A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re reimagining cheeseburgers.
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.
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.”
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.
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.
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