If you are lucky enough to know what a chopped cheese sandwich is, then you know how unique this creation is. At its core, a good chopped cheese is a mixture of beef, seasonings, and onions, cooked on a griddle and then “chopped” with the side of a large spatula as it griddles. Cheese is added on top until it melts, then it’s all transferred to a sturdy bun with some veggie toppings like tomatoes and lettuce.
Chopped Cheese: Not Cheesesteak
There will always be debate about the true creator of the chopped cheese (or chop cheese), but it’s popular across sections of New York City’s boroughs in bodegas and small shops, each having its own twist and variation.
I don’t exactly want to wade into the debate between NYC’s chopped cheese and Philly’s cheesesteak. I’m an equal opportunity sandwich man and will take whichever cheesy delicious sandwich is presented to me.
For starters, chopped cheese sandwiches use ground beef while cheesesteaks use slivered steak. This difference means that chopped cheese is easier to make at home. We’ve already worked on the cheesesteak so let’s turn to the chopped cheese and see if we can make a decent homemade version!
The cheese on a chopped cheese will likely be sliced American cheese, not the Cheez Whiz seen on some Philly cheesesteaks. While cheesesteaks only have cooked vegetables, chopped cheese usually has some fresh tomato and lettuce on the sandwich.
Use 80/20 Beef for a Chopped Cheese
The best way to cook this sandwich is on a large griddle. Since few home cooks have one, this recipe makes modifications using a pot and a cast iron skillet.
In a bodega, a chopped cheese often starts off with one or two pre-formed hamburger patties. At home, I like to start with an 80/20 mix of ground beef so there is plenty of fat in the filling. If you go with something leaner, you might want to add a drizzle of oil to the pot before cooking (at home you’ll likely be using a skillet instead of the flat top griddle used in a bodega).
If you use an 80/20 blend though, just add the ground beef to a pot over medium-low heat and let the beef slowly cook, rendering out the fat. Stir regularly as the beef browns. After the beef is browned, add the onions and garlic, and stir (or “chop”) them into the beef. They will essentially cook in the rendered fat from the ground beef. After 4-5 minutes, they will be softened.
Season the beef filling with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. The filling is now ready to use in your chopped cheese sandwiches.
Use a Griddle or Skillet
Add a portion of the cooked beef filling to your griddle or skillet over medium heat and allow it to warm up. Then add the cheese, let it melt, and use a spatula to “chop” the cheese into the filling.
Place a toasted roll (with a smear of mayo on it) on top of the beef filling and let sit for 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scoop up the sandwich and scrape up any extra filling and add to the roll. Garnish each sandwich with tomato and lettuce and serve immediately!
Super Sandwiches Across the USA
The Origins of Chopped Cheese
The humble chopped cheese sandwich, like many iconic regional sandwiches, is a product of working-class neighborhoods and a blending of immigrant stories. It’s affordable, appealing, customizable, and readily available when hunger strikes–if you happen to live in a neighborhood of New York City where you can cruise into a corner store and order one.
Most sources point to East Harlem’s Blue Sky Deli as the birthplace of the sandwich. Some tellings posit that its free-form meat filling could have been broken up on a griddle in order to better fit on a long hoagie roll than a pre-formed burger patty would.
As for the “chopped” part, it could trace to the action of chopping ingredients as they cook to mix them up, a cooking technique familiar to the Yemeni immigrants who run many bodegas in New York. The seasoning for the beef can range from seasoned salt to Dominican adobo seasoning to chicken bouillon granules–anything readily available and convenient.
Chopped cheese owes a huge chunk of its renown outside of NYC to affectionate name drops in hip hop culture, along with an Anthony Bourdain mention in Parts Unknown. In the mid-2010s, a small handful of chefs created upscale takes on chopped cheese, provoking accusations of culturally appropriating what many New Yorkers intimate with the sandwich would call a specialty of the hood. If you don’t have a corner bodega to dart into for a chopped cheese fix, make this recipe and become part of its still-unfolding story.
In a bodega, the sandwich is made on a flat top griddle, but at home you can use a skillet.
2 pounds (80/20 blend) ground beef
1 white onion, chopped
4 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 hoagie or bolillo rolls
12 slices American cheese
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
Shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
Tomato slices, for serving
Cook the ground beef:
Add your ground beef to a large, dry pot or skillet over medium-low heat. Slowly cook so the fat renders out. Stir regularly, breaking up the beef as it cooks, until it is in crumbles but not fully cooked (some of the meat will still be pink).
If you want to be authentic, you can use the side of a metal spatula to “chop” the beef as it cooks, but a spoon will work, too.
Add the onions, garlic, and seasoning:
Once the beef is browned and most of the fat has rendered out (about 7-8 minutes of cooking), turn the heat up to medium and add onions and garlic. Cook for another 4-5 minutes until vegetables soften. Season the filling with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat.
Toast the buns:
Slice your rolls in half and toast them in batches over a griddle or in a large skillet over medium heat until browned.
Combine the cheese and ground beef:
For each sandwich, portion out about 1/6 of the beef filling at a time and add to the griddle or skillet over medium-low heat. Let the filling get hot and then cover it with two slices of American cheese. Let it sit long enough got the cheese to melt. If you like, roughly “chop” the cheese into the beef mixture with the side of a metal spatula.
Place the roll on the ground beef:
Add 1 tablespoon of mayo to one side of your toasted roll and cover the beef filling with a toasted roll, by placing the roll, toasted side down, on top of the chopped beef mixture.
Finish the sandwich and serve:
After 30 seconds, use a spatula to flip the roll, keeping the filling inside. If any filling falls out, use the spatula to add it back to the roll. Repeat as needed to make other sandwiches.
Add shredded lettuce and sliced tomato to the sandwich. Cut in half and serve immediately.
Leftover chopped cheese filling can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can add the filling straight from the fridge to a griddle to make a sandwich.
Only make as many sandwiches as you need to, but if you have leftover filling, that’s great!
Any chopped cheese fans out there? Leave a comment!
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 53g||68%|
|Saturated Fat 19g||95%|
|Total Carbohydrate 51g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||12%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||25%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|