“American cheese (processed cheese)”
-Wylie Dufresne, describing the type of cheese he likes on his burger
I haven’t exactly made my peace with American cheese. I still don’t like it cubed, melted in grilled cheese, or laid across a deli sandwich. I’m not that into reliving my childhood and, really, actual cheese always tastes better. I thought that was the end of it. When I was young I enjoyed the non-offensive creamy taste of processed cheese, but when I grew up I put the individually wrapped slices behind me for more flavorful fare.
And that’s mostly a complete and accurate statement. But there is one enormous exception that I’ve found (though there may be more): the cheeseburger. There really is some magic combination. I took me years and a world renowned chef to beat this into my head: American cheese tastes really good on a burger. It was Wylie Dufresne chef of WD-50, one of the most prestigious restaurants in New York, who finally made me see the truth. For his absolute last meal on earth he wanted a burger with American cheese. Could he really be serious? Then I thought back. What cheese does the Shake Shack use? Corner Bistro? In-N-Out Burger? The truth was actually all around me. American Cheese was okay.
Sure, other cheese can work, but not nearly as many as I had originally thought. Sparing some intense Harold McGee quoting, not all cheese melts well, and in many cases the fat separates, pools on top, and results are pretty disappointing. Not American cheese. Because of it’s processed nature, it melts neatly every time.
Not all American cheese is equal, though. My mind went immediately to Kraft singles, but there are other options. After some intense Chowhound and Cook’s Illustrated searching, I kept hearing good things about Land O’Lakes. This kind really does taste different. While not exactly a complete revelation of cheese ecstasy, it does have a more pronounced "cheese" flavor and that makes for a better cheeseburger.
That’s what I was going for. If this was the burger Mr. Dufresne wanted for his absolute last meal, then that’s what I would have. Luckily for me, he calls himself a “traditionalist” when it comes to burgers. He doesn’t load the bun with fancy ingredients that distract from the flavor of the meat, though he does get rid of the bun. His only indulgence to the sanctity of meat and cheese is a fried egg. The runny yolk slowly drips all over the fatty meat, creating one of the most luscious, incredibly fattening meals I’ve ever had. I think I’ve made this thing three times in the past month. I love this recipe.
I do eat all of my Wylie Dufresne burgers alone. It’s the perfect indulgence when I’m home alone. It’s kind of disgusting in an insanely satisfying way. No one should have to watch me attack this thing with a fork and moan in delight.
The Wylie Dufresne Burger
Season the beef with lots of salt and pepper, probably two to three pinches of salt and about half as much pepper. Gently mix the meat together into a patty.
Heat up the griddle or pan to medium-high heat. Set the burger on top and grill. I can’t remember exactly how I cooked mine for, but I definitely had it around medium-rare. I bet it was 2 to 3 minutes a side. After a flipped the burger I added the American cheese.
Meanwhile, fry an egg sunny-side up in a tablespoon of butter.
Plate the burger and gently set the egg on top. Season with more salt and pepper. Eat with a fork!