Mistakes You're Making When Cooking A Patty Melt

The patty melt gets some love as a satisfying alternative to cheeseburgers for those who don't (or can't) own outdoor grills (via GQ). The men's quarterly seems to think patty melts — hamburger patties on grilled rye, with swiss cheese and caramelized onions — are easy to cook. "If you can cook a grilled cheese and a burger, you can cook a patty melt," GQ reassures wary readers. 

Not so fast, though. Many pitfalls line the path to a proper patty melt. Let's explore.

Onion mistakes — too fast, too few: The first step is not found in your basic cheeseburger or grilled cheese sandwich recipe. You need to caramelize the onions first, and doing it right can take up to a good hour or more, depending on how many onions you're using (via The Kitchn.) The goal isn't merely to get the onions to turn brown. Patience is key if you don't want them too crunchy or burnt black. Remember, your goal is to pull out the onion's natural sugars. Cook low and slow, and don't skimp — Our Best Bites recommends half an onion per sandwich.

More bread than patty: The ideal is for the beef patty to run flush with the bread crust on all sides. Since rye bread is usually oblong in shape, the Food Network recommends you patty up your ground beef into thin football shapes that are a little bigger than your bread. The meat will shrink when it cooks.

For crispy bread, grill with mayonnaise instead of butter

Not using rye bread: If you were planning on patty melts but then realized you didn't have rye bread, just don't bother. The Family Meal blogger found herself in this situation and added caraway seeds to the ground beef for that rye flavor. "[Y]ou simply can't call a sandwich a patty melt if you don't put it on rye," she wrote. "It becomes a hamburger sandwich."

Cleaning the pan: Carmelize the onions and cook the patties in the same pan, then leave all those juices in there when you grill your assembled patty melt (via Kitchen Encounters). If you wipe your pan before the bread hits it, you're robbing yourself of some of that great patty melt flavor.

Using butter instead of mayonnaise: Patty melt recipes from the Food Network, Good Housekeeping, and Bon Appétit all call for spreading mayonnaise instead of butter on your rye before grilling. Mayonnaise will make the bread darker and crispier. Crispy bread is the key counterpoint to the soft, juicy beef.

Skimping on the Swiss: You're making a fried meat, fried onion sandwich on bread grilled in mayonnaise. You're not putting just one thin slice of Swiss cheese in there. Kitchen Encounters calls for three slices of Swiss... on each side. Thinking of substituting for Swiss? Don't. Cheddar might be the go-to on burgers, but "cheddar cheese is for kids," writes Kitchen Encounters.