Personally, I think the term patty melt is stupid, well, maybe not stupid, but not very creative. Wikipedia doesn’t seem to know its derivation, but does trace it back to the 1940s, at least. I’m guessing it was developed in some diner one day, when someone insisted on giving the sandwich a name, and the cook just yelled out “Patty Melt” from the kitchen. Its obvious relationship to a grilled cheese sandwich makes me wish that grilled was part of the name. I suppose the patty part is always beef, isn’t it? But why patty instead of burger? I’m sure the French could come up with a better name—I can’t think of one myself. What would you call them?
Anyway, I didn’t want to wash the griddle, so I figured out how to make one on the grill. It’s all about getting the process in the right order, whether using the griddle or the grill, but I like those grill marks, and the dripping cheese just gets burned/scraped off later.
Toasting both sides of the bread is key.
Patty Melt on the Grill
Set up a charcoal grill for two heat zones, direct and indirect.
- Seedless rye bread—try to find one with a good texture, not too soft. I used “Al Cohen’s New York Open Rye” from Buffalo, NY
- Thin sliced Swiss cheese—I used about 8 slices
- Ground beef, shaped in patties, not too thick
- Olive oil or melted butter for brushing on bread
- Sliced onions, grilled until soft and browned
- Grill your vegetables first. We had asparagus, as well as the onions for the sandwich. Grill those over direct heat, then move off to the side to keep warm.
- Grill the burger(s) for the patty melt over direct heat. I will eat a medium rare burger, but prefer one that is cooked longer in this kind of sandwich, because I only want cheese dripping down the sides, not blood. Set aside the burger. Clean the grate.
- Prepare the bread by brushing some oil or butter on the inside of each slice. Grill over direct heat until toasted—probably less than 1 minute per side. Remove to area where you can build the sandwich.
- Build the sandwich on the toasted side of the bread—lots of cheese, burger, onions, lots more cheese. Cover with the second slice of bread, toasted side on the inside.
- Brush the outside of the sandwich with oil or butter. Grill both sides of the sandwich over direct heat until nicely toasted and the cheese is melting.
I like Swiss cheese, but you could obviously use any other cheese that melts well, like American or cheddar, and a hearty white bread would work well, too. My rye bread was already sliced, or I would have sliced it a little thicker.
The last step of the meal for me was grilling my husband’s burgers, which he likes very rare—that’s why you have to figure out the order of steps.