How to make a perfect Steak 'n Shake Frisco Melt

Steak 'n Shake opened shop in 1934, but really didn't hit the national scene big time until the 1990s, and now has over 500 locations around the world. The selling point is fresh, tasty burgers, which are cooked to order. It's not fast food — by any stretch, in fact, it can be quite slow — but they'll get you out the door with a full stomach and a darn tasty burger. One of the most popular menu items is the Frisco Melt, a double burger situated between two pieces of sourdough bread, with two different cheeses and a tangy sauce that will keep you coming back for more.  That is, of course, unless you want to make your own at home. It's easier to do than you think.   

Gather your ingredients

Here's what you need to make a perfect Steak 'n Shake Frisco Melt. Ground round, ground sirloin, ground t-bone, sourdough bread, American cheese, Swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, French dressing, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce.  You can find the full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions at the end of this article.

The meat

Steak 'n Shake originally ground their meat right in the store, in front of customers. They don't do that anymore (whew!), but the meat is still fresh — so in order to get the flavor right, buy meat the you're cooking and don't freeze it. The unique taste to a "steakburger" is the blend of meats. They use three cuts — ground round, ground sirloin, and ground… T-bone. Your local grocery store probably doesn't sell ground T-bone, so you have to grab a T-bone and ask the butcher to grind it for you. After the butcher looks at you with bewilderment, just drop a "I know, trust me…" and hopefully he'll saunter off without questioning your mental state out loud.

If that seems too demeaning, you could just buy a frozen box of Steak 'n Shake burgers — but please don't.

The bread

The "frisco" part of the Frisco melt applies to the bread. Steak 'n Shake uses a sourdough bread — which got its start in San Francisco. I'm not going to weigh you down with a lesson in the history of sourdough, but the bread is synonymous with 'Frisco and now you know why they call it that instead of the Pittsburgh of the South Melt. The sourdough bread isn't anything fancy, so you can pick up any sourdough you'd like from your grocery store.  

The cheese

The Frisco Melt uses two cheeses — Swiss and American. The two cheeses provide a ying and yang to the dish; Swiss is a silky, hard cheese with a nutty flavor, whereas American is a processed cheese that has the magical ability to melt and not turn into orange cottage cheese. The order of these cheeses is the key to the dish. The one that's going to not fall apart upon warmth gets the most heat exposure, where the Swiss will get just warm enough to become the perfect texture in the dish.

The "butter"

There is a butter flavor to the Frisco Melt, but that's not butter. Steak 'n Shake uses margarine — you can use any type you like. Take that for a ride in your microwave oven for about 35-45 seconds, depending on the power of your microwave. This doesn't need to be piping hot, just melted when we use it.  

The sauce

If you've ever dipped your finger into a little Frisco sauce that dripped on your plate, you can probably pick out two flavors immediately — thousand island dressing and French. Those are the predominate flavors, but there's something else too — a salty hint of depth. And there's ketchup, because there always is.  

For this, combine thousand island with ketchup and French dressing, and hit those with two splashes of Worcestershire sauce.  Give it a stir, and let that chill in your fridge for 30 minutes to bring the flavor together.

Burger prep

How much burger are you getting, exactly? A cooked patty weighed in at about 2.5 ounces. A burger loses approximately 25 percent of its weight during cooking, therefore we need to start with around three ounces of meat to get us close to where we're going. Obviously the least expensive meat will make up the bulk of it, with that very expensive T-bone bringing up the rear. The goal will be about four patties, so let's go with 9.5 ounces of ground round, 4 ounces of sirloin, and 2 ounces of T-bone. That should get us the right mix of flavor. Bring all that together by hand and refrigerate for 10 minutes, just to let it set up.  

Form the patties

Having a hockey puck as a hamburger is usually a bad thing, but what else would you call the shape Steak 'n Shake starts from? There are two different ways to really get the shape right. First, you can make three ounce balls, and then walk them around a small, round dish — I happen to have a creme brulee dish that isn't crimped around the edges, and that worked great. Just flip it over to flatten both sides, do two complete circles around the small dish, and you're in hockey heaven.

Of course, you can channel your inner Eddie Shore and just mold a "puck" by hand — just try your best to get it in a puck shape.  

Smash technique

The steak 'n Shake flat-top sits at 375 degrees Fahrenheit — that's about a six on the knob setting on your stove. I observed that Steak 'n Shake does not grease their flat-top, but if you're not comfortable with that, you can drop a little margarine down before you drop the puck — literally. So how do you get the puck into a flat, flavorful hamburger? That's, right, smashy-smashy. The in-store technique is to gently touch the top of the "puck" once with a spatula, and then go back to it about 15-30 seconds later, flip it, and smash it down with a spatula and a long prong. Steak 'n Shake has an advantage — their spatula is a solid piece with no holes. If you don't have one of those, wrap a piece of aluminum foil around your spatula to prevent any burger parts from escaping.  

With your wrapped spatula, flip the patty, and then begin pressing down with the spatula and a device to aid the press — I used a large spoon. Get that puck as flat as you can.

Bread prep

Steak 'n Shake has this awesome little butter wheel they roll a piece of sourdough bread on, and get it all buttered up. Only remember, they don't use butter, they use margarine. I'm guessing you don't have a wheel like that, so apply your melted margarine with a brush to two pieces of sourdough, and put them on a 325 degree Fahrenheit surface — that's a setting of about four on your stove top burner. Steak 'n Shake cooks the bread for approximately 3-4 minutes, so that seems about right temperature wise.

A piece of Swiss cheese goes down almost immediately upon one slice of the sourdough. Just leave it there and let them coast for a bit.  The heat will soften up the Swiss, but it won't break apart.  

Flip 'em

We need just one more flip for our burgers — so after cooking your smashed burger for 1-2 minutes, turn it over. I observed a cook press the burgers after a flip, and not press the burgers after the flip – so the choice is yours, get medieval or kindly flip them over.  

If your burger breaks apart on the flip, that could be for one of two reasons. You had your heat too high, which caused the burger to break apart, or you flattened your burger too thin. 

Starting the build

After the burgers are finished, Steak 'n Shake begins the build process with the bread on the grill, so start by placing one of your cooked patties on top of the Swiss cheese. Place a piece of American cheese on that burger, and gently touch the top of the cheese with the spatula.  I don't know why either, but they do it. Some burger slingers will even tap the cheese in so it doesn't roll off the sides of the burger, if you're so inclined to do so, have at it. After you've played all fancy with the cheese, stack the other burger on top of that one, so the cheese rests between the two pieces of meat.  

Saucing it up

Don't finish that stack just yet. Move it all to a plate, because it's time to apply the Frisco sauce. If you pay attention to how they serve you a Frisco Melt at Steak 'n Shake, they always bring you extra napkins — or at least they're suppose to. That's because you apply sauce to both the bread and the meat. Apply the sauce to the complete top of the bread, and a healthy portion on the top of the meat.  The sauce should be practically dripping off the bread when you cut it in half.

It's worth noting that I observed a Frisco Melt built twice — two days in a row from two different Steak 'n Shake sandwich technicians, but at the same restaurant. One put sauce on both burger and meat, and the other put sauce just on the bread, albeit a heaping amount. Either way, just make sure you put "a lot" of sauce on; and let's be honest, you want a lot of sauce. Place the sauce-covered slice on top and cut the sandwich from corner to corner.  

How close are we?

How about dead on? This burger tastes exactly like Steak 'n Shake. The Frisco sauce is perfect, and the bread has the exact amount of toast to it. It looks just like it, it tastes just like it – and dare I say even a bit better than the original.

Directions

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 4 minutes

Makes: 2 sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup thousand island dressing
  • ¼ cup French dressing
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • Two splashes (about ⅛ of a teaspoon) of Worcestershire
  • 9.5 ounces ground round
  • 4 ounces ground sirloin
  • 2 ounces ground T-bone
  • Margarine
  • Sourdough bread

  • American cheese

  • Swiss cheese

Directions:

  1. Combine dressings, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Mix the meats together by hand and refrigerate for 10-30 minutes.
  3. Create four, approximately 3-ounce patties, formed into a hockey puck shape.

  4. Spread margarine on two pieces of sourdough bread.

  5. Place two pieces of sourdough bread margarine side down on a 325 degree Fahrenheit surface (4 on your stove top).

  6. Place a slice of Swiss cheese on one piece of bread.

  7. Cook two meat patties on a 375 degree Fahrenheit flat top or pan (6 on your stove top). Gently press the top of each, cook for 30 seconds, flip and press with a solid spatula, Cook for 1-2 minutes then flip again.

  8. Stack a cooked burger on top of the melted Swiss, followed by a piece of American cheese and the second patty. 

  9. Move everything to a plate, top burger stack and plain toasted bread with lots of Frisco sauce.

  10. Top with sauced-bread, cut at an angle, end enjoy!