Classic Patty Melt

Cooking for TwoSandwichComfort FoodCaramelized OnionGround Beef

Switch up your burger game and make a patty melt for dinner (or lunch) this week. Layer caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and a perfectly thin burger patty between two slices of toasted bread for the BEST HOMEMADE patty melt ever! This recipe serves two, but you can easily scale it up or down.

Photography Credit: Nick Evans

When I go to a diner, I almost always order a classic patty melt. There are a few variations on this sandwich, but the version I made here is what I consider the most authentic diner-worthy version.

A good, classic patty melt has a crispy crunchy bread, melted cheese, a thin beef patty, and salty and slightly sweet onions. It’s a perfect flavor and texture combo!

It’s a hearty sandwich, for sure, and is pure comfort food in my opinion.

It’s one of those sandwiches that I don’t really consider making at home very often, but then when I do make it I ask myself why I don’t make it more often?! It’s just absolutely delicious and the perfect mix of a grilled cheese and a good burger.

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WHAT IS A PATTY MELT?

In its most basic form, a patty melt is a thin beef patty cooked between two pieces of toasted bread with cheese and onions. I suppose the onions are optional, but I consider them pretty important to a true patty melt experience.

Best patty melt with toasted bread, melted cheese and beef patty being lifted with a spatula.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD PATTY MELT?

You might think it’s the beef patty that makes a good patty melt. It’s important, for sure—otherwise, you’d just have a grilled cheese. But it’s the caramelized onions that make a patty melt special.

To make caramelized onions, you have to cook them slowly until the sugars breakdown causing the onions to brown and the sweetness to intensify. I like to add a splash of apple cider vinegar to my onions to help brighten the flavor.

This deep onion sweetness gives a patty melt a crave-worthy complex flavor. Without them, you would basically have a cheeseburger on toast but the onions add a delicious sweet and tangy layer.

If you make extra caramelized onions you can freeze the cooked onions in ice cube trays and save them for another day. This way the next time a patty melt craving strikes, you will already have the caramelized onions ready saving you valuable time.

HOW TO MAKE A PATTY MELT

For a simple sandwich, the cook time might seem like a long time, but it’s worth it! You cook a patty melt in three phases. First, the onions. As I said, they take some time—25 minutes on the low end, but it might take longer, and you could definitely cook them down more.

After the onions are cooked, you make and cook the patties. This goes pretty quickly because the patties are very thin. If you wanted to speed up the cooking process (and dirty an extra skillet) you can absolutely cook the patties while the onions are caramelizing.

Finally, you sandwich everything together and grill the sandwich in the skillet!

A stacked patty melt on a white plate with melted cheese, caramelized onions and two beef patties.

WHAT IS THE BEST BREAD FOR A PATTY MELT?

Personally, I like simple sandwich bread for my patty melts. Nothing fancy! I just use standard white or wheat sandwich bread and the results are wonderful. Don’t overthink it!

SWAPS, SUBSTITUTIONS, AND SUGGESTIONS

You can go crazy with substitutions here. Personally, I’d keep the onions no matter what, but you could add vegetables like mushrooms or peppers.

You can also change up the cheese to your liking, although swiss or provolone is pretty standard, and it’s hard to go wrong with them.

My only suggestion for this sandwich is to take your time. Don’t make it if you are rushed for a meal. It’s a relaxed sandwich for when you have the time to make a good comfort food meal.

Perfect patty melt held in a hand with the melted cheese, caramelized onions and beef patties visible.

WHAT TO SERVE WITH A PATTY MELT?

A beer.

No, but seriously, it’s really good with a cold beer! Other than the beer, I like to serve it with bright, acidic or vinegar-based side dishes since it’s such a rich sandwich. Try pickles, pickled vegetables, Greek salad, green bean salad, or maybe an olive salad.

MORE GREAT GROUND BEEF RECIPES!

Classic Patty Melt Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 2 sandwiches

This recipe serves two, but it’s easy to scale up or down as needed.

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 8 ounces 90/10 ground beef
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 slices sandwich bread
  • 4 slices swiss cheese
  • Mustard (optional)

Method

1 Cook the onions: In a large cast-iron skillet set over medium to medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and sliced onions. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes until they are a deep brown color. If the onions are burning on spots, you might need to turn your heat down to medium-low.

Near the end of cooking (about 5 minutes), add apple cider vinegar and stir to combine. Then remove from the skillet.

A cast iron skillet with sliced onions to show how to make a patty melt. Caramelized onions in a cast iron skillet to make a homemade patty melt.

2 Cook the patties: Shape ground beef into two thin 4-ounce patties that are roughly the shape of your bread. Season patties with salt and pepper.

When onions are done in your skillet, set the heat to medium-high and add the patties. Cook for 3 minutes per side. If your patties are thin, that should be enough time to cook them through. Remove patties when done.

Two beef patties cooked in a cast iron skillet to make the perfect patty melt.

3 Butter your bread: Wipe your skillet clean and add the last tablespoon of butter to the skillet. Once the butter melts, add all the bread slices to the skillet, so one side of each slice is coated with butter.  Remove two of the four pieces of bread and start building your sandwich on the two pieces remaining in the skillet (you can also do this one at a time depending on the size of your skillet).

4 Build your sandwiches in the skillet: On each slice of bread remaining in the skillet, add a slice of Swiss cheese, a patty, half of the caramelized onions, and top with the second slice of Swiss cheese. Top each sandwich with the slice of bread removed from the skillet earlier, buttered side up.

Perfect patty melt being assembled in a cast iron skillet. The bottom slice of bread is topped with cheese, caramelized onions and another slice of cheese.

5 Cook the sandwiches: Over medium-low heat, cook the sandwiches for 3-4 minutes per side until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.

6 Serve: Slice sandwiches in half and serve immediately while warm.

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Nick Evans

Nick has been writing delicious recipes for the home cook for almost a decade. He lives in Denver, CO and embraces a delicate balance of diaper changing, trail running and beer drinking. His website is Macheesmo and his first book is Love Your Leftovers.

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6 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Jeff

    Try using mayo on the bread for frying. Always comes out with a better brown and crisp.

  2. Henry

    Another variation I like is to use regular ground beef (not patties), cooked with some worcestershire sauce, and then melt a couple slices of cheese into the meat as it cooks. It ends up being somewhere between a patty melt, a cheesesteak, and a sloppy joe.

    Show Replies (1)
  3. PEGGY

    I think that’s a great sandwich with pickles

    Show Replies (1)
  4. Cheryle

    This is my most favorite sandwich and rye bread is my personal choice to make it more flavorful.

The best patty melt sliced in half and stacked on top of each other. The sandwich is crispy with melted cheese, caramelized onions and beef patties visible.Classic Patty Melt