The Best-Ever Patty Melt

published Dec 22, 2021
Patty Melt Recipe

This diner classic boasts a thin beef patty, deeply caramelized onions, and melted Swiss cheese on griddled rye bread.

Makes4 patty melts

Prep5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 40 minutes

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patty melt on a plate with beer
Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Sczewczyk

The patty melt has been having a bit of a resurgence in my life lately. A few months ago, I was eating at the Seawolfe Diner in my hometown of Kingston, Washington, when I encountered a juicy, flavorful, perfectly toasted patty melt. Their beef patty was thin, and the bread was toasty with little pockets of butter that would burst with every bite.

After I ate it, I went chasing the unicorn, trying to recreate my own as perfect as theirs. I’m happy to report I nailed it, and learned some great tricks along the way. Here’s how to make it at home.

What Is a Patty Melt, and Where Did It Originate? 

A patty melt consists of a thin burger patty topped with deeply caramelized onions and melted Swiss cheese, all sandwiched between two slices of rye bread that are griddled until toasty and crisp. It’s said to have been invented by Tiny Naylor, the owner of Du-par’s restaurant in California. It’s thought that Du-par’s brought the sandwich to mainstream popularity in the mid-century, where it became a diner classic.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Sczewczyk

The Secret to the Best-Ever Patty Melt

For me, the best patty melts have thinner beef patties, which I think makes for a more balanced bite. I aim for 1/4-inch when forming, and am sure to press the patty down once it starts cooking. While any ground beef will work in a patty melt, I like to purchase grass-fed, dry-aged ground beef to really bring in some flavor.

I also prefer my onions deeply caramelized. Deeply caramelized onions add more intense flavors and better texture when you bite. Then, I griddle my sandwich directly in the skillet, so that the residual onion flavors the bread as it toasts. I found that the best patty melts have deeply griddled bread that’s crispy and toasty on the outside and tender in the center.

How to Make a Patty Melt

  1. Caramelize the onions. Start by cooking the onions and garlic in a large skillet until they’re deeply caramelized, then reserve on a plate.
  2. Form and cook the patties. While the onions caramelize, divide the ground beef into four balls, flatten into thin patties, then season with salt and pepper. Cook in butter in the reserved skillet, pressing with the back of a flat spatula to keep them from getting too thick. Cook until the beef is just cooked through, then transfer to a plate.
  3. Build and cook the patty melts. Add more butter to the skillet, then build the melts on top: rye bread, beef patty, Swiss cheese, caramelized onion, more cheese, more rye. Press down on the sandwiches once, and peek underneath: When they’re deep golden-brown, add more butter to the skillet and flip. Cook until the bottoms are deeply golden-brown and toasty and the cheese is melted, then finish with salt and serve.

Patty Melt Recipe

This diner classic boasts a thin beef patty, deeply caramelized onions, and melted Swiss cheese on griddled rye bread.

Prep time 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 40 minutes

Makes 4 patty melts

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2

    medium yellow onions

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 7 tablespoons

    unsalted butter, divided

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 to 6 ounces

    Swiss, Emmental, or Gruyère cheese

  • 1 pound

    ground beef

  • 8 slices

    seeded or seedless rye bread, divided

Instructions

  1. Halve and thinly slice 2 medium yellow onions. Thinly slice 2 garlic cloves.

  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the unsalted butter in a large frying pan (at least 12 inches) over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted and just starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the onions are deeply caramelized with some almost black bits, 15 to 20 minutes more.

  3. Meanwhile, grate 4 to 6 ounces Swiss cheese on the large holes of a box grater (1 to 1 1/2 cups). Divide 1 pound ground beef into 4 portions and form each into a ball. Place on a cutting board and flatten into thin (about 1/4-inch-thick) patties that are the shape of a slice of the rye bread. Season both sides of the patties with the remaining 2 teaspoons kosher salt and some black pepper.

  4. When the onions are ready, transfer to a plate. Add 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter to the skillet and melt over medium-high heat. Add the patties (it will be a tight fit) and press on each with the back of a flat spatula or your hands so they have even contact with the pan. Cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until browned on the second side and the middle is pink and almost cooked through, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.

  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter and swirl the pan so the butter coats the bottom. Add 2 slices of the rye bread and top with a quarter of the cheese. Top each with a patty. Top with half of the onion mixture and a third of the remaining cheese. Close each sandwich with a slice of rye bread.

  6. Press down on each sandwich with the back of a flat spatula to flatten slightly. Cook until the bottoms are deep golden-brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter to the skillet. Once it melts, flip the sandwiches over. Press down on the sandwiches again with the spatula and cook until the second side is deep golden-brown and the cheese is melted, 2 to 4 minutes more. Transfer the sandwiches to plates or a cutting board and season with a pinch of kosher salt.

  7. Repeat assembling and cooking the remaining two sandwiches with the remaining butter, bread, onions, cheese, and patties.