This is a legitimately delicious alternative to a classic hamburger, for those who wish to reduce their beef consumption. Now, before you click away, bored at the thought of a chicken burger, let me assure you this is not one of those bland, unexciting patties. The key to this chicken smash burger—which you’ll make from whole pieces of chicken meat—is the bits and pieces of chicken skin that get ground up with the thigh meat, resulting in not just a juicy patty, but, once cooked, a burger that’s laced with nuggets of crispy, golden brown chicken cracklings. These itty-bitty fragments of fat caramelize and crisp into powerful flavor pellets, where bright rays of chickeniness (no other way to describe them!) are released when bitten into—like chicken chicharrones, if you will. All that fat makes this chicken burger more satisfying, in my opinion, than even most beef burgers.
Compared to other types of meat, the taste of chicken is probably the most variable depending on its quality. The thin, pale-skinned, and white-fleshed chickens most commonly found in American supermarkets have a less intense flavor than the thicker, yellow-skinned and almost red-fleshed chickens that are found in Europe or Asia. If you want to pursue the best-tasting version of this recipe, I'd urge you to source the highest-quality chicken available. Farmers markets are also where you’re most likely to find boneless, skin-on chicken thighs, which are called for in this recipe. If you can’t find them, you can remove the bones from bone-in, skin-on thighs (because as I already mentioned, the skin is nonnegotiable here.)
I'm a purist when it comes to burgers, especially this burger. The flavor and aroma of the rendered chicken skins are the stars of the show, which comes through most vividly without the distractions of "over-condimentation." A smear of mayonnaise for moisture, mustard for acidity, and a slice or two of cheese will suffice. Though many burger patties are flavored with chopped onions or garlic powder, please refrain from adding them to the mix.
Note: After freezing for 2 hours in step 4, tightly wrap the patties in plastic and freeze completely in a standard zip-top freezer bag for up to 2 months. To cook, defrost the burgers at room temperature until bendable and pliant, 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cook according to the instructions, making sure the center of the burgers reaches 165°F on an instant-read thermometer.
—Mandy @ Lady and pups
- Prep time 3 hours 30 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes 10 or 11
(910 grams) boneless, skin-on chicken thighs (see headnote)
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
ground white pepper
- Burger Assembly
Potato buns, halved
Unsalted butter, softened
American cheese slices
Pickles (whichever kind you prefer)
- Cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces and place them on a sheet tray in a single layer. Transfer to the freezer and freeze for 1 hour, or until the chicken pieces are quite hard but sliceable (not frozen solid—if the skins are not frozen enough or too frozen, they won't blend properly).
- Working in batches, fill the bowl of a food processor with a single layer of the chicken. Pulse until the chicken is coarsely ground (a bit rougher than meat you’d buy pre-ground), meaning you can still see separate bits and pieces of meat, and the mixture is not forming a paste. Remove the ground chicken to a bowl and repeat until all the chicken is ground (you should have about 4 cups).
- Cut 11 pieces of parchment paper, each 6 inches square. Arrange them on a work surface, then place a 3-inch-round cookie cutter on one sheet. Fill the cutter with ground chicken to about 3/4-inch high, remove the cutter, then press the patty down with a flat-bottomed plate until it’s about 1/4-inch thick and flat on top. Alternatively, fill a measuring cup with a heaping 1/4 cup of meat and press into a 1/4-inch-thick patty on the piece of parchment. Repeat with the rest of the chicken. (They’ll be quite wide, as they shrink during the cooking process.)
- Place the patties (keeping the parchment underneath) in a single layer on a sheet pan, then place in the freezer for 2 hours.
- In a small bowl, mix together the salt, black pepper, and white pepper. Season the patties on one side.
- Spread the cut sides of each bun with 1/2 tablespoon butter per side. In a large carbon steel or cast-iron skillet over medium-high, toast the buns cut sides down until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to serving plates (hang onto the skillet), then spread one side of the bun generously with mayonnaise and the other side with Dijon mustard. Set aside.
- Heat the skillet over high heat with just enough canola oil to coat the skillet plus 1/2 tablespoon butter per patty (you can probably fit about 3 patties at a time). When the butter’s foaming, place the patties in the skillet seasoned side down and remove the other piece of parchment, then season the second side (now facing up).
- The patties will splatter quite a lot of hot fat, which can flame up, so I highly recommend wearing an oven mitt during the cooking process and exercising caution. Use a flat spatula to gently press down on the patties against the skillet so the two surfaces have thorough contact, then swirl the skillet so the fat distributes evenly around the patties. Cook, without moving the patties but continuing to press down on the center, until the first side is deeply browned, about 2 to 4 minutes. You'll be able to tell when the edges look deeply crispy and browned, almost like the surface of fried chicken.
- Carefully flip the patties (watch out for flames!) and allow the second side to crisp up and brown and the interior to cook through (165°F on an instant read thermometer), about 2 to 4 minutes. If your patties catch fire, immediately cover the pan with a metal lid or sheet pan and turn off the heat to smother the fire.
- Place the crispy patty on each bun. (If you'd like, you could do a double-decker burger.) Place a slice or two of cheese on each burger, then serve immediately with pickles.