Toronto

These burgers are a 'smashing' success, upstaging the grill: Andrew Coppolino

In Waterloo region and Wellington County, the so-called smashburger has become popular with many burger lovers and restaurants following the growth of smashburger outlets such as Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger.

In Waterloo region and Wellington County, the so-called smashburger has become a trend

In Waterloo region and Wellington County, the so-called smashburger has become popular with many burger lovers and restaurants following the growth of smashburger outlets such as Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

The burger and the grill are a classic pairing of food and cooking method. Searing those cross-hatch markings into the burger is a time-honoured backyard barbecue technique that also adds flavour.

But there is another way burgers are cooked — pressed down firmly on a griddle, or flat-top, to produce a seared exterior with lacy edges around a thinner, more crispy burger patty. Then add classic toppings including gooey American cheese on a soft potato bun, or any white-bread bun that could be described as "squishy."

In Waterloo region and Wellington County, the so-called smashburger has become popular with many burger lovers and restaurants following the growth of outlets such as Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger.

Their reach in Waterloo region is much smaller, but nevertheless popular.

At Hemlock Barn, near St. Jacobs Market, owner Josh Perovic usually serves over 500 smashburgers on a busy Saturday.

Waterloo smashburgers go back decades

The origin of the style of burger is murky.

The history of Waterloo's smashburger actually reaches back to the 1930s when Harmony Lunch first smashed out succulent pork sliders and nestled them in a mountain of grilled onions.

For the modern beef smashburger, one theory holds that it started in Colorado, but Perovic took his cue from the great plains of the south-central United States.

At Hemlock Barn, near St. Jacobs Market, owner Josh Perovic usually serves over 500 smashburgers on a busy Saturday. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

"I got my inspiration from George Motz. He does an Oklahoma fried-onion burger. It's a very simple burger with onions, cheese and meat. That's one of our staples here, but our most popular burger is our smashed banquet with bacon," Perovic said.

The smashed banquet is a three-and-a-half ounce ball of an 80-20 mix of meat-to-fat of locally produced hamburger that gets pressed very thin on a hot flat-top grill.

Perovic's smashburgers at Hemlock Barn may get topped with bacon or not, but they are always served on the ultra-soft Martin's potato bun seasoned only with salt and black pepper for what Perovic calls "ultimate flavour."

Guelph is a smashburger hot spot

Guelph seems to be a hot spot for smashburgers.

Smashies Smashburger and Fries has a double patty with American cheese and Martin's bun, while Infamous Eatery has two three-ounce patties. There is also a Burger's Priest outlet in Guelph just as there is in mid-town Waterloo.

The Burger's Priest, an early adopter in the Canadian market, has about two dozen outlets in Ontario with aggressive expansion plans in the works, including Hamilton and London, according to Burger's Priest business development manager Danny Slessor.

In Belmont Village, Arabella Park Beer Bar does a fresh chuck smash-patty, with what they call "McCburger sauce," American cheese, pickles, iceberg lettuce and sweet onions. And of course the Martin's potato roll.

Chad McCord, head chef at Arabella, says the kitchen has put their popular smashburger through a few changes during the pandemic after visiting several Toronto smashburger locations.

"Ours is chuck flats, trimmed a bit and ground fresh every day. There's nothing added and we form a three-ounce patty by smashing the ball on a 465 F griddle. We add salt to order," McCord said.

Waterloo's Kentucky Bourbon and Barbecue has a "Mac Daddy" burger with two smashed patties, the Martin's roll and a secret sauce.

A few blocks away, Prohibition Warehouse Kitchen & Bar has a smashburger with sautéed onions, garlic aioli and the option of adding a fried egg.

Hemlock smashburgers may get topped with bacon or not, but they are always served on the ultra-soft Martin's potato bun seasoned only with salt and black pepper. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Love it or hate it

It's safe to say that the smashburger is a popular burger but a polarizing one: some burger buffs say the patty is too thin and that the burger relies too heavily on toppings for flavour for it to be fully satisfying. They will also add that the bun is blasé and the American cheese lacking in flavour.

But for Perovic and pro-smashburgerites, the flavour derives from the technique of quick cooking and pressure. Because restaurants usually cook regular hamburger patties to well done, the result is often a dry burger that's spent considerable time on the grill.

That's not the case with the quick cooking time and the flat-top surface for the smashburger, according to Perovic.

"The 80-20 fat content creates the flavour, helps with the sear and keeps the burger together," he said.

"The thinner the better. That's how you're going to get those lacy edges where all the flavour is."

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