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This is what I've read about stainless steel pans:

  • You are supposed to preheat the pan up to the Leidenfrost point (379 ℉ / 193 ℃).
  • You can test that the pan has reached the Leidenfrost point by throwing a bit of water onto the pan and seeing if it forms a ball that exhibits the "mercury ball effect". I have an infrared thermometer, but apparently those are inaccurate for stainless steel.
  • When searing meat in the pan, the meat will stick to the pan at first, and when it has finished searing, it will naturally release from the pan.

I've been trying to make smash burgers in a stainless steel pan. This is what I do:

  • form 80/20 ground beef into 2 oz balls and use paper towels to get rid of some of the moisture
  • don't put any oil in the pan because I read that you don't need oil if you're using 80/20 ground beef
  • heat up the pan and keep tossing in 1/8 tsp of water until it shows the mercury ball effect, then wipe away the water
  • use a burger press to smash the balls into thin patties on the pan
  • let the patties sit for 45-60 seconds, then flip them

The problem I've been running into is that after 45-60 seconds, the meat is stuck to the pan and very difficult to scrape off the pan with my fish spatula. The first time I tried it, I scraped the patties off the pan but left all of the crust stuck to the pan - totally defeating the purpose of a smash burger. The second time I tried it, I managed to scrape most of the crust off the pan, but tore up the patties in the process.

Should I be letting the patties sit longer in the pan until they release naturally? I'm afraid if I let them sit too long, the patties will be overcooked/burnt.

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  • 80/20? that's a very fat meat!
    – njzk2
    Sep 25 at 10:21

2 Answers 2

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don't put any oil in the pan because I read that you don't need oil if you're using 80/20 ground beef

This is your problem. Stainless steel is one of the stickiest kinds of pan there are. You always need sufficient oil with it, the fat in the patties is nowhere near enough to let them release. The Leidenfrost is only one of many effects that happen during cooking, and the sticking properties of the beef proteins will easily overcome it even without the intentional smashing. It is a nice indicator of preheating, but you cannot rely on it to prevent sticking. You are right to think that the meat will stick more and burn, instead of releasing on its own.

To sum it up, use oil, and in sufficient quantities.

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    I saw a comment from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who is the author of one of the popular smashburger recipes, and he said that if you use oil in the pan, then when you smash the patty, it will stick to your burger press and lift off the pan. Does that mean I should put oil on the bottom of my burger press to prevent that from happening? Sep 24 at 18:41
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    Even with some oil your burgers will still probably stick to the pan @pacoverflow, they'll just stick less, and give the fat some time to run out and take over from the oil. I wouldn't expect you'll need oil on the press.
    – GdD
    Sep 24 at 20:27
  • @GdD I will try adding some safflower oil (high smoke point) to the pan right after it reaches the mercury ball effect. Sep 25 at 5:14
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    Also, even with 80/20 beef not enough fat will render or moisture be released in only 45-60 seconds, even if the pan is quite hot. @pacoverflow I strongly suggest adding oil first and letting it heat up with the pan. Adding oil to a hot pan has a higher risk of starting a fire. Watch the oil as the pan heats up and if you see any smoke, the pan is ready for the burger(s). Sep 25 at 12:50
  • @ToddWilcox If I use an oil with a high enough smoke point, like safflower oil (510F), and I add it to the pan just after it has reached the Leidenfrost point (379F), there should be no risk of fire. I'd rather not let the pan get up to 510F if it doesn't need to be that hot. Sep 25 at 15:10
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To add to @rumtscho's answer, some sticking will occur regardless of the oil or material used - unless you use non-stick pans, which while difficult, can still make acceptable smash burgers. In addition to adding oil, you can try a different scraping technique:

George Motz demonstrating meatball flipping prior to smashing, and scraping with a flat scraper:
https://youtu.be/vy9XvHqJYgI&t=6m45s

Kenji Lopez demonstrating scraping with a rigid grill scraping razor (smashed with wax paper): https://youtu.be/Wwgn5k_TzKM&t=2m23s

The problem I've been running into is that after 45-60 seconds, the meat is stuck to the pan and very difficult to scrape off the pan with my fish spatula. The first time I tried it, I scraped the patties off the pan but left all of the crust stuck to the pan - totally defeating the purpose of a smash burger. The second time I tried it, I managed to scrape most of the crust off the pan, but tore up the patties in the process.

To efficiently release the smashed patties, you'd need a more rigid tool than a fish spatula and apply a forceful scrape at a sharp angle. On the extreme end of smash burger tools you have George Motz's Smashula. On the more affordable end, I'm using either a clad stainless steel pan or Lodge cast iron griddle with two dollar store yakisoba spatulas:

yakisoba spatula

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    Metal utensils can damage the polished surface of some high quality stainless steel pans, like All-Clad. But this is a great way to make burgers on an iron pan or griddle. Sep 25 at 12:54
  • @ToddWilcox Yes, surface damage is a concern - with proper technique the risk of scratching is minimized, i.e. scrape with a very low angle of attack, ensure the entire leading edge and not just corners of the utensil are in contact. It's completely possible to make smash burgers on nice pans without damage - I'm making them on a Demeyere Proline. Sep 26 at 16:09
  • That "razor scraper" that J. Kenji Lopez-Alt uses is a wallpaper/paint removal tool from the hardware store. Extremely rigid, and intended for hard-to-scrape uses. Search "4-in Steel Paint Scraper" on the website of your home center of choice. Will run you $10-$12. Not recommended for stainless but perfect for cast iron. Sep 26 at 16:13

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