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.
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.
Until about a year ago, it never occurred to me that you would or should cook bacon any way except in a big frying pan, turning the slices frequently before they curl too much and fighting the splatter that always managed to work around my apron and make one grease spot on all my black t-shirts. I can’t remember which item of black clothing was the last straw, but I turned to the oven and will not look back.
I tried a variety of methods, first buying a nice rack to use over a baking sheet pan, but that tended to make the bacon too crisp, and we like bacon chewy. I’ve tried parchment paper lining, but eventually found that non-stick aluminum foil works best. Don’t agonize over the bacon sitting in its own fat in the pan. That’s what it does in the frying pan, and if you’re worried about the fat, you shouldn’t be making bacon. Then there are oven questions: what temperature? preheat or don’t preheat? turn the bacon or don’t turn the bacon? The perfect tricks in my oven are 400°, not preheated, for 13-15 minutes without turning. Then if you put a second batch into the already hot oven, it takes only 10 minutes, and you should turn the bacon halfway through that time.
Line a baking sheet pan with non-stick aluminum foil.
Lay out bacon slices on foil so they don’t touch. Use 4-5 slices or more per sandwich.
Turn oven to 400° and put pan with bacon in the oven for 15 minutes. Check at 13 minutes to see if you have any hot spots that might be burning one end of the bacon. You can turn the pan if so.
Take the pan out and set on stove, where the bacon will continue to cook for a minute in the bubbling fat. Remove the bacon to paper towels or a rack to drain.
When cool enough to touch, pour off the bacon fat to a covered dish and save for other cooking where a bacon flavor would be nice.
Assemble the sandwich:
There are just too many preferences for the perfect bacon sandwich, and I’m not going to argue with any of them. If it were summer, I would choose a nice garden tomato and lettuce, but winter tomatoes are just too flavorless to make that an option right now. Grilled with cheese is good, but it can mask the bacon. Then there’s the bacon and egg sandwich, which I prefer with a fried egg. Some breads can mask the bacon, as well, and my first choice in the summer is a good bakery country white bread, soft, but not gummy like the mass-produced white breads. Today, I’m using a seedless rye that is mild but flavorful, and standing in for the summer tomato is an avocado, and some mayo with dill.
Mix 1/4 cup real mayonnaise with 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed. I would make this a little in advance so the dill has time to really flavor the mayo.
Slice the avocado and/or mash it into a chunky consistency.
Spread a thin layer of the mayo spread on each slice of bread.
Layer on as many strips of bacon as will make you happy on one slice of bread. I guess I should say to pile on the bacon. My strips were long, so I doubled them over.
Layer slices of ripe avocado or a couple tablespoons of mashed avocado on top of the bacon. I put almost the whole small avocado on mine.
Smash on the second slice of bread. Cut the sandwich, just to be fancy, and eat it.