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.

  • MJ RVA
    MJ RVA
  • tjmk1227
    tjmk1227
  • cathy
    cathy
  • joie
    joie
  • Rick Horowitz
    Rick Horowitz
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.

135 Comments

MJ R. July 31, 2022
Several years ago a new burger bar/restaurant opened in my city and my husband and I went with friends who had already tried it. They insisted I try the “Cobra Kai”, which sounded disgusting: a burger topped with a thin slab of cream cheese, pickled jalapeños and jalapeño jelly. We all ordered it, mine without the actual jalapeños, and it was phenomenal!! Try cream cheese sometime, you will be surprised 😊
 
tjmk1227 July 31, 2022
Try Gruyère cheese on your next cheese burger! I was pleasantly surprised that it tasted delicious!
 
cathy July 30, 2022
Thank you for sharing your findings not 2 many surprises.
 
joie June 27, 2022
Enough of this falderal ...being a person who worked in the scientific field, I find that there were too many variables. Was the burger cooked the exact same time, was the cheese put on at the exact same time, didn't look like all cheeses were the same size. And the biggest one....only one taster's opinion. Minimum should be 20. All that being said, I just made the best grilled CHEESE sandwich....again too many variables. Havariti and Fontina(because it is what I had), sourdough, a bit of mayo, avocado, diced red onion and....crab! Pure decadence .
 
Smaug August 9, 2022
You will find that virtually all "test" of food and cooking equipment suffer from arbitrary judgement criteria, nonrepresentative or incomplete samples, dubious methodology aand about any other source of inexactitude you can think of. These things are intended more as adverising than science; it's frightening how many people take them seriously.
 
Rick H. June 27, 2022
A cheese that is surprisingly delicious on burgers is cambozola.

Of course, we like strong flavors over here. Most of our burgers are going to be something mixed with chorizo: beef, elk, bison, boar.

So, YMMV.
 
Jeri I. June 27, 2022
Duh, The best cheese was not included on this list! Havarti, 10/10 every time.
 
BonnieC. June 27, 2022
Actually, there is no "best". "Best" of anything will always be personal preference. Havarti is definitely not my "best", nor is it for everyone else.
 
BonnieC. June 27, 2022
Oh - & no "duh" required. . . .
 
Renee July 25, 2022
I love your humor. I’ll try it!
 
lyonscubs2 July 30, 2022
My family & I love Havarti on our burgers. It melts quickly and has a mild buttery flavor.
 
Artichoke June 27, 2022
Couple of thoughts ("wonderings") about the test procedures and resultant food quality:
-- The time each different cheese takes to melt varies quite a bit. So the eensie 2 ounce burger swimming in 1 tablespoon of oil already cooked for 6 minutes (!) is being cooked additionallt for different amounts of time. How might this affect the taste quality of the burger itself?
-- The amount of cheese used on each burger varies quite a bit, some being twice as thick as another. How does this affect the resulting caloric content?
 
BonnieC. June 27, 2022
Oh come on folks!!!! This article was about the best cheese/cheeses & their attributes for burgers, NOT about calorie counts. I don't think this article is/was for you if calorie counting/comparisons are your thing.
 
Gregory L. June 27, 2022
Dear Artichoke,
It's a burger for god's sake, not culinary creation :)
 
joie June 27, 2022
and it isn't about the burger, plus, I like mine med. rare!

 
Smaug July 24, 2022
Some people might consider things like calorie count and nutritional value as qualities to be considered when determining a "best" cheese. The food industry (which dominates the press) tends to evaluate food entirely in terms of saleability, but for those trying to feed themselves there are more important concerns.
 
BonnieC. July 24, 2022
I keep track of nutritional/caloric stuff on a daily basis, but I also strongly believe in the "moderation in all things" theory. So when it comes to something like cheeseburgers (which for us are made with ground turkey) that we enjoy maybe once a month, I really don't take whatever cheese we feel like enjoying into consideration. Life would be pretty darn sad without occasional splurges.
 
Smaug July 24, 2022
If cheese on a cheeseburger is the hill you choose to die on, that's fine (for me it's butterfat in desserts, but then I generally simply don't like fatty foods). That does not mean that things like price, food value, availability- even appearance- aren't legitimate criteria in determining suitability of aa food for a particular use. Of course this whole thing is absurd, like most of these "best of" articles, in large part because there is no universality of criteria. I don't by any means always make burgers the same, so even if there were a best cheese it wouldn't always be the same one.
 
BonnieC. July 24, 2022
So if you ultimately don't care about this topic, why are you so driven to continue commenting on it?
 
Smaug July 25, 2022
To quote Bonnie C., "Actually, there is no best. "Best" of anything will always be personal preference". Why do you insist on posting snippy replies when I'm virtually echoing your statements?
 
Lmcc28 July 30, 2022
I think you are looking at the wrong website for those concerns. I mean, c’mon!
 
Smaug July 31, 2022
Well, it's hard to say what sort of web site this is anymore. At one time it was serious about food and taking a serious look at such a subject would have been routine. The last few years it took a sharp turn toward rank commercialism and most of the serious cooks who had anchored the "community" that made the site popular left. Eventually the site was sold, and the new owners have made it pretty clear that they don't care a lot about the articles so sadly, you may be right; at this point this site is dedicated almost entirely to telling people with too much money how to spend it.
 
Gregory L. June 27, 2022
Great article! My takeaway put on the burger your cheese of choice (I'll try Brie)
 
lyonscubs2 July 30, 2022
I agree! I never thought about Brie on a burger, but now I must try it!
 
jodyrah June 27, 2022
Port of Call, a NOLA dive bar, serves arguably the best burger in the city. There’s always a line. The freshly ground beef is topped with a pile of unmelted cheddar. First bite always gets an “omg this is so good”. Doesn’t seem to work at home, even with the best of beef.
 
joie June 27, 2022
I find this so interesting, because just two nights ago I did a lamb burger with Brie, it was the last of it and needed to be used. It was delicious, but melted too much, because I put it on too soon. Next time I will put it in the burger. I have used Fontina and like that too.
 
Michael W. June 26, 2022
I note that you did not use the cheese I discovered some time ago that hits both the flavor and melting notes, and that's Havarti. Slightly crumblier than cheddar, and tendencies for mini holes not unlike Emmental, it's in a sweet spot between a lot of other cheeses. More flavorful than provolone, yet still on the mild side to be supportive of the ground beef, it's one you should consider if you redo the experiment. And perhaps throw that gruyere in there, too! In the meantime the brief sounds awesome and I'll probably be trying that out, soon. And don't give up blue just yet, how about a Cambozola Black Label?
 
Michael W. June 26, 2022
Just noticed at least two others who echo my Havari comments, I think we've hit something there!
 
joie June 27, 2022
you want a really nutty hard good cheese...Piave. Hard to find, but sooo......good.
 
Susan D. June 26, 2022
It’s really all about what you like, is there really “the best”…? To yourself sure. We make our burgers in a cast Iron skillet on high to get a nice crust/sear. Salt and pepper on each side only. Add cheese last minute, we are partial to Havarti or Colby. Occasionally I have on hand a sharp Cheddar that works too. While they rest that cheese finishes it’s melt. I’ve also started making the burgers thick but smaller so they fit on a slider bun size. I don’t overeat and my husband goes for two. There’s always extras for next day lunch now.
 
jodyrah June 27, 2022
Me too…except when I don’t want the cleanup I use the grill. Try the serious eats smashed burger. Hard to beat a toasted, buttered bun.
 
lyonscubs2 July 30, 2022
I like to make “slider size” burgers on the grill, with a folded up slice of Havarti in between to very thin layers of beef patties. They cook up quickly. Perfect every time!
 
Terry June 26, 2022
I imagine the lineup would be different for someone who isn't a huge fan of burgers. Apart from some being more on the juicy than the dry/rubbery side (e.g., sit-down vs. fast food), to me there's little distinction from one burger place to the next; so it's the toppings that largely make the difference. The milder cheeses (mozza, provolone, brie) would not add much without other additions like sauteed mushrooms or onions (although I'm all over a nice Gruyere), so I would tend toward the bleus and cheddars. I had a pimiento cheese burger for the first time a few weeks ago (this is the South so it's a thing here, apparently) that I would go back for, and a smoked Gouda would probably be good too (it's excellent on grilled eggplant).
 
Katherine H. June 26, 2022
Wish you had included Fontina in this trial. Certainly would top the melting score.
 
BonnieC. June 26, 2022
Well, when you think about it, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of cheeses that fit the bill re: topping a burger.
 
Adrienne June 26, 2022
I mean... I'll try the brie but I didn't need to read this to know that Anthony Bourdain is right. A perfect burger is: a classic soft squishy potato bun, a hunk of well-ground good quality beef, and processed melt-able cheese. It should fit in your hand and not dislocate your jaw when trying to take a bite.

My favorite is adding ranch seasoning and dried onion to the beef. Top with American cheese. Classic yellow mustard and mayo. Glorious. Love you, Tony.
 
BonnieC. June 26, 2022
Actually, Tony didn't care for mustard on burgers. Hot dogs, yes. Burgers, no. Here's a quote from an article he was interviewed for back in 2016:

Thou shall not use condiments outside of ketchup and mayo (if you insist).

"Personally, I approve of ketchup on a burger, mayonnaise if you insist, but beyond that you have to ask again, 'Am I making it better?'" Bourdain asks viewers, who begrudgingly put their Sriracha, BBQ sauce, ranch, and Good Burger special sauce back in their fridges.
 
Smaug July 23, 2022
Once again, Anthony Bourdain's prejudices- and that's all that they are- are diametrically opposed to mine- nothing can ruin a hamburger faster than mayonnaise, and ketchup's not far behind. Mustard is essential. I'd guess that he's recommending undercooked fatty meat as well, they all do. Personally, I like a bun with some character.
 
BonnieC. July 23, 2022
Actually, it's not "prejudice" at all. Like everything else having to do with food, it boils down to personal preference. Regardless of what Tony spouted during the thousands of interviews he gave over the years, he was always for personal preference - even when jokingly commenting on certain choices that didn't align with his own.
 
Smaug July 23, 2022
"Predilection" if you prefer.
 
lyonscubs2 July 30, 2022
That’s great! I too have always been a “ketchup only” burger eater..and occasionally adding just a bit of Mayo if I’m in the mood. :)
 
Tammy A. June 26, 2022
Just tried Havarti on my burger last night. Excellent. And it melted very well.
 
BonnieC. June 26, 2022
I like Havarti in a lot of applications, but burgers aren't one of them unless it's a flavored Havarti like dill or pepper, etc. I just find it too bland otherwise.
 
Tammy A. June 26, 2022
No dill in the cheese, but the sauce I made, a dijon aioli had fresh dill. Also added Red onion, tomato, avocado and Iceberg to the burger. Best burger in a long time, that I made anyway.
 
claude M. June 26, 2022
My family all like hamburgers stuffed with a small amount of strong gorgonzola, grilled over charcoal.
 
NewMexJeff June 26, 2022
How you cook the burgers matters quite a bit. I grill my burgers over charcoal. I flip twice then add cheese and cover the grill with the lid. I remove the cheeseburger before the cheese is fully melted and let it rest for a few minutes. To me this makes all the difference in melting and taste.
It is fun to experiment with different cheeses. Sometimes I'll use different cheeses, and often in combination.
And plant-based "meat" is getting really good. I almost always make Impossible burgers these days. It takes some practice but I have actually fooled a few people into thinking it was beef. They didn't know it was plant-based until I told them!
 
DLanthrum June 26, 2022
An interesting "test". I have a couple comments/ questions on your setup. If I were conducting a test like this, I would have used the same cheese thickness for all options. You are comparing melting qualities, but some you are slicing at 1/4, and others at 1/2. Don't you feel that will have a bearing on how fast it melts? And, if you are using a "plant based" any cheese, you should, in my opinion, compare the dairy version of the same type of cheese for fairness.
I can understand why American was a choice, but why did you choose the others you did, and not include others? What was your criteria, simply your own preferences?

A few of my choices to test would be, yes Gruyere, (even a smoked Gruyere as well), Muenster- I use it often on my home cheeseburgers., Havarti, and I would expand to add a couple of "flavored" cheeses. That would include a Pepperjack cheese. But, there is a well known Deli meat and cheese brand that offers a "Caramelized Onion Jack" cheese, and a "Horseradish Cheddar". The caramelized onion is Killer on a burger! You need to like horseradish-- which I do, to probably enjoy the other, because it has a decent horseradish punch!

Just some thoughts. I am curious if you had a reason for using different thicknesses?




 
DKS June 26, 2022
Almost always gruyere for me--a strong, but not overwhelming taste. When I first read "Brie" I assumed that it would fall into that category as well, but clearly there's brie, and brie... and brie, and brie. From the description, I assume that what was used was barely ripe: firm and mildly flavored. Yeah, that could work--as could an under ripe Taleggio. And yes, American works just fine on a good burger.