A patty melt is high up on my list of the best ways to eat a cheeseburger. The crunch and butteriness of the bread, the sweetness of the caramelized onions, the savoriness of the beef, and the creaminess of the cheese all come together to form a fantastic union of textures and flavors.
If you’re not familiar with a patty melt, you should get out more. I suggest going to your local diner. At its most basic, a patty melt can be described as a combination of a cheeseburger and a grilled cheese sandwich. To get more technical, a patty melt is typically a burger patty, topped with swiss cheese and caramelized onions with griddled, sliced rye bread instead of buns.
The patty melts I’m writing about today aren’t traditional, but they prove that if you have a little love and hope in your heart, all patty melts are special.
You’ll see that I made a few of the patty melts with different types of bread on this page and I stand behind the idea that you can make a great patty melt style burger/sandwich with almost any good bread that you have available. The majority that I made for this post were made with bread from my challah bread recipe. It’s soft but still dense enough and rich enough that buttery toasting on the outside leaves the slices very tasty with great texture.
The main thing to remember here is that you can make a good patty melt with the bread that you already have in your house. Try it and see!
The special ssamjang sauce
This is barely even a recipe. It’s just two things, but it’s fantastic on a sandwich. If you take nothing else from this patty melt blog post, please start using ssamjang in your sandwiches. If you’ve never had it, ssamjang is a thick Korean condiment made from fermented soybeans, chili paste, and other seasonings.
Ssamjang is a super savory bomb that you can drop on a recipe. Adding it to mayonnaise turns it into a perfect spread for almost any sandwich. Try it on your next ham and cheese or turkey sub for an explosion of flavor. Ssamjang can be spicy, but you can also buy mild. Most of the versions I have bought were on the mild side of things.
I can get ssamjang in the Asian section of my local grocery, if you can’t, I suggest checking out your local Korean or Asian market. Or if you just want to order online, here’s some ssamjang you can purchase.
The caramelized onions
Caramelized onions are easy to make, but they do take a bit of time. The best tip I have to share about caramelized onions is that during the slow process of cooking them, watch for your pan to be dry. If it’s dry, add a tablespoon or two of water and stir everything together. when all of that moisture dries up, add a little more. Damp onions don’t burn, they brown and caramelize. Dry onions burn.
The cool thing about caramelized onions in a sandwich like a patty melt is that you can caramelize a whole bunch of onions and store them in a sealed container in the fridge for a week or so. In a patty melt situation, you will be placing onions on a hot melty slice of cheese and then griddling for a few minutes so they will come back to temperature without you having to warm the onions in a pan or microwave.
The patty melt process
I typically cook a burger on a flat griddle that is cast iron or I cook it on a steel griddle that I own. But just for testing purposes, I cooked the caramelized onions and the patty melt in the below slideshow all in a non-stick all-clad pan. Everything worked great.
Once you have that second slice of bread on top, flip and cook on that side for another 2 minutes or so and then serve up your patty melts.
The patty melt recipe
Here’s my patty melt recipe. As I said before, you can use the bread you like and the cheese you like, but at least once, I want you to find some ssamjang and use that with mayo to create a savory burger spread.
Here's a super simple burger between two slices of buttery toasted bread. Melty cheese and caramelized onions are balanced by a flavorful, savory sauce.
- 1 whole yellow onion, halved and sliced
- 4 tablespoons ssamjang spread
- 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 pound ground beef
- 2 to 4 slices of cheese (your choice)
- 4 slices of bread
Caramelized onions: Add 1 tablespoon of butter to a large pan over medium heat.
When butter is bubbly and frothing, add all of your sliced onion.
Add a pinch of salt and stir everything to combine.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook onions, stirring often for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, your onions should be tan-colored, but not browned. You might start to see dark brown spots forming on the bottom of the pan though, and if you do see that, add a tablespoon of water or two to the pan with the onions and use that water to stir the dark parts at the bottom to keep things from burning.
Continue cooking the onions over medium-low heat for another 10 or 15 minutes. Remember: if you see dark spots or dry areas on the pan, add a tablespoon of water. The water should cook off quickly but it will help to temper the pan temperature and help the onions to cook through without burning.
After the onions are nice and brown, remove them from the pan to a plate to rest.
Special sauce: Add ssamjang and mayonnaise and stir together fully to make the ssamjang spread.
Cheeseburger patty: Split your ground beef in half and form each patty into the shape of your bread. Make sure you form the patties larger than the bread because they will shrink when cooked.
Wipe your pan out from the caramelized onions and add each patty when the pan is hot again. Cook over medium-high heat until they are done to your taste. This is around 3 to 4 minutes per side.
When you have about 2 minutes left in your patty cooking process, add the cheese to the top of each patty and cook allowing the cheese to melt. For best melting, cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil. This will steam the cheese and melt it.
Remove each patty to a plate while you start toasting the bread.
Build patty melt: spread a bit of butter on the bottom slices of bread and add each one to the pan.
Add sauce to the exposed slice of bread in the pan.
Top each piece of bread and sauce with a beef patty topped with cheese.
Add onions on top of the melty cheese.
Cook, toasting the bread for 2 or 3 minutes.
Spread sauce on top slices of bread and add each slice to the top of the onions.
Add a little butter to the very top of the bread slices and carefully flip each sandwich.
Cook bottom slices of bread for 2 to 3 minutes or until toasty and brown.
Remove patty melts from pan, serve and enjoy.
Make more patty melts
You can do it. Check back next week when I’ll be writing about a Chicago classic. Can a deep dish Chicago dog be a sandwich? Just kidding. Maybe.