The much-needed comfort food to get through the coronavirus lockdown

These newfangled cheeseburgers are are a better way

By Emma Laperruque
Published April 4, 2020 4:29PM (EDT)
Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food stylist: Samantha Senevirante. (Julia Gartland/Food52)
Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food stylist: Samantha Senevirante. (Julia Gartland/Food52)

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Where I'm from in New Jersey, a cheeseburger means one thing and one thing only — cheese melted on top of a burger — and such seems to be the consensus everywhere else. As Merriam-Webster defines it, a cheeseburger is "a hamburger topped with a slice of cheese." My dad likes to call his a "cheddar-burger," so there's no room for confusion, while others call it a "quarter-pounder with cheese" or a "Royale with cheese". But in any case, the technique is the same.

If you head midwest, you'll meet another sort of cheeseburger, though it goes by a different name: Juicy Lucy (or Jucy Lucy, depending on who you ask). According to FoodStoned:

There's an amazing thing that happens when the cheese is set inside the beef instead of on top. The hot beef fat dripping onto a highly meltable cheese (American being the optimal choice here) results in a molten concoction that brings danger onto unsuspecting mouths, but immense amounts of joy to those who display patience.

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Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food stylist: Samantha Senevirante.

Today, we'll be making a cheeseburger, but not with cheese on top, or stuffed inside. Instead, the cheese will be anywhere and everywhere — and, really, why haven't we been doing this all along?

Here's the gist: Mix ground beef with grated cheese. Roll into meatballs (cheeseballs? cheese-meatballs?). Get a cast-iron skillet roaring hot, add the balls, and smash them into oblivion with a sturdy spatula. Wait two shakes of a lamb's tail, flip, and crack open a beer.

You might recognize this as the Genius smashburger method a la J. Kenji López-Alt. As our Genius captain Kristen Miglore explains it, "If you smash your burger as soon as it hits the skillet — while the meat and fat are still cold — there won't be any juices (yet) to lose. You'll maximize the points of contact with the raging hot pan, so it all sears into a salty, beefy crust."

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Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food stylist: Samantha Senevirante.

In this case, that turns into a salty, beefy, cheesy crust. As the patty cooks in the skillet, the cheese starts to brown and crisp, forming a crackly, frico-like exterior, while the inside turns melty and gooey. I like cheddar best, though this can certainly be swapped for another semi-firm variety, depending on what you have in stock. Think: Gruyère, provolone, young gouda or asiago.

As with any burger, the bread and toppings are totally up to you. I'm usually partial to a chewy English muffin, mustard-mayo, bread-and-butter pickles, and a tuft of iceberg. But these days, I'm partial to whatever is in my kitchen. And if there's a forgotten bag of French fries somewhere in the freezer to go with? Even better.

Cheesiest Cheesburgers

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 2 minutes

Makes: 1 double cheeseburger

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces ground beef (I used 15% fat)
  • 1 1/2 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about ½ cup)
  • 1 English muffin, potato bun, or brioche roll
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Your pick of condiments and toppings 

Directions:

  1. Add the ground beef and grated cheddar to a bowl and gently combine by hand until they're totally incorporated. Divide in half and roll into two balls.
  2. If you want a toasty bun, toast it now. Then treat to whatever condiments and toppings you're into (see Author Notes), so your bun is at-the-ready as soon as the patties come out of the pan.
  3. Turn on the hood of your stove. Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat until it's super hot and starting to smoke. Add the cheesy beef balls, evenly spaced out, then smash with a metal spatula until they're slightly wider than the bun you're using (figure about 3½ inches in diameter), and immediately season with salt and pepper. Cook for 1 minute, confidently scrape-and-flip, then cook for another 45 seconds. Stack the patties on top of each other, transfer to the bun, close up, and serve on the immediate.

Emma Laperruque

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Cheeseburgers Comfort Food Food52 Recipes