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Smash burger tacos are a trending TikTok recipe worth making

August 1, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.
Smash Burger Tacos. (Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman)

Food mash-ups as a concept aren't anything new. It seems there was an inflection point about a decade ago with the introduction of Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco in 2012 and then the debuts of the Cronut and ramen burger the following year.

More recently, the number of press releases and news stories I've seen about new hybrid products has grown even greater with "hybrids" officially labeled a food trend by Innova Market Insights in 2020. Why? At minimum, they get the public's attention and garner press. (Hello, figgy pudding Spam.) Even better, they increase sales and/or followers.

For anyone looking to go viral, mash-ups by definition have a leg up thanks to their captivating mix of familiarity and novelty. And when they actually taste good, better than one's expectations, the appeal is amplified by your brain releasing dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good.

The latest food hybrid hitting all the right notes is the Smash Burger Taco, which is ground beef smashed with a tortilla and then topped with cheese and the burger accoutrements of one's choosing.

While burger tacos and its relatives aren't anything new - Applebee's has had a quesadilla burger on its menu since 2005 - Brad Prose of the blog Chiles and Smoke is the person we have to thank for starting the spark that skyrocketed this dish to viral fame.

"I had no idea when I made them that they would just become as popular as they did," Prose said. The video he posted to TikTok on March 23 has since garnered 3.8 million views and the dish has been shared all over, including on Good Morning America, Food Network and now here. "The smash burger tacos went so viral so fast that it kind of became the internet's recipe really quick," he said.

For Prose, the idea came from a mix of resourcefulness and familiarity.

It started with a desire for hamburgers, a lack of buns and a new griddle. Prose got the idea of smashing tortillas into burger patties from a breakfast taco he's been making for years. "All it is: I crack an egg into a pan and I smash the tortilla into it to cook the egg and bond it to the tortilla," he said.

He applied this same concept to making his Smash Burger Taco. His first attempt didn't quite work out as planned, but the idea was there, so he spent the next four days nailing it down before landing on the recipe he shared with the world. (He learned that flour tortillas are better than corn, not to use too much meat so the patty is very thin, and to be careful not to burn the back of the tortilla.) "Eventually we nailed it and it was just really fun," he said.

The response has primarily been positive, but the internet being the internet, Prose has encountered some negative comments, such as claims that the side of the patty touching the tortilla is raw and unsafe to eat. In case you were wondering that, too, I can attest that it is not. Because the meat is so thin, it cooks all the way through without direct contact on the other side.

"It's the law of thermodynamics," Prose said. "The heat transfers through the meat. It's not like it stops." (Though he was confident in the safety of the method, he even peeled off the tortilla a couple of times during his testing to confirm.)

In testing out the recipe myself, I found that spreading the ground meat to the edges of the tortillas worked better than trying to smash them in a skillet without a burger press. During cooking, it's important to press the fused tortilla-patties with a spatula to ensure good contact with the skillet and develop a nice crust, the hallmark of a great smash burger. Once you flip the tortillas, you want to cook them on the other side just long enough so that the cheese melts and the tortilla crisps in the rendered burger grease without getting too dark. (With a griddle, Prose instructs cooks to transfer the tortillas to a cool spot once flipped to eliminate this issue.) And then in no time, they're ready to serve. "When you have everything ready to go, it only takes like five minutes," Prose said.

In our conversation, Prose noted that some people called the dish Big Mac tacos, so I opted to go all in with that direction for the toppings by including special sauce, lettuce, pickles, onions and sesame seeds. (The Big Mac jingle has been in my head all week long.)

I knew smash burger tacos would be a slam dunk after watching Prose's recipe video, but even I was surprised with how much I enjoyed that first bite. I'm always happy when I have a burger or a taco in my hand, but both at the same time?! My brain may have malfunctioned briefly from being overloaded with joy and deliciousness.

In addition to taste and ease, Prose thinks flexibility is another reason people have been drawn to the recipe. I've seen people use other types of ground meat and plant-based alternatives, Prose has added shrimp to make it surf-and-turf, and he's seen cooks use other flatbreads in place of tortillas, such as pitas with ground lamb.

"It's really the vehicle more than it is the specific recipe," he said. "I just think it's really cool to see that the world kind of jumped in and just took an idea and went with it."

Smash Burger Tacos

These smash burger tacos that went viral on TikTok are the fun food mash-up you didn't know you were missing. The mark of a great smash burger is a thin patty with a beautiful brown crust. An easy way to achieve this here is to spread the ground beef on one side of each tortilla and press it with a spatula to ensure good contact while cooking on a hot griddle or skillet. Inspired by the Big Mac, each taco gets topped with a homemade "special sauce," lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame seeds.

3 to 6 servings (6 tacos)

Total time: 25 minutes

Storage note: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

Substitutions: To make this vegetarian, use a ground plant-based meat, such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, instead of beef.


1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 teaspoon Cajun pepper hot sauce, such as Frank's RedHot

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Fine salt

Freshly ground black pepper


1 pound ground beef, preferably 80 percent lean

Six (6-inch) flour tortillas

Fine salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 slices American or cheddar cheese

Sliced dill pickles, shredded lettuce, diced onions and sesame seeds, for serving

Make the special sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, relish, ketchup, hot sauce and garlic powder until combined. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Make the tacos: Heat a griddle or large cast-iron, carbon-steel or stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Meanwhile, divide the meat into six equal portions, about 2 1/2 ounces each, and press each portion onto one side of a tortilla to cover the entire surface. (The patty will shrink away from the edge of the tortilla as it cooks.) Lightly season each patty with salt and pepper.

In batches, depending on the size of your griddle or skillet, add the tortillas to the hot skillet meat side down and cook, pressing each regularly with a spatula, until a nice brown crust forms, about 3 minutes. Flip the tortillas over, top with a slice of cheese and cook until the tortillas are crisp on the bottom and the cheese has melted, about 1 minute more. Transfer the tortillas to a platter or individual plates and repeat with the remaining tortillas. Top each with pickles, lettuce, onions, the sauce and sesame seeds; serve hot.

Nutritional information per serving (1 taco and 2 heaping tablespoons sauce, based on 6) Calories: 489, Carbohydrates: 20 g, Cholesterol: 70 mg, Fat: 36 g, Fiber: 1 g, Protein: 19 g, Saturated fat: 11 g, Sodium: 814 mg, Sugar: 4 g

Adapted from Brad Prose of the blog Chiles and Smoke.

photo Pressing the fused tortilla-patties with a spatula helps develop a nice crust. (Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman.)

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