1/4 pound burger it should cook for a total of 7-8 minutes. When your ready to flip the burger tkae it out of the pan for a minute to let the pan reheat. replace the patty and put the lid back on. this helps gave a char on the other side. One minute before your done place the cheese on the patty and replace the lid. If you have bacon grease use that. NO smashing because the juices run out and dries out the burger.. just like McDonalds. .

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Just Plain Craig

                                              Covered the whole time? Sounds like steaming to me.

                                              Smashing when you place cold raw meat on the cooktop doesn't cause any juice, water, fat or otherwise to leak out. That is the reality. Whether people want to accept it (or, simply try it), is up to them.

                                              And McDonalds doesn't smash their burgers.

                                              1. re: tommy

                                                EVer had a steam burger....de.....lish.....us. I had one in Meridan CT when my brother in law took me to Teds. I had 3 they were so cook. But thats another thread.

                                            2. No reason other than the guy cooking them has seen other guys doing it. Also, there are cooks who like to play with the food while it's cooking -- like busy work (a corollary to this are people who stir the pot too much). It's hard for some people to just step back and watch the magic happen by itself.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: MartinDC

                                                No other reason? I don't think that's the case at all.