Ground beef, usually beef, is flattened on a hot plate until the heat manages to form a crust; then all that remains is to turn it over and repeat the process while the cheese begins to melt on it, then enjoy at leisure with its bread, pickle, onion and ketchup and mustard to taste. This is the hamburger triumphing among the fans. Don’t you want it well done, medium or rare?, because the smash burger (mashed hamburger, in English) has its point, yes, but it’s unique. To talk about the secret of this type of hamburger, it is appropriate to first meet Louis-Camille Maillard, a doctor and chemist born in 1878 in Pont-à-Mousson in north-eastern France. At the age of 34, this brilliant scientist devoted himself to his master’s thesis investigating the reaction between amino acids and carbohydrates and came to the conclusion that exposure to heat not only changes the color of some foods, but also their taste while enhancing their flavors. The more surface area the meat has on the grill, the tastier it will be. We could continue with the chemistry lesson, but it’s better to apply it directly to the plate. “By shredding the meat, the Maillard reaction is achieved, which caramelizes the fat in the hamburger and creates a crispy crust that gives it that signature flavor,” explains María Martín de Pozuelo, Community Manager at Junk Burger (José Abascal, 31, Madrid).
This very establishment, which opened in central Madrid in 2020 just before the pandemic, is one of the culprits for the overwhelming success of these burgers, since their smash burger won the II Spanish Burger Championship in March. Although the restaurant continues to serve the winning dish, its ideologue, chef César Peña, abandoned the project a few months ago and is now shredding his own meat in his new adventure, Cesar’s Burgers (San Lucas, 11, Madrid).
You are not alone. In March of this year, a small place of just 23 square meters opened its doors in the Chueca neighborhood to only and exclusively shred burgers. The plan of twins Juan Vicente and Andrés Casanova, responsible for the sauce brand Espicy and entrepreneurs behind this small company, is to offer 100 of these hamburgers in each service. When they go out, Pink’s (Infantas, 40, Madrid) closes the doors. “We loved the idea of opening a facility where we make a product of the highest quality. Excellence here is something that is not discussed, but at the same time it is about everything being extremely simple and going straight to the point,” explains Juan Vicente.
In the picture, a hamburger is being devoured by Junk Burger, Champions of Spain 2022. Joseph Fox
Next, also in the middle, is Crackles (San Bernardo, 59, Madrid), the Madrid restaurant Burmet, which specializes in American cuisine and has become a kind of ideas laboratory for the company. “Here we make smash versions of the most sought-after hamburgers in Burmet,” says Daniel Ramírez, manager of the place. Hence, one of the most requested authentic Torreznos carries bacon in place of the handy. But it’s not just in Madrid. The phenomenon also extends to Barcelona, where Folks (Avenida de Sarrià, 69, Barcelona) stands out, a small and bustling place whose Spicy Hamburgers tempt lovers of spicy food. Is it a fad or is the smash burger here to stay? Experts Adrià and María, who run the Bestburger Instagram account and also the account of the hamburgers they’ve eaten since they started posting about their relationship with them on social media in 2013 — “we try once on average per week, so if we do calculations, we get more than 400″, assures Adrià—, you have it clear: “That stays. From the moment we tried them, we were intrigued. They’re flavorful and simple, and without dozens of extra ingredients that end up making the meat less important.”
In addition to the quality of the ingredients and the ability of the chefs to gently break up the minced meatball, this is the key to restoring all its meaning to it. “The concept comes from the USA,” explains Martín Pozuelo. “In the ’60s, they shredded the meat because they didn’t have resources, and they prioritized a burger with few ingredients – they just added bread and cheese and at most pickles and onions – and so they have a very filling meal to one get a low price.” Casanova agrees. For him, this hamburger is a return to basics. “It’s about making a simple product, something of the highest quality that we would love to eat. We’re in a time where everything is overdone, hamburgers are getting bigger, they’re littered with cheddar, they’ve become containers to hold everything… and our idea was to offer a simple product without negotiating excellence. Go to the essence. We wanted to go back to the burger you ate as a kid.”
“In Spain we have very good products and very good meat. Also, audiences appreciate good taste,” says Ramírez of Crackles. They agree on this, as well as on the percentage of fat that each of these slices of meat must have, for all cattle, whether Galician Blonde or Simmental: between 20% and 30%. “The idea is that the product is roasted on the griddle but still remains juicy,” says Casanova. At a temperature of around 250 degrees, the meat is ready so quickly that the cheese is already melting in the sandwich.
Pictured is cheese melting over the crust of meat at Junk Burge.Joseph Fox
The bread is almost as important as the main ingredient. “We are proponents of brioche. This sweetness it brings to the burger is unmatched by any other,” says Junk Burger’s network manager. At Crackles and Pink’s, they use the same style of bread, but with potatoes. The latter is brought from the United States. “We bought it from a company that has been doing it for 80 years. Since then, many have tried to emulate it, but none have succeeded,” explains Casanova while sipping on one of his hamburgers. “It is very important that it does not disarm in your hands. With this bread, she reaches the last bite unscathed,” she adds, pointing to the leftovers she holds between just two fingers. And how the edges of meat offer a sort of crispy, perfectly caramelized strands that Maillard himself, who died in Paris in 1936, would be proud of. Experts Adrià Méndez and María Caracuel agree on the importance of the bread being able to support the interior. “It has to be well sealed so it doesn’t break when you bite,” they warn.
As Juan Gabriel Casanova demonstrates, sitting on a bench in Plaza del Rey, just 100 meters from Pink’s, we’re talking about a street food product that can be enjoyed anywhere. “It’s an off-road dish,” says Martín de Pozuelo. You can eat it in our restaurant, at home, on the sofa or at a festival dancing and singing, it always feels that way.” At this point, Casanova even gets combative: “We have the team ready to point this out to our customers that right next to it are two seats, Pedro Zerolo’s and King’s, perfect for sitting down for a while while eating. With this, we want people to use public space again, to reclaim places to eat in peace.” A recipe that is basically as simple as that of the smash burger itself.