Sometimes you just can't beat a classic; the style of burger served in a local burger joint has remained almost unchanged since they started to become popular in the 1950s. Thin patties are cooked in their own fat on a flat-top griddle, topped lightly with sauteed onions or mushrooms, and served on lightly toasted buns. Many people prefer this style of burger over more complicated restaurant-style burgers since the natural flavor of the beef is allowed to shine through rather than being masked by toppings. If you're one of those people who can't get enough of the classic style of the burger joint burger and are looking to recreate them at home, here's the secret:
Use The Smash Technique To Cook The Hamburgers
The biggest difference between a burger that you'd eat in an upscale restaurant and a burger that you'd eat in a classic local burger joint is the way that the burgers are cooked. Restaurant burgers are formed into large patties and are typically flame-grilled, and are once during the cooking process. The classic local burger joint burger, however, is cooked differently. Since it was rare to have a grill inside of these small diners, they were cooked on the same flat surface griddle as the eggs and hash browns. A large saute pan is a nice substitute that you can use at home. You'll also need a stainless steel spatula; the larger it is, the better.
When you're cooking these burgers, you want to form them into patties the normal way, taking about a quarter pound of ground beef and lightly passing it between your hands until it forms into a loose patty. Take care not to use too much force and try to squish the beef forcibly into a patty, since that tends to cause the patties to end up with a tough texture. Once you've formed the patties, place them on your saute pan and being cooking them over medium-high heat. You want to let them cook in the pan for about three minutes.
Next comes the important part: flip the patties over and then gently press them into the pan, "smashing" them. The purpose of doing this is to increase the surface area of the patty; the majority of the flavor in the burger comes from the browned meat, so you want as much of it in contact with the pan as possible. We did this after browning one side first because the browned side actually helps to hold the patty together when you smash it. If you try to smash a raw hamburger patty into the pan, it'll fall apart. Let the burger cook for about five minutes on this side, then flip it over again to finish off the other side, cooking it for three minutes. This style of burgers that you would find at a local burger joint is sometimes referred to as Midwestern-style burgers since that's the area of the United States where this technique first gained popularity in small diners.
Go Light On The Toppings
It's common for restaurant-style burgers to be offered with a wide variety of toppings, like guacamole, fried eggs, brie, or sauerkraut. With these burgers, you really don't want to take away from the natural flavor of the meat that was developed when you browned them. Traditionally, burger joints offered only three: ketchup, mustard, and sauteed onions. Onions were available year-round, as opposed to other products whose availability was spottier and pulled double duty as a way to clean up the flat-top griddle a little bit after the burgers were cooked. To make them at home, simply saute diced onions in your saute pan after you have finished cooking the burgers. You'll want to dial down the heat a little bit towards medium to avoid scorching the onions. While you're doing this, scrape the pan with your metal spatula to pull some of the stuck-on browned bits of meat into the onions while they sauteed. Sauteeing the onions in the fat from the ground beef and scraping the pan will give them a delicious, meaty flavor with a slight hint of butter. It's the perfect complement to a burger joint style burger.
Enjoy your smashed burgers with some classic burger joint sides like crinkle-cut fries and cole slaw. When you're done savoring your creation, feel free to head down to your local burger joint to see how your skills in the kitchen stack up to the pros!