8 Burger Chains That Don't Actually Grill Their Burgers
When you close your eyes and picture a burger, meaning just the actual patty of meat, it's probably a medium shade of brown with a series of darker parallel stripes running across it. Those stripes are, of course, grill marks from where the grill touched the meat. But, if you were to deconstruct your favorite fast-food burger and look at the patty chances are quite low that you'd see those seared-in marks. Most burger chains don't grill their burgers.
In fact, most burger joints cook their burgers on large slabs of hot steel usually referred to as a griddle and sometimes called a flat-top grill. Griddles are a great way to cook burgers, both because they allow a restaurant to prepare a lot of patties quite efficiently and because of the way they actually cook meat. Less fat is lost on the griddle because it can't drop down through grates like on a grill, and that means more flavor. And the greater amount of direct contact a burger gets on a flat top grill as opposed to grates means more of the meat undergoes the Maillard reaction, which, per Modernist Cuisine, is the rearrangement of amino acids and simple sugars in a cooked protein that creates delicious flavors.
So, when considering which burger chain to visit next, keep these spots very much on the list. Unless you're in the mood for a flame-grilled burger, in which case be sure to visit one of these popular spots that use real fire.
Ever wonder why White Castle's delightful little burger patties have those holes in them? It's because White Castle burgers aren't grilled or griddled, they're steamed. Per Thrillist, the slider patties are laid atop a layer of onions that are sitting right on the griddle surface, and the steam rising from the cooking onions is what cooks the burgers. All this happens a little faster and more evenly because of those holes.
Why are Smashburgers burgers called smash burgers? Because the cooks smash the patties down onto the griddle. Pretty simple explanation, actually. But as said griddle is extra hot and slathered in butter, the result is a burger with a complex and delicious taste, thanks in no small part to the aforementioned Maillard reaction, which is in full effect with these pressed burgers.
The burgers at McD's are cooked on what is essentially a double-sided griddle which is often called a clamshell grill. Per a former restaurant equipment service technician sharing on Quora: "[The grill] has two cooking surfaces, an upper and a lower, [that] are connected at the rear by a hinge. The meat patties are placed on the lower surface… and the upper surface is pulled down into place." It's about the fastest way possible to cook a patty.
Five Guys' burgers are cooked much the same way as those from Smashburger, with one exception—per Insider, the burgers are cooked on two different griddles which are heated to different temperatures. First, the burgers are cooked, pressed (smashed, e.g.), and flipped on one griddle section, and then when the outside is properly seared, they are moved to a different griddle to be cooked through to a well-done finish temperature.
Like McDonald's and several other fast-food chains, these days Wendy's uses a clamshell grill to cook its burgers. Per a former Wendy's employee dishing on Quora, the patties are cooked in bulk in that two-sided griddle and then, if not immediately needed, placed in warming trays, where they can be kept for a certain period of time before they must be downgraded to use in the chain's chili.
The famous burgers at Shake Shack are yet another example of patties smashed down onto a hot griddle. Per Epicurious, in this case, they are smashed all the way down to a thickness of not more than a half inch, and they are more scraped off the griddle than they are simply flipped. This is largely because the chain uses no oil or grease to coat the flat cooking surface, instead letting the burger fat do that work. This means more effort for the cook but more flavor in the food.
The world-famous burgers at In-n-Out are cooked on a flat-top griddle, but they're not smashed. Per Mashed, the patties are pressed quite thin before being cooked, then are slapped onto the griddle. The patties are flipped once and take all of four minutes to be fully cooked.
Per multiple Whataburger employees sharing on Reddit, this Texas-based burger chain is yet another spot that relies on the griddle to do the cooking. The burgers are placed on the hot cook surface and then seasoned, and the fact that they are seasoned right as they cook means very little of the liquid content is pulled out by the addition of these dry ingredients, which means a juicier, tastier burger.