Patty melts are as quintessential as American diner classics get—and for good reason: they're delicious. They’re pretty much the best of a grilled cheese plus a good, old-fashioned burger. From bottom to top, a patty melt's anatomy usually consists of: a slice of rye bread, a slice of cheese (usually Swiss), a thin beef patty, caramelized onions, another slice of cheese, and a final slice of rye bread. In this version of a patty melt, I keep to the traditional structure while making a few distinct changes and paying extra attention to some details.
First, I swap out the caramelized onions for caramelized kimchi—meaning, kimchi that’s been sautéed with a touch of butter and sugar to both encourage caramelization and evaporate any excess kimchi juice. The key here is to use ripe kimchi, if possible. Kimchi will ripen on its own in the refrigerator after several weeks; you'll know it's ready when the flavor (and smell!) is more sour and pungent, and when the texture has softened (though it will still be a bit crunchy).
Second, when it comes to the meat, juicy is key. One way to ensure the thin patties don't dry out is by starting with an 80/20 blend of ground beef (that just means that it's 80% lean, 20% fat). We're giving the meat a good mix with Worcestershire sauce before shaping it into patties the same size as the sandwich bread. Before they meet the pan, give the patties a good press on a cutting board so that they're thin (aim for the same height as the slice of bread), and don't forget to season well with kosher salt and pepper. They'll cook quickly—just a minute or so on each side—so don't walk away!
Third, instead of Swiss cheese, I use a punchy Pepper Jack cheese, a derivative of a semi-hard American Jack cheese with the addition of spicy chile peppers (and sometimes other herbs and spices). Pepper Jack melts very well and complements the spicy kimchi nicely.
Fourth, I spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the outside of each slice of bread. Unlike butter, it doesn't burn as easily because of its higher smoke point, and creates a nice, even browning of the bread. It also creates an additional layer of flavor on the sandwich’s crust. (If you don’t believe me, take it from Gabrielle Hamilton and Ruth Reichl—they’re both fans of mayonnaise on the exterior of grilled cheese sandwiches.)
Finally (we're almost there, I promise!), I take a page from my friend Lindsay-Jean Hard and her husband with a game-changing ingredient: garlic salt. With a very light hand, I sprinkle garlic salt on the outside of just one slice of mayonnaise-laced bread for that little extra oomph. It will be hard to go back to the "normal" way after this. —Hana Asbrink
Test Kitchen Notes
Weeknight Wonders is a column by Hana Asbrink, our Resident Dinner Wrangler. —The Editors
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 20 minutes
- makes 4 patty melts
(7 ounces) drained ripe kimchi, roughly chopped
80/20 ground beef
Freshly ground black pepper
neutral oil, such as vegetable, divided
slices (about 8 ounces) pepper Jack cheese
slices seeded rye bread, preferably Levy's or Pepperidge Farm
Mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann's, for spreading
Garlic salt (optional)
- In a small skillet, heat butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter is foaming, add the kimchi and sugar. Saute until all liquid is evaporated and the kimchi color darkens a bit, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the ground beef and Worcestershire sauce. Mix until well-combined. Divide mixture into four equal-sized patties, then form into oblong shapes (like a football) and place on a cutting board. Flatten until the patties are the size of your bread slice. Generously season both sides with salt and pepper.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of oil over medium-high heat.
- Cook two patties at a time, pressing down with a spatula to start, until bottoms have slightly browned edges, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the patties to a plate and repeat the process with the second teaspoon of oil and last two patties.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and wipe any excess debris or oil from the pan.
- Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one side of each of the 8 slices of bread (you can do this in batches of 4 if you don't have enough space on your cutting board).
- To the large skillet, place 2 slices of bread in the pan, mayonnaise-side down. On each slice, place a slice of cheese, a beef patty, 1/4 portion of the caramelized kimchi, and another slice of cheese. Finish with the top slice of bread on top, mayonnaise side-up and carefully sprinkle with garlic salt on just one side, if using. Using a spatula, burger press, or another heavy pan, gently press the sandwiches. Cover with a lid and cook until the bottom is nicely toasted and cheese is starting to melt, about 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side until cheese is completely melted, another 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Cut on a diagonal (toothpicks optional!) and enjoy immediately with a cold, crunchy dill pickle.