The Best Burgers Need No Grill (and Just 5 Minutes of Your Time)
Great cooks have great tricks. In Supper Club, Jonah Reider share his essential tips to become a more creative, improvisational, and confident cook.
Burgers don’t travel well. With even the speediest delivery service, a lukewarm patty and mushy bun are inevitable. And although charcoal-kissed beef is enticing, grilling is fussy, especially in colder weather. Thankfully, incredibly delicious burgers can be made on any stovetop.
Master certain steps—namely, super loose patties smashed quickly onto a smoking-hot skillet—and you can reliably give yourself the carnal satisfaction of a crisp, lacy fast-food style burger in less than ten minutes. I frequently indulge in picture-perfect cheeseburgers for solo lunches or last-minute dinners. Let me walk you through the routine:
Buy nice meat and don’t do much to it.
Burgers are infinitely customizable, but they’re not meatloaf. Resist the urge to mix things like eggs, ketchup, or bread crumbs directly into your ground meat. Instead, seek out coarsely ground beef with around 20% fat content to maximize beefiness and ensure a meltingly tender texture. Gently split the meat into loose quarter-pound balls, taking care not to overwork the nascent patties into a gummy puck. You can even apply the patty technique to ground lamb or pork for a completely different flavor profile.
Fresh is best, but if you’re not going to use all your pre-portioned meat within a few days, there’s no shame in storing it in the freezer. Cold, partially defrosted balls of beef are actually easy to cook because they can stay on a hot skillet longer, developing mouthwatering caramelization without overcooking.
Assemble everything beforehand.
An additional, smaller pot or pan makes it easy to squash patties thin onto your cooktop. Besides that, you only need a hardy thin metal spatula for flipping. But beware: a thin patty can easily overcook in the time it takes to track down a missing leaf of lettuce or a stray pickled jalapeño. To ensure a quick and stress-free cooking process, it’s best to lay out those toasted buns, prepped add-ons, and selected condiments before searing the meat.
I usually prefer my burgers garnished with nothing but a thick slice of onion and a generous swoop of unctuous, garlicky aioli. Cheese does add another layer of creamy umami: if you’re working with something hard like aged Gouda or Cheddar, use a vegetable peeler to quickly get thin, meltable shards. With softer cheeses like a pungent blue, crumbling by hand works fine. To most perfectly emulate fast-food wizardry, just peel off a slice of American cheese.
That said, burgers are infinitely customizable. Slices of sweet tomatoes, a crunchy leaf of lettuce, or a few little pickles are classic additions, but I’ve also had immense success adding a forkful of kimchi or charred red peppers, or replacing the aioli with avocado or some leftover herbaceous yogurt dip, or even applying the patty technique to ground lamb or pork for a completely different flavor profile. The fridge is your playground!
Sear on a heavy metal skillet.
An incredible hamburger requires an incredibly hot cooking surface. Any thick cast-iron pan will do the trick, but if you’re planning on making more than one patty at a time, consider investing in some larger chef-grade equipment. I swear by my Baking Steel, for example, which converts two stovetop burners into a giant and versatile flat-top that easily pumps out impeccably crisp smashed patties.
While you assemble other necessary tools and ingredients, let that cooktop sit over high heat for at least five minutes, waiting to put any patties down until smoke is visibly rising off the top.
Pro tip: make sure to toast your buns with a little butter on the skillet before it becomes piping hot, otherwise, they will burn in seconds. I stick to pillowy potato buns, and while Martin’s is my go-to brand, nobody’s stopping you from leveling up and making your own from scratch.
Smash that patty. Melt that cheese.
With stovetop burgers, my goal is to replicate fast-food perfection: a thin, crispy patty that has been squashed onto that smoking-hot cooktop for only a few minutes. If you have a sensitive fire alarm, now is the time to crack a window.
Immediately before cooking, generously season each ball of loosely ground meat with coarse salt to maximize flavor and caramelization. Delicately lay each patty onto the skillet before aggressively squashing it using the bottom of a second heavy pot or pan. Enjoy the satisfying sizzle, then quickly double-check that plates, buns, and prepped toppings are nearby.
When the edges of a smashed patty start to curl away from the pan, it’s time to flip, using your spatula to scrape free every precious salty brown bit. Add the cheese to the patty immediately after flipping, and invert that second pot or pan to cover the cooking burger for one last minute, creating a quick blast of steam that ensures a glossy blanket of perfectly melted cheese.
Bring it all together.
Then just assemble, accessorize, and voila: a decadent fast-food style burger, for less than $5 and less than 5 minutes of active cooking time. Pair this perfect work-from-home lunch with a big napkin and a pickle straight from the jar.