There is nothing better, in my opinion than a smash burger. EXCEPT if it's a burger made with incredible Wagyu beef. You just cannot beat the flavor. We're going to go through what exactly you need to do to these burgers to make them excellent (hint, it's not much) and two different ways of topping them with both savory and sweet elements. A warning though - you may never go back to regular beef again!
I've been making burgers, BBQ'd, smashed, and every way you can imagine for the better part of a decade. I love a good burger more than almost anything else in life, but I found myself eating bad ones way too often. And while I love a good burger fresh of the grill, I find that this is by far the hardest way to cook them.
For this recipe, you can 100% grill them if you want to and we'll go through how to cook them that way as well - but keep a very close eye on them. Wagyu beef has a super high fat content, so you can definitely expect some flames while you're grilling.
What is Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu beef is a specific type of Japanese cow - one with unique genetics that give it that unbelievably fatty marbling and flavor that the beef is known for. The fat, unlike other cuts of steak and types of beef, ends up inside the muscle of the cow, rather than a fat cap on the outside of the muscle. This also gives it a very melt-in-your-mouth texture, reminiscent of butter on your tongue. It's super luxurious and rich, with a sweetness that is unique to Wagyu.
These cows also have the happiest of lives. The farmers do everything in their power to make sure the cows are never stressed. It produces something called cortisol, which effects the quality of the meat. If you want to learn more about Wagyu, I highly recommend this article by Mary Squillance.
What's American Wagyu?
This is the type of beef that emerges when you cross Japanese Wagyu with American Angus cattle. The meat is still super delicious and fatty, just not as much as the pure bread Wagyu beef is.
What is Wagyu A5?
This is the quality rating system given to Wagyu beef by the Japanese government. It essentially means the highest quality of Wagyu beef you can get.
The Difference Between Wagyu and Kobe Beef
So, Kobe beef is actually a type of Wagyu beef. The term Wagyu refers to four breeds of Japanese cattle (Japanese Brown, Japanese Black, Japanese Poll and Japanese Shorthorn). Kobe is from the Japanese Black breed, but has extremely strict stipulations over what can actually be called Kobe beef. These cattle are raised in Japan's Hygo Prefecture (which has Kobe as the capital city) so that's where the name comes from. Think of it kind of like the way some wines are categorized (Brunello, for example, can only be grown in Tuscany, using Sangiovese grapes, and it has to be aged for oak for 2 years before it's released).
There are lots and lots of people who use the terms Wagyu and Kobe interchangeably and sometimes, use the term Kobe to refer to high quality beef. However, certified Kobe beef is pretty rare and hard to come by. There are apparently only 36 restaurants in the U.S. that serve certified Kobe beef.
Why is Wagyu Beef so Expensive?
Wagyu beef is in the category of luxury foods that include things like fresh truffles. It's the high end of high end, and it's got a price tag to match. It can cost upwards of $200 per pound, but there's a reason for it. Farming Wagyu beef is a super time consuming and expensive task, that includes keeping the cows happy, genetic testing, government regulation and oversight, as well as pricey food.
Ground Wagyu is likely going to be American (or in my case, Canadian Wagyu) meaning it's been cross bread with a native breed of cow. Still super tender, fatty, flavorful, and delicious.
Topping suggestions are going to come later, but we are absolutely not messing around with this meat. Here's what you need for the burgers:
- Ground American/Canadian Wagyu beef
- Salt and Pepper
- Hamburger buns
That's it. That's the list. The beef needs to remain the star of show, so we're basically going to form it into patties, and cook them.
How to Cook the Wagyu Burgers (Smashed and Grilled)
Smash Burger Method
First, you're going to heat your cast iron skillet up over medium-high heat. Do not add any type of fat to the pan, there's no need - it's all going to come from the burgers themselves.
Shape your ground Wagyu into four equal balls. Place in the pan (two at a time, max), and using a clean can (like a can of navy beans or something), flatten it out as much as you can.
Let the burger cook until it's crusty on one side, and then flip. Cook for another five minutes or so, and then layer the cheese on the burgers (I highly recommend a meat thermometer for this process to be sure the burgers are cooked properly). Cover, and cook for a minute more so the cheese melts.
Take them out, and top the burgers the way you like (see below for my suggestions).
The Grill Method
Heat your BBQ up to medium high heat. Make sure the grill is clean and good to go. Shape your Wagyu beef into 4 equal sized patties. Place on the grill, and watch attentively. Do not leave these guys alone. The high fat content means they have a tendency to, you know, catch fire and what not. Cook for about five minutes per side, until the internal temperature is 165 F, and then take off the grill. Topping suggestions below.
Caramelized Onion, Blue Cheese and Arugula
This is a classic burger topping, especially if you're looking for a balance of flavors. The onions are sweet, the arugula is bitter, the blue cheese is salty, and the beef of course, brings the umami. Very very good, but also lots going on here. If you're looking for something a little more simple to let the beef shine, check out our next option.
If you're wondering how to go about caramelizing onion, check out my complete guide here, or, watch my video below:
Truffle Aioli, Old Cheddar, and Arugula
This one is going for the pure umami on pretty much every level. Truffle and Wagyu are really meant to go together. And the old cheddar brings a savory sharpness to keep everything interesting. For this method of making the truffle aioli, you need an immersion blender!
What to Serve it With
If you're going over the top with the meat, let's go over the top with the sides as well!
For this, we're going to want a smooth and classy red, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah. There' both sweet and savory, which pairs perfectly with the Wagyu.
It depends on the heat and how thick they are, but in a skillet, between 5-7 minutes per side. On the grill, it will be relatively similar. Just make sure the internal temperature is 165F.
165F for well done.
A5 is part of the quality rating system given to Wagyu beef by the Japanese government. A5 is the highest possible quality of Wagyu you can get. Only Wagyu categorized between A3-A5 can be sold.
Wagyu Smash Burgers
For the Burgers
- 1 lb Wagyu beef ground
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 4 hamburger buns
- 4 slices old cheddar cheese topping
- arugula topping
For the Truffle Aioli
- 1 egg room temperature
- 1 egg yolk room temperature
- 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon truffle oil
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Burgers
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat until the pan is smoking hot (for grilling instructions, see notes).
- In a medium bowl, mix together the ground beef, salt and pepper. Divide the meat into four equal parts, and then roll into spheres.
- Place two spheres in the pan at the same time (no need for oil or butter, there's enough fat in the beef). Let the meat brown for a minute, then take a piece of parchment paper, place it on one of the spheres, and using a large can of vegetables, press down firmly. You want the burgers to be fairly thin.
- After about five minutes, or when the burgers have browned and are crispy, flip them over. Let them cook for another five minutes or so, until the internal temperature reaches about 160°F. At this point, lay the cheese slices on the burger, and cover for about three minutes to melt the cheese. Remove the burgers to a plate, and repeat for the remaining patties.
For the Truffle Aioli
- Add all the ingredients to a tall, thin container with high sides (the deeper the better). Using your immersion blender, slowly move it up and down for about 10 seconds, until the aioli is thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Coat the tops and bottoms of the burger buns with aioli. Top the burgers with arugula and serve immediately.