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How to Make Smash Burgers Without a Spatula

There’s something about a smash burger that regular burgers can’t give you. Maybe it’s in the way a flatter burger browns better, making it more aromatic and flavorful. Or in how it comes out chewier and drier, just like the drive-thru burgers your family used to eat on road trips when you were growing up.

Whatever it is (and I can’t put my finger on it), one thing’s for sure: a well-made smash burger is damn right delicious. In fact, it’s probably one of the best burgers you’ve ever had.

Typically, you’d make smash burgers by placing them on a preheated skillet and pressing down on them with your spatula. But what if, for one reason or another, you don’t have one?

If you don’t have a spatula, you can pre-smash your burgers instead. Place them between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap on your cutting board and flatten them with the thick bottom of a heavy frying pan or pot.

The first time I tried this technique, I did it without putting anything between the cutting board, burger, and pot—and my attempt at it failed miserably. Bits and pieces of the ground meat stuck to the wood and metal surfaces of the board and pot, and the patty fell apart.

So I concluded that you need some sort of protective layer between the meat and your working surfaces that keeps it from sticking to them. The wax paper’s non-stick surface (which, as the name suggests, is coated with wax) and plastic wrap’s sleek surface proved ideal for the job.

For the photoshoot for this post, I used my trusty Oumbärlig stainless steel pot from IKEA. Here’s how the whole process looked like:

How to make a smash burger without a spatula using a heavy pan or pot with a thick bottom
Smashing a burger with my IKEA pot

Curiously enough, I found it easier to smash patties with a pot than with a skillet.

I’d grab the handles tightly and press down as heavily as I could on the meat with the pot (at first, it seemed to me like I had gone overboard; then I saw that I needed to smash it even more). Something in the tallness of the pot helped me distribute my weight more evenly.

But what if you’re having a BBQ at a park—and you don’t have a skillet or pot at your disposal? Can you still make smash burgers then?

The answer is yes. Assuming that your hands at not that clean and you don’t want to get grease from the ground meat all over them, wrap the patties in paper or wrap, place them on a flat surface on one side, and press down on them evenly with your palm on the other.

How to make a smash burger without a spatula using your hands
Smashing a burger with the palm of my hand

If there’s no flat surface for you to work on, flatten the burger patties using both of your hands as a press. As a book my wife recently brought back from the store says on the cover, “Everything is figureoutable.”

Once you’ve pre-smashed your burger, season it with salt and pepper on both sides, and cook it on the outside grill (preferably flat-top) or with a preheated skillet on your stove (ideally, cast iron or carbon steel).

Be careful with the amount of salt and pepper you put on the patty. In my experience, it’s easier to go overboard with a smash burger than with a traditional one.

Also, keep in mind that smash burgers cook faster. On my induction cooktop, a flat burger cooks for approximately 2/3 the time of a round one. Since it won’t come out as juicy or tender, you don’t want to overcook it.

Are Smash Burgers Better?

The answer depends on the type of burger you like the most.

Regular burgers are tall, juicy, and tender. They’re the type of burger you’d usually get in a fancy restaurant or a good steakhouse. Many eaters prefer them slightly pink and medium-done, which calls for a meat thermometer or experience with grill duty at BBQ parties.

Smash burgers are flat, dry, and chewy. Easy to prepare and almost always cooked to well-done, they taste like the quintessential fast-food burgers when you bite into them.

If you prefer your burgers shorter and easier to bite into, and if you don’t like the taste of beef cooked to any other level of doneness than well-done, you’ll probably fall in love with smash burgers.

How to Flip a Burger Without a Spatula

“If you don’t have a spatula,” a reader asked, “how will you flip the burger and take it off the grill?”

I love me a good question on any day. For reasons not relevant to the answer to this question, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re about to cook burgers without a spatula at hand.

To flip a burger without a spatula, use a fork instead. Slide the tine under the burger patty all the way up to the neck of the fork, then lift and flip the burger to the other side with it. To prevent splashing, hold the raw side of the burger with your finger to lay the patty gently onto your skillet.

In Conclusion

No spatula? No problem.

To make smash burgers, place the patty between two sheets of wax paper and press down nicely on it with the bottom of a heavy skillet or tall pot. Or simply turn the palms of your hands into a meat press.

Those of you who tried one of the two techniques above, let the rest of this post’s readers and me know how it worked out for you. Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to share any tips of your own!

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Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.