The Cheeseburger Controversy Dividing the Internet

August 14, 2017

“Here’s a dumb thing that grill chefs do,” opens Deadspin writer Chris Thompson's polemic against conventional cheeseburger grilling methods, published last week. “They flip the burgers on the grill, and then, while the burgers finish cooking, the chef lays slices of cheese on the top of the burgers, where presumably the heat of the grill will aid in the melting of the cheese.”

All wrong, Thompson says. This practice relies on a miscalculation—an overestimation, really—of how much heat a slab of cheese requires to melt, ignoring the fact that patties carry vestigial heat that allows cheese to melt just fine when the patties are removed from their heating surfaces. Subjecting your cheese to such aggressive heat makes it look like a thin layer of foil atop a burger, folding onto the burger’s sides. What's more is that he claims it leads to a terribly dirty grill, strewn with shreds of dairy.

Thompson also cautions against heaping the burger’s accoutrements, produce, and condiments. This, he claims, guarantees you'll mutate the cheeseburger into “a slick, sliding mess” where cheese is, once again, the casualty, cruelly pushed aside.

Instead, he recommends:

  1. Before you remove the burger patty from the grill, put all the cheese you’d like onto the top bun.
  2. Take the burger patty off the grill and lay it down onto the cheese / top bun.
  3. Stack the bottom bun with condiments and whatever else your heart desires.
  4. Slap the top half of the burger onto the bottom.

And there you go. It’s a surefire way, Thompson says, of making sure that the cheese melts and stays to the top of the bun so that it’s spread out evenly across the burger’s perimeter. That way, every bite is soaked with pleasure.

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Thompson’s irreverent article—a mere blog post on the internet!—certainly struck a nerve: Just take a look at the comments section, where he’s pilloried for expressing an opinion and presenting it as fact. Our friends at the Today Show devoted a whole segment to the issue wherein they expressed bewilderment over Thompson’s methods, echoing popular opinion. When the Today Show polled its viewership on Twitter, consensus overwhelmingly skewed towards putting cheese on the burger while it’s still on the grill.

Quite the contrarian stance, Mr. Thompson. I’ve got no real horse in this race, so I’d like to know: Do you find his method all that radical? When’s the best time to put cheese on a cheeseburger? Please let me know. Vote in our poll. We'd like to hear from you.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gloria Scheff
    Gloria Scheff
  • Sally Zehmisch
    Sally Zehmisch
  • Mister C01
    Mister C01
  • Andrew Wilson
    Andrew Wilson
  • Kip Kiener
    Kip Kiener
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Gloria S. November 10, 2017
My son puts the cheese inside the burgers before he puts them on the grill. The result is awesome!! I didn’t think it would be so good but it was!!
Gloria S. November 10, 2017
my Son puts the cheese in the center of the burgers before he puts them on the grill. The resulting burgers are awesome!!
Sally Z. August 18, 2017
Depending on the type of cheese, and the thickness, sometimes a little more heat is needed. I like to use the melted cheese as a sort of "glue" to keep accouterments from deplaning. When the burgers are just shy of done, if using gas, I flip them, turn off the gas, add cheese, and close the cover of the grill for a moment or two. If charcoal, remove from grill, add cheese and cover with a pan or something to hold the heat in. THEN, this is my preferred order: Bottom of bun, thin swipe of mustard, pickles, slice of onion, hamburger CHEESE SIDE DOWN to hold those items in place, followed by a thin layer of ketchup, slice of tomato, lettuce, and finally, the bun top with a thin layer of mayo. VIOLA!
Mister C. August 18, 2017
Okay he is entitled to his opinion, Over the years, I have what FOR ME is the perfect Cheeseburger: Bottom bun, mustard, relish and slice of onion. Burger next, add cheese next after burger is off the cooking surface. Then tomato, lettuce and finally top bun with mayo and Ketchup on the top bun.
In a hurry - bottom bun, onion, burger, cheese top bun.
Andrew W. August 18, 2017
Why not do it the way many restaurants do? Make two thinner patties and put the cheese between them when they are done?
Kip K. August 18, 2017
He still didn't get it correct in my opinion. Lately, I've stuffed my burgers with the cheese inside the meat. If I have burgers that aren't, I first coat the bun with mayonnaise to coat the bread so that the juices don't make it soggy and lose the flavor of the bread in a mess of juice and cheese. Toasting the buns on the grill also ads a great flavor especially when using charcoal. Icharmeat, I will definitely try your suggestion.
icharmeat August 17, 2017
my favorite cheeseburger (for the last ten years or so) avoids this entirely. i make a mash of minced habanero, a small clove of garlic (minced as well) and crumbled blue cheese, all moistentened with lime juice. apply a thick schmear to the toasted bun (i do the bottom) and apply burger from grill. no need for a topping of salad but if you feel it is naked without it, apply the veg as you see fit.
i think everyone bristled at his "drop the mic" attitude. when it comes to food, i can't think of an instance where there is only one right way to prepare something. as long as it ends up being a sandwich and not lap decoration, it is done correctly.
Yvonne August 17, 2017
That sounds awesome!!!
icharmeat August 19, 2017
you need to try it. blue cheese and habanero may sound strange but the flavors play very well together. use a blue that you like to eat (duh) but a midrange blue that isn't too tangy (because the lime juice also contributes there) works the best for me.
Gary August 22, 2017
Outstanding combo icharmeat. I tried this three days in a row. Thanks!
Steven M. August 17, 2017
First, the picture, with the bun is upside down, if you follow the directions. Second, excuse the rocket scientist lingo, but the thermodynamics of the situation, is based upon the heat emanating from the burger, the material's (type of cheese) density, the thickness of the slice and the transfer of heat.
Example a slice of provolone or Swiss cheese has the ability to change it's state more rapidly, than hard cheddar. Then there is the quantity factor and the dimensional values.

In conclusion, if you enjoy your burger, the way you make it, who cares?
kasia S. August 17, 2017
Done it, hard cheese is not good eats.
kasia S. August 17, 2017
Sorry I meant "Dome".
Jerry August 17, 2017
Halli ,If cheese is thick or thin or soft or hard doesn't much matter if the cheese is inside the meat and the heat can be whatever you want depending on how done you want the meat to be and the meat with a little more fat% seems to make a better tasting burger
Halli August 17, 2017
It depends on the thickness of the cheese. If it's a thick slice, it needs more heat. If it's a very thin slice, or a soft cheese, it does not. Did you really write a whole article about this, and yet somehow leave this most common sense sentence that solves all of it out?
Jerry August 17, 2017
I use neither method !! I take a large ball of Sirloin 3/4 lb. divide in two and flatten both ,I like 3 pepper or pepper jack cheese which I cut a slab of and place it on top of one burger then lay the other on top and press together pinch the edge then cook ,cheese keeps the burger nice and moist and all the melts and stays in the burger unless you press it with your spatula can cook medium to well ,no dry burger
Linda August 17, 2017
So why is the main photo of onions on top of the patties not cheese
Dani August 17, 2017
No one has even mentioned that his structure would mean you were eating your cheese burger essentially UPSIDE DOWN!!!! Lettuce, onion and tomato beneath the burger??? You might as well tell me that turning your pizza over and eating it with the crust up and cheese down wouldn't COMPLETELY change the meal into something entirely different. Let the fun begin . . .
Pat August 17, 2017
I think everybody just needs to get a grip. Whatever works for you do it. I don't think it's such a hard thing to try & see what happens! If you don't like it, don't do it
Katie August 17, 2017
Well aren't you supposed to let it rest on a plate, sans bun, off the grill to get rid of some of the fat?
And I've actually found that the flipping it upside down when it arrives at your table, or just after stacking at home, solves the soggy bottom dilemma (neither of which is factored into his supposition):
" In that scenario, two terrible things happen. First, the bottom bun becomes soaked-through and crumbles between your fingers as you eat your way through the burger, bringing the whole thing closer to collapse with each bite. Second, the top bun remains all too structurally intact. It’s likely sitting on a mound of produce which means it’s getting colder every second and losing any of the benefits it would have received from being toasted."
- http://www.lamag.com/digestblog/you-should-flip-burgers-upside-down/
SandyToes August 17, 2017
I've also found that, from a practical POV, flipping the entire sandwich upside down makes it easier to eat, with less chance of wet parts (patty, lettuce, tomato) sliding off or being squeezed out of the bun. I've thought about this a lot, and think it might be a result of spreading the weight to the more robust (and less floppy) top bun. Whatever the reason, it makes for a better burger experience and I always do it, despite the weird looks I get from my grandsons.
Earl August 17, 2017
Great recommendation! Although I like to put the cheese on the top bun w/ meat on top and stack the condiments on the bottom bun. But it looks like whoever assembled the burger for the photo decided to ignore all recommendation. tsk tsk.
Hugh S. August 17, 2017
If you want your cheese melted and delious put it in the middle of the burger.
Tom August 17, 2017
It's a good idea. I think I'll grill my bread and and then add the cheese. Easiest grilled cheese ever.
Saffron3 August 17, 2017
Ok that was. Good laugh! Thanks.
Annaperenna August 17, 2017
The best time to add cheese to your cheeseburger is *before* you put it on the grill - Juicy Lucy style. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jucy_Lucy