The classic patty melt on rye bread is unbelievably satiating and surprisingly easy to slap one together at home. Think of it as one of the most indulgent cheeseburgers ever. Here’s how to make it.
“The traditional patty melt is a beautiful thing,” says author George Motz. We aren’t about to disagree. It’s essentially a melding of hamburger and grilled cheese sandwich with some sautéed onions tossed in for good measure. The classic calls for seeded rye bread, but a crusty white country bread works as well without interrupting the cheesy beefy profile. As Motz says, “When prepared just right, the crunchy, buttery toast adds a velvety element to the hot mess of cheese, beef, and onion. It’s a tactile gustatory sensation that you cannot achieve with a burger bun.” Preach it.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Classic Patty Melt
For the onions
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium Vidalia or Walla Walla onions
- 3 pinches salt
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) salted butter
For the patty melt
- Peanut oil or mild vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 pounds freshly ground beef (preferably 80%)
- Salted or unsalted butter
- 8 to 10 slices crusty bakery bread or, if you want to make a traditional patty melt, seeded rye
- 8 to 10 slices American cheese (or whatever melty cheese you want, such as mozzarella, Cheddar, or provolone)
Cook the onions
- In a skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil.
- Slice the onions into fairly thin rings (about 1/8 inch thick) and add them to the skillet. Stir to coat and cook, continuing to stir and poke and pat and move the onions around, until they're softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the salt and stir. Add the wine, increase the heat to high for 1 minute or so, and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid evaporates.
- Reduce the heat to medium, add the butter, and stir until melted. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are nicely golden brown and they look awesome, 10 to 15 minutes more. [Editor's Note: Just to be clear, the onions aren't going to be caramelized after this short amount of time. And that's okay. If you prefer the complexity of caramelized onions, cook them for at least another 30 minutes or so.] Remove the skillet from the heat. Transfer the onions to a plate.
Make the patty melt
- Wipe out the skillet, return it to medium heat, and add just enough peanut or mild vegetable oil to barely coat the surface.
☞TESTER TIP: If a crustier surface is desired, crank the heat to medium-high.
- Gently shape the ground beef into 4 or 5 patties, each just a little smaller than your slices of bread. Season with salt. Once the skillet with the oil is hot, cook the patties in that skillet, a couple at a time without touching them, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Flip the burgers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more for medium-rare. Place the burgers on a wire rack placed over a plate or rimmed baking sheet.
- Meanwhile, butter 1 side of each slice of bread.
- Wipe out the skillet and return it to medium heat. Place 1 slice of bread in the skillet, buttered side down. Add a slice of cheese on top of the bread, followed by a cooked patty, a forkful of onions, another slice of cheese, and a second slice of bread, buttered side up. Cover partially and cook for 2 1/2 minutes, keeping watch so the bread doesn’t burn.
- Then flip the whole shebang and cook, uncovered, for 1 minute more.
- Using a spatula, remove the patty melt from the skillet and carefully shimmy it onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining patties, bread, cheese, and onions. Devour hot from the skillet.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Can something so simple really be this good? In the world of gourmet gastropub burgers with all sorts of toppings and flavor profiles, I found myself perfectly content and satiated with this patty melt sandwich, which was probably more popular 50-plus years ago. Talk about comfort food. I enjoyed every last bite!
I loved the buttery crunchy exterior and the juicy, meaty, cheesy, sweet, and savory flavors inside of the patty melt. This is one sandwich that needed no extra condiments, it was so incredibly flavorful all on its own. I will admit, I don’t think I’ve ever had a patty melt until today…and wow, I’ve been missing out!
You would think that such a simple-sounding sandwich—basically grilled cheese with some grilled onions and a hamburger patty—wouldn’t require a recipe, but I’m so glad I had this one to follow! I used Vidalia onions. I didn’t have any white wine on hand, so I used sherry and it was a perfectly fine substitute. After the sherry reduced, I also added about 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of ground Spanish pimenton for a little extra added depth of flavor.
I used a medium-sharp yellow Cheddar which melted well. (I’m not a huge fan of American cheese.) I used a pound of ground beef—15% fat, 85% meat—for 3 generous patties. I didn’t use any black pepper as I normally would, but honestly, the patty melt didn’t need it, it was perfect as is. I picked up a loaf of white sandwich-style bread from my local bakery and I loved how it crisped in the skillet.
I purposely left my butter out for hours before I made this so it would easily spread on the bread prior to grilling. I served the patty melts about 20 minutes after I made them and just kept them sitting in the warm cast iron skillet that I used to grill them. The bread stayed nice and crisp and the patty melts were still warm when consumed.
I will definitely be making these again.
I make burgers a lot—and when I say a lot, I mean at least weekly, either on the grill when the weather is nice and we want something that feels seasonal and special, or just on the stove when we need something quick, easy, cheap, and versatile. I’m ashamed to say that though I consider myself a pretty well-rounded cook, I’ve never actually made a patty melt in my own home, which is ridiculous because it’s basically a cheeseburger in sandwich bread instead of a bun. Or a grilled cheese with a burger in the middle.
Either way, this recipe is not that much effort but elevated a plain old hamburger to a whole new level of comfort food.
This recipe is a star for me for 2 reasons. One, using a nice crusty white bread makes it richer and fancier (who doesn’t love how well a nice fluffy white loaf can soak up butter?!). And two, the caramelized onions, which are such a small touch, pack a mean punch. Best part? It’s easy enough to throw together for a late dinner home alone on a Wednesday night or for a Friday date night in.
I doubled the onions and the ones I couldn’t fit into the sandwiches I served on the side. I used my mandoline to slice the onions on the “very thin” attachment. I had to cook the onions for about 5 or 6 minutes before they got “limp” but cooked them nearly 45 minutes before I thought they were satisfactorily caramelized.
My love affair with the patty melt goes way back to my late teens, but these days it’s hard to find one on a menu. As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I’d have to make it. The burger has a light texture that allows the sautéed onions and cheese to meld together into gooey goodness. The crispy bread adds a nice contrasting crunch.
Added bonus: It’s an easy recipe to use for a weeknight meal. By making this recipe at home, I have confidence about where my ingredients come from and I can be sure to use quality, local beef. I’ll never have to look for a patty melt on a restaurant menu again.
I wanted a little more color on my onions, so after adding the wine and butter, I cooked them for 15 additional minutes, rather than 10 minutes. It made a significant difference in the color. I used medium-high heat for my burgers and medium heat to grill the sandwich, 3 minutes on the first side, 1 1/2 minutes on the second side.
I certainly enjoyed eating this, maybe as much as—or more than—than a hamburger. I debated about using the American cheese and decided, in the end, that authenticity rules and I gave myself a pass on that one. I made up for using processed cheese by making a batch of homemade ketchup, though, for dipping every.single.bite. Delish.
I recommend making your patties to fit the size of bread you are using (I used an onion rye) so that your patty melt will be filled with deliciousness from edge to edge. Skip covering the pan during the last step so that you can properly monitor the toasting process.
This patty melt recipe produced a delicious and juicy cheeseburger.
Originally published October 01, 2020