The Original Smash Burger Wasn't Invented By The Similar-Named Chain

Smashburger may be known for slinging its eponymous burgers, but the Denver-based fast food chain didn't invent the concept. The dish's creation is often credited to Bill Culvertson, owner of a hamburger shop called Dairy Cheer in Ashland, Kentucky, more than a half-century ago. The restaurant supposedly developed the dish when one of Dairy Cheer's employees realized you could accentuate flavor by smashing the beef with a bean can during the cooking process.

However, this origin story seems to be erroneous, as smash burgers are known to have existed as far back as (at least) 1932. Establishments like Miner Dunn of Highland, Indiana, have been serving smash burgers for almost a century now. Smash burgers are also closely related to the OKC Burger, an onion-heavy, smashed burger originating in 1920s Depression-era Oklahoma. Inexpensive onions were smashed into the pricier meat to stretch its use. There was an even earlier version of the smash burger that was served to factory workers and fairgoers during the early 20th century. This cooking approach was seen as a cheap and efficient way to feed many people at once. Despite its current trendy appeal, the original smash burger started as a practical, frugal means to make the most meals possible out of a limited amount of beef during a time of economic hardship.

A smashing success

The smash-burger approach involves placing the meat in a hot pan or skillet and smashing and flattening it out as it cooks. The result is a burger that is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and cooks quicker than a thicker patty. At Smashburger, a flat-top grill is used to cook Certified Angus Beef burgers on high heat, which are hand-smashed and made to order.

While smash-style burgers have existed for at least a century, Smashburger only opened its first restaurant in Denver circa 2007. However, it has certainly helped popularize this cooking method. If its rapid growth is any indication, people have taken a liking to Smashburger's technique. According to InvestorsObserver, it holds the record for the quickest fast-casual chain to reach the 200-restaurant mark. There are now over 200 Smashburger locations spread across 34 states and 156 cities. Unsurprisingly, Colorado has the most stores with 28 locations, and Denver, where it all started, is home to a whopping eight locations.

And Smashburger isn't the only place serving smash burgers these days, either. There are food trucks, pop-ups, and other restaurateurs who have been prominently featuring this burger-grilling method. The smash burger trend has also caught on in places outside of the U.S., including Australia and Canada. Even though Smashburger didn't invent this culinary approach, it contributed to its meteoric rise in popularity over the past decade-plus.