You Should Never Press A Spatula Against A Burger Patty. Here's Why.

There's nothing quite as satisfying the sound of oils and meaty juices sizzling over a hot grill. Suddenly, you've been transported from the daily grind to a simpler place where all that matters is hard work and good food.

You're getting impatient — five minutes have passed — and you're still not sure if the burger has reached its medium-rare sweet spot. So pressing a spatula against the patty makes sense, right? It's really an act of frustration, along with a last-minute attempt to hurry up and finish your burgers. 

But pressing the patty — especially that late in the game — does way more harm than good. While you were diligently watching your burger cook, the patty was gathering juices meant to elevate its flavor and consistency. Taking your spatula and flattening the patty, despite how satisfying it may feel, actually allows those juices to escape (via The Kitchn). 

Now, you're left with an oddly compact, mediocre burger — the ghost of what could have been. You might as well have opted for a turkey burger at this point.

There's a time and place for smashing your burgers, but if you don't know the science behind it, your perfect burger may be overworked, dried out, and somewhat doomed (via Chicago Tribune). 

The smashed burger: When does it make sense?

If you've been to fast-casual chains like Shake Shack, then you've witnessed the magic of the smashed burger. Recipes and tips for the smashed burger have popped up everywhere, promising crispy, browned patties laden with fat and flavor (via The New York Times). 

What's the answer, then? If pressing the burger is so taboo, then why are disks of red meat being fearlessly squashed and flattened in restaurants all over the country, from Harlem to Hollywood (via Eater)?

The answer is surprisingly simple: it all depends on when you smash it. 

Technically, it's not a great idea to smash your burger — that is, if you smash it at the wrong point in the cooking process. But the popular smashed burger is an art. According to Serious Eats, a burger is only worth smashing if you do it within the first 30 seconds of that ball of meat hitting the griddle: when the meat is still cold and the fat hasn't rendered. If you smash your burger five minutes in, when it's already formed a brown crust and plump shape, you're releasing the juices and even decreasing the weight of the burger, resulting in something small and relatively flavorless.

Why smash in the first place?

Why are all these chains and home cooks smashing their burgers, anyway? It really depends on how you like your burger. If you're a fan of the thick, juicy, pink-in-the-middle burger, then you really shouldn't be smashing or pressing it at all. For a perfect, smashless patty, it's best to work with fatty ground beef, gently form it into a patty, and let the griddle do its thing (via Huffington Post).

If you're looking for a burger that's thin, with ample salty, flavorful crust, that's when you want to smash the burger — within the first 30 seconds of the cooking process. Chefs and cooks do this to capitalize on the Maillard reaction: the strange, scientific phenomenon that happens when protein-rich foods like beef become browned and crispy over high heat. When the smashed burger stretches over a larger surface area, more browning occurs (via Business Insider).