Burger

The Best Cheese for Cheeseburgers, Period

Our Resident Cheese Plater tested 8 cheeses to find out which reigns supreme.

June 22, 2021
Photo by Marissa Mullen

That Cheese Plate is a column by Marissa Mullen—cookbook author, photographer, and Food52's Resident Cheese Plater. With Marissa's expertise in all things cheddar, comté, and crudité—plus tips for how to make it all look extra special, using stuff you probably have on hand—we'll be crafting our own cheesy masterpieces without a hitch. This month, Marissa is sharing her thoughts on the best possible cheese to melt on a burger, inspired by the Absolute Best Tests column.


It was in 1934 that the term “cheeseburger” was first coined, on the menu at Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. They topped a patty with American cheese in the hopes of adding a “new tang to the hamburger,” and this now-classic staple would soon appear everywhere from diners to backyards, all across the U.S. Over the years, the cheeseburger has morphed from its humble origins—sometimes so much that the folks at Kaelin’s probably wouldn’t recognize it as the same dish. Restaurants love to experiment with various toppings and condiments, from sautéed mushrooms and crispy onions to aioli and pickle relish, to transform the traditional cheeseburger into something new. At the core, however, the cheeseburger always relies on a ground beef base and gooey cheese topping.

Everyone seems to claim a favorite style of cheeseburger, whether it's classic American cheese or something more adventurous, like a blue cheese burger. I decided to really put the concept to the test to find out which is the absolute best cheese to use on a burger, considering flavor and meltability.


The Cheeses

Photo by Marissa Mullen

I used eight different cheeses for this test, including a plant-based one as a wild card:


The Setup

For this trial, I graded the cheese’s ability to melt on a warm beef patty (considering its texture and consistency once melted) and how each cheese tasted with the burger. Each cheese received a melting score and a flavor score.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My son does sometime like to add cheddar or American “cheese” to his burger, on top of the blue. I’m personally partial to fresh goat cheese, which brings a bit of acidity, especially with a rich wagyu burger, and softens beautifully. I find it particularly satisfying with a bit of home made pesto (the same 9yo makes a fantastic pesto!). ”
— Raphaelle Z.
Comment

For each trial, I used:

  • 2-ounce ground beef patty, seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Grill pan with lid
  • Medium-high heat
  • Burger cooked for 3 minutes on each side until browned
  • Cheese placed on the burger and the lid placed on the pan, continuing to cook over medium heat until melted (the exact time varied by type)

The Tests & Marissa's Cheesy Findings

American Cheese

Tested: ¼-inch-thick slice of American cheese, covered and cooked for 45 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

First up we have the cheeseburger’s original, American cheese. Although this product isn’t necessarily considered “cheese” by everyone, I had to include it in the running for originality’s sake. American cheese is made by blending a cheese base (usually Colby) along with other ingredients such as cream, water, salt, spices, and an emulsifying agent. Depending on the brand, it can be rubbery, individually plastic-wrapped slices, or a creamier-textured larger slab, which can be sliced at the deli counter or at home. For this test, I used the latter. American cheese was one of the best melting cheeses, taking about 45 seconds to soften in an even layer. The flavor interacted with the juicy burger in a complementary way—not too overpowering, but buttery and decadent.

Melting Score: 10/10

Flavor Score: 8/10

Cheddar

Tested: ¼-inch-thick slice of cheddar cheese, covered and cooked for 1 minute 30 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

Cheddar didn’t melt as quickly as I thought it would, cooking for almost a full minute longer than the American slice. Once fully melted, the cheddar was dispersed evenly across the burger in a consistent texture. Like many cheeses, cheddar’s consistency is based on age. Mature cheddar (aged 1 year or more) contains less moisture, resulting in a more crumbly texture. For burgers, I suggest using a younger cheddar (aged 2 to 3 months) with a higher moisture content for easier melting, such as Cabot or Tillamook. The flavor worked well with the savory burger, adding in a sharp element to the bite. However, I wish it was a bit more creamy rather than earthy in flavor.

Melting Score: 8/10

Flavor Score: 7/10

Fresh Mozzarella

Tested: ½-inch-thick slice of mozzarella cheese, covered and cooked for 1 minute 45 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

Mozzarella was one of my favorite cheeses during this experiment. Fresh and smooth, this fior di latte is an elastic textured cheese, making for excellent melting capabilities. It melted in a way that developed a silky texture, rather than runny, like other cheeses. Cooking for about 1 minute and 45 seconds, the cheese held its own and enveloped the burger in a thick layer. Taste-wise, the mozzarella and burger combination worked wonderfully together. The creamy melted cheese was mild enough to not overpower the burger, but slightly sweet enough to add contrast to the savory meat.

Melting Score: 9/10

Flavor Score: 9/10

Brie

Tested: Two ½-inch-thick slices of Brie cheese side by side, covered and cooked for 1 minute 15 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was, but Brie won the melted cheese competition in my book. With the rind still intact, these little slices melted in a gooey, creamy layer over the burger. Brie has notes of crème fraîche, cultured butter, and sometimes earthy notes of mushroom and cabbage. I typically love adding sautéed mushrooms to a burger, and Brie brought out those umami notes my palate was craving. Not to mention the texture feels like a party on your taste buds.

Melting Score: 10/10

Flavor Score: 10/10

Blue

Tested: ½-inch-thick slice of blue cheese, covered and cooked for 1 minute 15 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

In theory, I felt that blue would have been a contender for this contest. I’ve seen blue cheese on burgers across countless restaurant menus. To be honest, I wasn’t completely satisfied. It took about 1 minute and 45 seconds to melt, but the melting consistency was not ultra gooey like other cheeses tested. I usually love blue cheese paired with honey or something sweet and savory, like a bacon jam, but on the burger it was a bit too pungent and overwhelming. The cheese overpowered the details in the meat, making the flavors feel overly busy. However, if you’re a fan of very intense flavors, I’d give this one a shot.

Melting Score: 6/10

Flavor Score: 7/10

Provolone

Tested: ¼-inch-thick slice of provolone cheese, covered and cooked for 45 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

Another great melting cheese, provolone pulled through in this experiment. The texture is less creamy than American, but more buttery than cheddar. I used a younger provolone in this test, which had a smooth and mild flavor. The cheese took only about 45 seconds to melt over the burger in a soft, even layer. However, once paired with the burger, the mellow notes of the cheese were definitely overpowered by the meat.

Melting Score: 9/10

Flavor Score: 7/10

Emmental

Tested: ¼-inch-thick slice of Emmental cheese, covered and cooked for 1 minute 20 seconds

Photo by Marissa Mullen

Emmental is the cheese that’s notably referred to as “Swiss cheese” in America. With its distinctive holes (or as cheese professionals say, “eyes”), this cheese is frequently spotted on burgers during barbecue season. It took a bit longer to melt than the American and provolone cheeses, but managed to melt in a consistent, even layer. I might be biased, but I don’t love the taste of Swiss deli slices in general—I’m more of a Gruyère girl. In fact, a nutty Gruyère (a more complex Swiss cheese) would have been a better choice for this one, as the Emmental was too mild to stand up to the meaty flavors.

Melting Score: 8/10

Flavor Score: 6/10

Plant-Based Smoked Gouda

Tested: ¼-inch-thick plant-based smoked Gouda, covered and cooked for 2 minutes

Photo by Marissa Mullen

This was the wild card in my test, mainly because I wanted to see if a dairy-free cheese (I used the Follow Your Heart Smoked Gouda) could actually melt. This one had some trouble. With a base of water, coconut oil, and potato starch, the plant-based cheese did not rise to the occasion. I didn’t want to overcook my burger, so I removed it from the pan after 2 minutes. Although a suitable dairy-free option for snacking, it was not the best for a burger. In addition, the melted taste was bland, only mildly smoky, and lacked creaminess.

Melting Score: 2/10

Flavor Score: 2/10


So, Which Is the Best Cheese for a Cheeseburger, According to Our Resident Cheese Plater?

  • After testing out these various cheese styles, I marked Brie as my favorite cheese to melt on a burger. Spread the word!
  • Second place was mozzarella, followed by American cheese. (I don’t normally see Brie or mozzarella as options for burgers in many restaurants, but maybe that should be reconsidered.)
  • If you don’t eat dairy, I’d recommend doing a few taste tests of some other dairy-free styles at the grocery store for your own experiment.

Do you have a favorite cheese to melt on a burger? Will you try Marissa’s pick next time? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Whiston
    Whiston
  • GardenandtheBaker
    GardenandtheBaker
  • Richard Hays
    Richard Hays
  • lisaac1936
    lisaac1936
  • Sharon
    Sharon
Marissa Mullen is a Brooklyn-based food stylist, recipe developer, photographer and cheese lover. She is the founder of That Cheese Plate and creator of the Cheese By Numbers method. She is also the author of the best-selling cookbook, That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, a step-by-step styling guide for crafting beautiful and delicious cheese plates as a form of creative expression. Featured on The Today Show, The Rachael Ray Show, Business Insider, Vox among others, Marissa is dedicated to bringing people together through creativity, food and entertainment.

55 Comments

Whiston July 27, 2021
This is the most beautiful image I have seen in years
 
GardenandtheBaker July 25, 2021
I make my own “American cheese” using pepper jack and sharp cheddar. Because of the special salts used, it melts beautifully into the patty. Plus, I can change the cheeses to suit my mood.
 
Richard H. July 23, 2021
But what about Jalapeño Jack Cheese? That’s the best as far as I’m concerned.
 
lisaac1936 July 16, 2021
I am pleased you found Brie to be so tasty on a burger cause I love Brie but I have never met a cheese I didn't like. viva le brie!!!!
 
Sharon July 10, 2021
Depends entirely upon which direction you wanna take your burger. Lots of choices. After years of testing, I finally had to admit (I was a snob) that American cheese melts beautifully and becomes "one" with the patty. You never have to worry about overcooking your burger while waiting for the cheese to melt, because it melts so quickly. Cheddar is a tie. Pepper jack is fantastic, too, and complements ANY burger. Mozzarella is bland, stringy and turns to rubber, as does Swiss. Never could figure out the craze of plopping funky bleu cheese atop beef. Nope, not a fan. Goes to show ya! For me, the very definition of a cheeseburger means a slice of orange/yellow cheese melting on top. As American as apple pie. Um um good!
 
Zoe's G. July 9, 2021
When you want the flavor of a harder cheese, like aged Gruyere or cheddar, try grating or shredding it first. I have been doing this for years, and the cheese melts faster and more evenly. Finely grated Gruyere on a steakburger is a gift for your mouth!
 
Janet M. July 9, 2021
SO subjective! I personally hate mozzarella on a burger, no matter what quality--so little taste, and Provolone isn't much more satisfying. I adore Emmental, particularly with carmelized onion and/or sauteed mushrooms--that nutty taste is always a 10, IMO, although I admit it takes a little longer to melt. Blue cheese--yum, with some bright crunchy lettuce and a thick slice of ripe tomato. And I love a burger with pepper jack, ok by itself and even better topped with a pile of sauteed green chilis and onions. I don't care for overly garnished burgers--best to stop with cheese and a couple of toppings and something I can still fit into my mouth for a bite. I prefer burgers at home instead of the limited restaurants in my area because I can splurge on good quality meat. If we want to talk about meats other than beef, I have some faves there, too--like a cream cheese feta spread on lamb, or smoked cheddar on bison.
 
Susan D. July 9, 2021
And I agree with depending which toppings/not to many toppings… also the bun can make a big difference. When I can get my hands on then from the farmer’s market or if a restaurant uses ACME buns I’m all in. By far the most flavorful bun, without overpowering the taste of your burger. And being a bit thinner, they’re less “bread-y” another win. But hey I’m sure you could start a whole new thread on buns vs whatever to nestle your burger on.
 
Granny S. July 9, 2021
I wanted to write a comment on Samantha and Artie's (utube) cooking video but it took me right to the video and not the Food 52 site. I fell in love with that little 4-yr old Artie. He is such a perfect, very lovable kid with a very loving and patient mother. I enjoyed the video immensely and hope to see more of them both! Thank you so much for sharing!
 
Ticketytwo July 9, 2021
Cheddah!
 
Jofie July 9, 2021
I agree with Elizabeth, Brie is a no brainer, but what fixins go well with that cheese choice???
 
Giggles July 12, 2021
Dijon mustard would be my choice (not too overpowering), for an unusual burger do brie with some thin sliced apples (or pear), caramelized onion and arugula. We love this version at my house.
 
Elizabeth July 8, 2021
I love that you ended up going with Brie and I’m excited to try it. However- what fixins would you put with it? I’d love some suggestions to try. It would be nice to add some textures, but I have no clue what to put with Brie.
 
Ellebeth July 8, 2021
I agree with the commenter who stated that the best cheese is whatever the eater wants it to be. Personally, I like a good Swiss with green olives or a good cheddar with raw onions and no other condiments. Husband likes mozzarella or provolone and we both agree with no ketchup (although he will occasionally do barbecue sauce~shudder~, bacon and cheddar). I like Colby and Colby Jack too but am from WI and grew up getting fresh cheese from the Colby cheese factory!
 
Susan D. July 8, 2021
Interesting, but as usual subjective. American cheese is just not cheese as far as I’m concerned, classic or not. I like using Havarti and is gets the popular vote in our house, it doesn’t overpower the burger and melts fairly quickly. My backup if I’m out is usually Colby-because that’s what else in the crisper that’s pre-sliced. I do occasionally have Brie, and I’ll give it a try some time. But lately I’ve been making slider size burgers which one is perfect size for me, and my husband can gobble up a few and be happy.
 
Paul M. July 8, 2021
Lessee... Havarti... Monterrey Jack... Muenster/cheddar.... all WAAAY better for burger meltage and the ability to stand up to grilled meat and not get lost on the way to my mouth, flavor-wise!
Still, not a bad list, in the end.
And. May I say: No God-fearing, Self-respecting 'Merican would EVER be caught dead puttin plant- based cheese on a real burger. Don't even try it!
 
les C. July 8, 2021
Monterey Jack is flavorless unless it`s Pepper Jack or Habanero Jack!
 
mimere July 8, 2021
Have you ever tried GOAT with a roasted pablano?
 
Raphaelle Z. July 9, 2021
Yes!!!! Soooo good 😃
 
david July 8, 2021
Best cheese is no cheese on a burger, not unless you’re using low quality meat, then have at it.
 
Thomas G. July 8, 2021
If the question was which cheese is best on a cheeseburger, yours would be the answer to a whole nother question…
 
melissah July 8, 2021
I feel like the biggest issue with this is that most of us add toppings other than cheese to our burger. For me it isn't which cheese is best, it's what flavor profile am I looking for. I use pepper jack if I want a southwest burger with green chilis and bacon and avocado. I use blue cheese if I want carmelized onions and barbecue sauce. I use cheddar or American if I want a classic with tomatoes onions pickles ketchup and mustard. So I think that you can't really decide on a cheese that is best always unless that's the only topping your going to have, which as much as I love cheese sounds pretty boring!
 
David H. July 8, 2021
I have a story. A while ago, a friend and I were shopping in the Gramercy district in NYC. We both had been running around all morning long and we were hungry. We only had 45 minutes to eat lunch before we had to be somewhere else. Should we have a hot dog on the street? No, we deserved a little treasure. I realized we were a block away from my favorite restaurant, Gramercy Tavern. Thankfully, the host sat us at a table immediately. As soon as the waiter came over to greet us I apologized profusely and said we needed to order right a way. My friend and I took one glance at the menu and we both ordered the same thing, two cheeseburgers. No questions. No inquiries. Twenty minutes later we got exactly two cheeseburgers. No lettuce, No tomatoes. No onions. Nothing. I realized we forgot to ask for medium rare. Oh boy, did we make a mistake? It did not matter. It was food and we had 15 minutes before we had to leave. We both took a bite and guess what? We just stopped and looked at each other. We were stunned. How did a plain hamburger with cheddar cheese on a brioche bun taste this divine? We did not know. It was not only delicious but we were jolted with instant energy and we felt healthy after eating it too. We both agree it was the best hamburger we ever had. If we had more time we would've piled on the fixings but I doubt that this burger would've been this delicious. My friend agrees. The cheeseburger at Gramercy Tavern is the best hamburger we've ever had in our lives.
 
Mary M. July 8, 2021
Deer Creek, (award winning cheeses from WI) makes "The Rattlesnake", which is a cheddar base infused with tequila and habanero peppers. Grill great beef over wood to medium, adding cheese after the flip, gently toast a brioche bun on same grill. No condiments needed. Boo yah! Give it a go! 👍
 
les C. July 8, 2021
I wanna get that,I wanna get that, I wanna get that,where can a burger lover from California get that?
 
Hope A. July 8, 2021
My choice would be thinly sliced Comte, which melts beautifully and tastes better than any of the cheeses mentioned here.
 
David H. July 8, 2021
For all the naysayers, the title of this article says, "Period." It's not up for debate. Brie cheese is the best cheese for hamburgers. Does anyone dare challenge Food52? Not me. Their words are golden.