Wil Drake knows hamburgers top to bottom. Not only are burgers the most popular savory on the menu of his multistate business, Hero Doughnuts and Buns, the Homewood resident also is a former butcher.

(Angie Mosier/Contributed)

If there’s anyone you want to turn to for advice on throwing a burger bash on Memorial Day weekend (or any other occasion, for that matter), it’s Drake. Recently, he shared tips on making uber-trendy smash burgers.

Smash burgers are more practical when grilling for a crowd, he says. They finish faster than conventional thicker patties and cook thoroughly, which is essential for any diner who doesn’t like even a trace of red in the middle of their meat. Traditional patties require more attention to keep them from finishing tough and dry.

In general, simplicity is key when making burgers. Let the beef sing, says Drake, who also has been a drummer in a touring band. Everything else is backing vocals.

Especially with smash burgers, try grilling in a cast-iron skillet to avoid patty parts falling through the grate every time you touch the meat. Better still, pre-smash the patties before taking them outside. Drake uses a tortilla press, available at specialty markets that specialize in Mexican food.

“I’ll have a pile of those ready to go,” he says. “I use two pieces of patty paper and a four-ounce portion of meat. I just smash it between the paper on a tortilla press—get it fairly thin.”

From buying beef to preferred condiments, here are Wil’s tips:

Choosing the Beef

The standard ratio of meat to fat for hamburgers is 80/20 (80 percent lean and 20 percent fat). But even more fat helps reduce shrinkage while cooking, so Drake prefers a 75/25 or even 70/30 blend. Figure six ounces each for traditional burgers. Smash patties need four ounces per patty, but Drake likes to stack two patties in each bun. The better the quality of the meat, the better the resulting burger.

Making the Patties

No need to season before forming patties. The goal is to taste the meat, not mask it. Mess with the meat as little as possible when forming patties. They should be slightly larger than the bun to account for shrinkage while cooking.

If you are making thicker burgers, gently form the patty to ½ to ¾ inches thick. Press an indentation into the center on one side, which helps the meat better maintain its shape and texture when cooking.

Grilling Tips

Using a flat-top griddle or a cast-iron skillet on the grill works well for traditional burgers as well as smash versions. Those surfaces help the meat sear evenly.

Just before grilling, generously season both sides of the patty with salt and pepper. While thicker burgers should be cooked evenly on both sides, smash burgers will come out overcooked that way. Cook smash burgers on one side until crisp, then flip the patty and immediately add the cheese. As soon as the cheese melts, remove the burger from the grill.


Drake prefers good old Kraft American cheese on burgers. Cheddar cheese gets greasier while American cheese melts quickly “and doesn’t add a ton of grease and heaviness,” he says.


Drake uses his bakery’s homemade brioche buns at Hero. But if he buys buns at the grocery, he gets Martin’s Famous potato buns. Toast both halves on the grill.


Many people are put off by the taste of raw onion. For a double-stack smash burger, put thin-sliced onions (Hero makes them ultra-thin with a mandoline) between the two patties after they come off the grill. The onions steam and “all the nuances of raw onion that people don’t like just go away,” Drake says.


Burgers need acid to cut through the fat from the meat and cheese. Pickles serve that purpose, as does mustard. Mayonnaise adds fat, but the lemon in it contributes acidity.

Or make a spread with mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, and personal touches like Worcestershire sauce or vinegar. (The Cracked Sauce at Hero contains both Worcestershire and cider vinegar and the mayo is Duke’s; some other ingredients are a closely guarded secret.)

Ketchup adds more sweetness than Drake prefers on his burgers. But that is a matter of personal taste. After all, Hero’s most popular sandwich is the Dad Burger, which is dressed with sweet-salty bacon jam.