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Finding an American Style Burger in Spain

by Last updated May 27, 2024 | Published on May 27, 2024Europe, Feature Story, Gastronomy, Living in Spain Series, Spain, Travel

One of my favorite foods is a good hamburger, so it’s not surprising that I’m always on the lookout for an authentic American style burger in Spain. I’m talking about a burger where every bite holds that tantalizing blend of textures and explosion of flavors for an undeniably American taste. The flavors transport me back to summer barbecues, family gatherings, and all around good times. It’s a comfort food I turn to even in Spain.

When we first moved to the Spanish Mediterranean coast nine years ago, it was rare (and downright impossible in some areas) to find this globally iconic dish. Why? Because in Spain they make burgers quite differently than they do in the US. It may look the same, but once you start chowing down the differences are major.

Thankfully, the diversity of the food scene in Spain has been changing over the years and now you can more easily find and savor an American style hamburger in Spain. Of course, true to anything American, there is a creative variety of American style burgers. It’s not just one recipe or taste. The key is to understand how it’s cooked and what to look for. So buckle up, mis amigos! Here I share how you can find and enjoy an American style burger in Spain.

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What Goes Into a Burger in Spain

Above ImageThe American style burger at El Comercio in Denia. Sadly, they’re no longer open.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the carne (meat). It should be 100% beef for it to be an American style burger. When you visit most restaurants in Spain that offer a burger, the meat is probably a mixta.

In Spain, burger recipes take a unique twist by blending pork with beef. This offers a flavor alternative that is not quite the same as the American style burger. Using pork is a practical choice, as it is often more affordable than beef. In some cases, beef is entirely replaced with minced pork, so make sure you know what you are ordering. Most places will clearly state on their menu what the meat is, but in some cases, especially in smaller villages and rural areas, they may not specify at all so make sure to ask.

TRAVEL ADVISOR INSIGHT

To ask in Spanish if a hamburger is one hundred percent beef, you can ask, ¿Es cien por ciento ternera? Or in some cases they may use the word vaca or vacuno for the word beef.

How They Grind Burger Meat in Spain

One of our least favorite things about the hamburgers in Spain is that the meat patties can be so dense. This is because they tend to grind the meat multiple times, creating a hockey puck consistency instead of a tender burger patty that is the essential texture of an American style burger.

If you’re wanting to cook your own American style burger in Spain, getting the ideal hamburger patty consistency will depend on where you get your beef. The ideal situation is to get your hamburger meat from a local carniceria (butcher). They usually cut off the beef in chunks from a larger cut and grind it right there for you. In this case, you want to specify that they grind it only one time (molida una vez).

How to Order Your Meat Cooked in Spain

Above ImageOne of our local favorites in Denia who also has a nice burger is Tasca Eulalia.

How they cook meat in Spain versus the US can take some getting used to. It comes down to how you communicate how done you want your meat. So this applies to both hamburgers and steaks in Spain.

In Spain and throughout Europe, they tend to serve meat more rare than what we’re used to in the US. For example, if you tell them you want your hamburger cooked medium (al punto) you will most likely find the center of your burger still bleeding and even rawish. This is especially the case with steaks.

Here are the different ways to order your meat cooked in Spain. 

  • rare is poco hecho
  • medium is al punto
  • a bit more than medium is al punto y poco mas
  • well done is bien hecho

Next, we get into the various ways to make an American style burger and which ones are more common in Spain.

The American Style Smash Burger in Spain

Above ImagesFrom left to right: Our fave near where we live are the delicious Smash Burgers at Bang Bang Burger Javea. In Alicante, we highly recommend Aires Burger Bar.

So this burger is not a new one. The prep style brings us face to face with the culinary dynamo – the smash burger. A mashup of sizzling beef and the tantalizing aroma of crispy, meaty edges. The smashing technique is key and varies per chef.

What’s that first bite into a signature smash burger? The initial crunch gives way to a burst of juiciness that is nothing short of beefy heaven. It is a dance of textures – crispy, juicy, and delightful. It’s true. You can get a great burger right off a flat top, flat griddle, or a cast iron skillet. The way it’s cooked is undeniably what you will crave. The smash burger definitely has earned its rightful spot to make any burger legendary.

With the Smash Burger, the high-heat flat top grill is the key, and the art of smashing is different depending on the restaurant’s prep style of cooking. The chef, armed with a spatula, smashes the seasoned beef onto the hot griddle, creating thin, lacy edges that promise a diversity of flavor. The magic happens when the crusty exterior meets the juicy interior, resulting in a burger that’s a savory bomb. We’ve seen this style grow in popularity here in Spain.

Some of the best burger joints known for Smash Burgers in the US is Five Guys and Culvers. You can even find Five Guys in Spain now, with locations in Madrid and other major cities. In the Valencia region of Spain where we live, Bang Bang Burger Javea is our local favorite, while in Alicante, Aires Burger Bar is our top pick.

Making an American Style Burger in a Cast Iron Skillet

Above ImageA rare  find in Spain – Black Market BBQ in Denia makes their burgers in a cast iron skillet.

Our next stop on this burger expedition brings us to our Grandma’s kitchen and her handy cast iron skillet. When the great outdoors aren’t available to flame broil, the cast iron skillet might be the next best choice! This technique results in a burger with a fantastic sear and locked-in juices.

To effectively fry a burger in its own fat there is no better cooking tool than a cast-iron-skillet. As the patty sears and sweats over the pan’s heavy bottom the steep rim gathers the oozing juices into a shallow pool. More of the patty’s surface than just its flattened top and bottom gets encrusted in this bath of sizzling fat as the browning meat develops flavor and eventually caramelizes.

Well known in the US for a cast iron cooked burger is some Steak and Shake locations and steak houses that start their steaks in the oven. In Denia, we can recommend Black Market BBQ for making their burgers in a cast iron skillet. Otherwise, it’s pretty rare to find a burger in Spain cooked in this method. Most American style burgers in Spain are made using a flat top grill. Some of our recommended places for flat top grilled burgers where we live in Denia are Movida Denia and San Giuseppi Resaurante.

The Classic Flame Grilled Burger

Above ImageThis burger from MoVida Denia is cooked flat top style, not grilled. But we wanted to show it off here.

Lastly, my favorite is the quintessential classic, the flame grilled burger. Imagine this: the crackling of flames, the scent of charcoal, and the anticipation of that first juicy bite. When we find ourselves in this beefy heaven, the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” starts to play. It takes me back to my childhood memories of the Broncos football games playing on Sundays.

Here’s the thing, it’s all about direct grilling, the open flames enveloping the patties, giving them that iconic sear. As the beef sizzles, it absorbs the smoky essence of the charcoal, creating a flavor that any burger lover will never forget. The guy with the spatula is the DJ, the meat is the music and the grill is the dance floor. The art of mastering the perfect grill for this cooking style is a badge of honor, for any grillmaster!

For enjoying a satisfying flame grilled burger in Spain, a big influencer will be how you order your meat cooked. See earlier in this article to know how to order your meat cooked in Spain.

Well known in the US for a flame grilled burger are most good bbq joints and steak houses. You can also find various places that serve a flame grilled burger in Spain, although it’s not the common method. Two of our recommended places for a good flame grilled American style burger in Denia is BBQ Fuego Denia and BBQ Fuego Marina.

Steamy and Dreamy Instant Pot Hamburgers

This burger style takes a turn towards the innovative as we take a look at steamed perfection – the Instant Pot Hamburger. ‘Steamy bites’, as they are known in New York City, are next on our list, where the scent of onion steam and beef linger in the air. This is a style you can do in your home. It’s not a style that has caught on in Spain (yet). It is very distinct and has so much flavor.

The technique: An Instant Pot is the key. This can be similar to cooking in a double boiler. The burgers are nestled in the steamer, with onion slices underneath. The water boils to create a cloud of steam, and the burgers lose most of the fat but the flavor gets locked in with moisture and seasonings. As a result, the burger is so tender it practically melts in your mouth.

Served on a pillowy brioche toasted bun, you get an amazing meaty burger experience complemented by the crispness of the bread. Top it off with some dijon and red pickled onions, and you are good to go!

Some of the places well known for Instant Pot Hamburgers in the US are Captain John’s, Ted’s Restaurant, and White Castle (yep, the one from the movie). Steamy bites are also a very common street food in NYC. In Spain, we have yet to try one. If you have, please let us know in the comments.

The Quest for an American Style Burger in Spain and Beyond

Above ImagesFrom lef to right: One of the scrumptious burgers at Hundred Burgers located in Valencia’s Mercabanyal in the Cabanyal neighborhood. A delicious American style burger at San Giuseppe Restaurante in Denia.

As a burger lover, I love and crave an American style burger no matter where I travel in the world. Do you as well? Which variation shared here do you enjoy the most and have enjoyed abroad? Each style is unique and original with every restaurant, pub or chef.

I have found some amazing recipes and American style burgers in Spain, and we’re excited to see that it’s only getting better. Now, it’s time for you to embark on your own burger quest, inspired and armed with the knowledge of these delicious cooking styles. Happy burgering and ¡buen provecho!

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Written by Eric J. Trujillo

Written by Eric J. Trujillo

Art Director & Film Producer

As a visual communicator and artist, I love bringing stories to life, traveling the world, and cooking. Visit StudioTrujillo.com to see what else I'm up to.

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