RECIPES: How to make your burgers a smash this summer

Looking to do more with your burgers this summer? Local Republic's Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger was one of the intriguing options at Explore Gwinnett's Burger Week. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Looking to do more with your burgers this summer? Local Republic's Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger was one of the intriguing options at Explore Gwinnett's Burger Week. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Hamburgers often make the menu for Memorial Day celebrations. Someone standing over a grill, flipping burgers, might be the iconic image for the holiday.

Hamburgers are so beloved that metro Atlanta restaurants organize Burger Week celebrations to tempt customers to try new and interesting combinations. Seventeen Gwinnett County restaurants participated in Explore Gwinnett’s seventh annual Burger Week last March with offerings ranging from a Banh Mi burger dressed with all the traditional banh mi accompaniments to Breakfast in Bed served on an English muffin with bacon onion jam and melted American cheese.

Looking over the options, what intrigued us were the two different schools of thought for how to cook a burger. A thick patty, grilled over charcoal or a gas flame, or a smash burger, with thin patties of meat seared on a griddle?

To consider the options, we talked with Eric Brown, general manager of Strange Taco Bar in Lawrenceville and LR Burger in Monroe, a self-proclaimed smash burger expert. “At LR Burger, smash burgers are all we do, and we smash a couple thousand burgers every week. I think they taste better.”

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Chef Brian Hill does what makes a smash burger a smash burger with a heavy hot iron implement on the grill of Local Republic in Lawrenceville. (Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Chef Brian Hill does what makes a smash burger a smash burger with a heavy hot iron implement on the grill of Local Republic in Lawrenceville. (Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Chef Brian Hill does what makes a smash burger a smash burger with a heavy hot iron implement on the grill of Local Republic in Lawrenceville. (Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Brown says the deeper flavor in a smash burger comes from the caramelization, the Maillard reaction, that happens when you cook meat over high heat. That reaction is pronounced in a smash burger since so much of the meat touches the cooking surface. “Both sides of the burger are in full contact with the griddle. And the meat also cooks in its own fat, adding even more flavor.”

As a matter of fact, he says a smash burger is not the place to skimp on fat. “Don’t use anything less than beef with an 80/20 ratio of lean to fat. You need all that fat because you’re going to cook the meat to well done, and if there’s not enough fat, the patty will be dry.”

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Chef Brian Hill assembles a Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger in the kitchen of Local Republic. (Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Chef Brian Hill assembles a Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger in the kitchen of Local Republic. (Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Chef Brian Hill assembles a Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger in the kitchen of Local Republic. (Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

At Lawrenceville’s Local Republic, which is part of the same restaurant group, they cook those smash burgers on a 5-by-3-foot griddle.

In addition to the lean-to-fat ratio, he says the two other keys to a great smash burger are not to salt the meat before you put it on the griddle and to scrape up every bit of the browned bits as you’re flipping and moving the burger because “that’s where all the flavor is.”

Since not everyone wants to prepare smash burgers like a short-order cook, we also talked with Charlie Sunyapong, executive chef at Stage Kitchen & Bar in Peachtree Corners. The Stage burger this year was Death by Peaches, a 1/2-pound burger topped with ghost pepper yuzu aioli, peach pepper jam, aged white cheddar, dill pickles, arugula and fried onions, served on a brioche bun.

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Chef Vereak Chum of Stage Kitchen & Bar in Peachtree Corners shows off the Death by Peaches Burger. (Styling by chef Vereak Chum / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Chef Vereak Chum of Stage Kitchen & Bar in Peachtree Corners shows off the Death by Peaches Burger. (Styling by chef Vereak Chum / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Chef Vereak Chum of Stage Kitchen & Bar in Peachtree Corners shows off the Death by Peaches Burger. (Styling by chef Vereak Chum / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Sunyapong says that, like many home cooks, he likes a burger cooked over charcoal or a wood fire. And like Brown, he says an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio is what makes for a good burger. Unlike Brown, he says a thicker burger to go on the grill should be seasoned with salt and pepper before cooking. At Stage, they make their burgers from a mix of ground chuck, brisket and short rib, and they cook them over a wood-fired grill.

Sunyapong created the peach pepper jam for this year’s burger. “We wanted something that said, ‘Georgia.’ We played around with a lot of jams, including bacon jam, but the peach was just the right combination with the burger.”

RECIPES

One takeaway from Burger Week celebrations, no matter where they’re held, is the more condiments, the better. We’ve got condiments you can mix and match whether you prepare smash burgers this Memorial Day or head out to the grill.

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The patties cook quickly when you're making Local Republic’s Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

The patties cook quickly when you're making Local Republic’s Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Combined ShapeCaption
The patties cook quickly when you're making Local Republic’s Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Local Republic’s Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger

To make a smash burger, you need a griddle or a big cast-iron skillet, a sturdy spatula and a great ventilation system. There’s a lot of splattering and smoke involved. The patties cook so quickly that you can turn out burger after burger in short order.

For Gwinnett’s Burger Week this year, Local Republic paired their smash burgers with pepper jack cheese, house-pickled cucumbers and caramelized onions. They accompanied the burgers with Cajun-seasoned fries.

Local Republic’s Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger
  • 2 (3.5-ounce) patties 80/20 ground beef, rolled into balls
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Burger Sauce (see recipe)
  • 2 teaspoons thinly sliced yellow onion
  • 2 (1-ounce) slices pepper jack
  • Hamburger bun, toasted
  • Dill pickles, for garnish
  • Heat large, dry cast-iron skillet over high heat until small puffs of smoke begin to appear.
  • Place ground beef balls in hot skillet. Top each with a square of parchment paper and use a heavy spatula to press down on each ball, making as thin a patty as possible. Remove parchment paper and discard. Sprinkle patties with salt and pepper and top each with 1 tablespoon burger sauce and 1 teaspoon onion. Cook until patty has browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Carefully scrape the patty from the skillet to keep all the browned bits and turn to brown the second side. Immediately top each patty with a slice of cheese and continue cooking 1 minute. Move 1 patty on top of the other, then move the stacked patties to the bottom of the burger bun. Garnish with pickles, add the top of the bun and serve immediately. Serves 1.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 850 calories (percent of calories from fat, 62), 54 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 59 grams total fat (26 grams saturated), 202 milligrams cholesterol, 1,024 milligrams sodium.
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The crew at Local Republic — (from left) Kevin Pearson (general manager), chef Brian Hill, and Taylor Smith (front of the house manager) — share a midafternoon laugh. They're shown with Local Republic's Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

The crew at Local Republic — (from left) Kevin Pearson (general manager), chef Brian Hill, and Taylor Smith (front of the house manager) — share a midafternoon laugh. They're shown with Local Republic's Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Combined ShapeCaption
The crew at Local Republic — (from left) Kevin Pearson (general manager), chef Brian Hill, and Taylor Smith (front of the house manager) — share a midafternoon laugh. They're shown with Local Republic's Pepper Jack Loves Fraggle Rock Smash Burger. (Styling by chef Brian Hill / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

The restaurant prepares its jalapenos in a smoker for the chipotle-type flavor it adds to the sauce.

Local Republic’s Burger Sauce
  • 1 cup yellow mustard
  • 2 smoked jalapenos, chopped
  • In a small bowl, stir together mustard and smoked jalapenos. Store covered, in refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 17 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 166 milligrams sodium.
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A Death by Peaches Burger is topped with Peach Pepper Jam at Stage Kitchen & Bar. (Styling by chef Vereak Chum / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

A Death by Peaches Burger is topped with Peach Pepper Jam at Stage Kitchen & Bar. (Styling by chef Vereak Chum / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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A Death by Peaches Burger is topped with Peach Pepper Jam at Stage Kitchen & Bar. (Styling by chef Vereak Chum / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Stage Kitchen & Bar’s Peach Pepper Jam

This soft set jam is the creation of Charlie Sunyapong, executive chef at Stage Kitchen & Bar. Control the level of heat by deciding whether to include the seeds of the jalapeno peppers. And since you’re not processing this jam, refrigerate the jam after it’s made.

The peach pepper jam was a feature of the restaurant’s Death by Peaches Burger, a 1/2-pound burger topped with ghost pepper yuzu aioli, peach pepper jam, aged white cheddar, dill pickles, arugula and fried onions, served on an Alon’s brioche bun.

Stage Kitchen & Bar’s Peach Pepper Jam
  • 3 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 5 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 3 jalapenos, stems removed, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons powdered pectin (from a 1.75-ounce package)
  • In a large saucepan, mix peaches and 2 cups sugar and let sit 1 hour.
  • Stir in remaining 3 cups sugar, red pepper, jalapenos, lemon juice, vinegar, lemon zest and ginger. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, combine some of the peach mixture with the powdered pectin. Stir to combine, then stir the pectin mixture into the saucepan with hot peach mixture. Simmer mixture 20 minutes or until jam thickens slightly. Remove from heat, skim off foam and ladle into jars. Makes 3 1/2 pints.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 41 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.
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Executive chef Christian Speigal of 1910 Public House in Lilburn displays his Western Cowboy Burger. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Executive chef Christian Speigal of 1910 Public House in Lilburn displays his Western Cowboy Burger. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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Executive chef Christian Speigal of 1910 Public House in Lilburn displays his Western Cowboy Burger. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

1910 Public House’s Fried Tobacco Onions

1910 Public House in Lilburn served a Western Cowboy Burger for this year’s Burger Week, a 6-ounce patty topped with pepper jack cheese, fried tobacco onions, bourbon barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato and house-made sweet pickles on a sesame seed bun.

Executive chef Christian Speigal created the tobacco onion (named for the color the onions turn when cooked) and the seasoned flour recipes. The seasoned flour is a staple at 1910 Public House, used for its fried chicken and in its tempura batter.

1910 Public House’s Fried Tobacco Onions
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 small red onion (about 1/4 pound), peeled and cut crosswise into very thin rings
  • 1/2 cup Seasoned Flour (see recipe)
  • In a Dutch oven or deep skillet, heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees.
  • In a small bowl, combine onion and seasoned flour. Toss to coat onion evenly and separate onion into individual rings.
  • When oil is ready, fry onions until golden brown, about 2 minutes, depending on thickness. Do not crowd oil. Remove onions from oil and drain. May be made 1 hour ahead. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 85 calories (percent of calories from fat, 74), trace protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 73 milligrams sodium.
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Tobacco Onions, part of 1910 Public House's Western Cowboy Burger, are named for the color the onions turn when cooked. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Tobacco Onions, part of 1910 Public House's Western Cowboy Burger, are named for the color the onions turn when cooked. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Combined ShapeCaption
Tobacco Onions, part of 1910 Public House's Western Cowboy Burger, are named for the color the onions turn when cooked. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

1910 Public House’s Seasoned Flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • In a medium bowl, stir together rice flour, salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder and smoked paprika. May be stored, covered, for 1 month. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 37 calories (percent of calories from fat, 4), 1 gram protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 145 milligrams sodium.
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The Western Cowboy Burger, from 1910 Public House. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

The Western Cowboy Burger, from 1910 Public House. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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The Western Cowboy Burger, from 1910 Public House. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

1910 Public House’s Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup bourbon
  • 4 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat, then add onion and garlic and saute until vegetables are completely softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in bourbon and raise heat to high. Boil mixture for 5 minutes. Add ketchup, water, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, cayenne, Frank’s and cinnamon. Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and using an immersion blender, puree mixture until smooth. Cool and refrigerate in a covered container up to 1 week. Makes 4 1/2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 32 calories (percent of calories from fat, 28), trace protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 168 milligrams sodium.
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Bourbon Barbecue Sauce is part of what makes 1910 Public House's Western Cowboy Burger special. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce is part of what makes 1910 Public House's Western Cowboy Burger special. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Combined ShapeCaption
Bourbon Barbecue Sauce is part of what makes 1910 Public House's Western Cowboy Burger special. (Styling by executive chef Christian Speigal / Chris Hunt for the AJC)

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

Credit: CHRIS HUNT

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