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The American Cheeseburger

Iconic in nature, the cheeseburger has always come standardized with American cheese. Go into a diner or a greasy spoon and you'll see the burger on the menu with the words "add cheese," which defaultly means of the american variety.

I enjoy a cheeseburger with american cheese, but sometimes I have to wonder if it really is the best compliment to a burger. What's wrong with a mild cheddar? Not something overpowering where the cheese overtakes the burger. Something light or flavorful, or something that will add zip like jack. American can have the tendency to vanish into taste non-existance, and in the end it only feels like a fatty binder and nothing else. Am I wrong to actually want to taste the cheese as well?

Sometimes I wonder if burgers I've eaten in the past would have tasted better if I just went a little anti-american and ordered cheddar.

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  1. Here in SoCal it's not unusual to see a wide variety of cheeses offered on a burger menu, pepper jack and Swiss being two of the most common. The default cheese on the trendy "bar burgers", generally running $10-$15 fully dressed (and with fries) is in fact cheddar. And about forty years ago, at a roadside joint in Oregon, our handmade cheeseburgers came with a good slab of Tillamook. Future events proved that I should have taken serious note of the fact that my companion, my first wife, declared the thing inedible because it was "the wrong kind of cheese"!

    1. Blue cheese and burgers are a match made in heaven.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bbqboy

        Add bacon and it's a bacon/bluecheeseburger and then I'm on line. Never pass it up.

      2. To me the most important thing is the melt factor of the cheese. I want the cheese to literally melt into every nook and cranny of the burger. If I pick the bun up, and the cheese clings to the bun, that is not a good sign. So no matter what kind of cheese it is just make sure it is melted well. And I love all kinds of cheese. Sometimes I will have more than one kind on my burger.

        1. I HATE American cheese food product; it tastes like rubber to me. I'd rather have a plain burger. But I'm not traditional, as I don't like ketchup either.

          When I'm out for a burger, the places--diners included--generally have multiple cheese offerings: cheddar, swiss, blue, jack, feta, as well as American (some of the places have even offered Velveeta and Cheese Whiz).

          2 Replies
          1. re: Caralien

            I love it! The all American food has ersatz cheese. American cheese, "lite" beer; give me the real food or give me none.
            What kind of cheese is on the burger at PJ's Pancake House?

            1. re: Passadumkeg

              likely something that also comes in a prepackaged mix from Sysco (just add water!), as is true for their famous pancakes?

          2. If I have a choice, I always order something other than american cheese. Swiss or cheddar if I'm having a bacon cheeseburger. Love blue cheese if the burger is blackened. At home I might use pepper jack, gouda, etc. If I'm at a restaurant that has "gourmet" burgers, I'll try whatever combo the chef recommends. I love cheeseburgers.

            1. my preference order is probably cheddar and then a tie between american and swiss. I agree with danhole that I want the cheese very melted, not thrown on at the end as almost an afterthought.

              1. jfood normally orders american chees on the burger but will substitute other cheeses if the urge hits. He had a gorganzola last week and it was a little too much.

                The way jfood now use the cheese as a buffer between the juice and the bun. he melts the cheese onthe bun, not the burger and then assembles.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  Ya know, kid, I think I'm agreeing with you. Having lived on the West Coast for decades I've had experiences with many cheeses on burgers. While blues have their place, on a burger kinda makes ya ask 'where's the beef?' Doesn't have to be American (probably wouldnt' be that but milder than blue.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I can't handle blue, but can handle a little gorgonzola, not much for me though. Too strong. Just a bit.

                2. Trayf!

                  How to ruin a great flavorful piece of meat on a nice roll: Put cheese on it.

                  Of course, since the standard in America is McDonald's and their like, who have figured out how to make beef completely tasteless, then why not add tasteless petroleum products made into flexible yellow slices?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: applehome


                    If you do not like a cheeseburger that's cool, but for many of us, the cheese very much adds to the flavor of the meal. Likewise fried onions and ketchup.

                    Let those Ch'ers who like cheeseburgers discuss this topic.

                    1. re: Caralien

                      Cheese makes the world a better place. I lived in Paris for awhile and my friend always made me burgers with gruyere or chevre, so I mix it up now when im home in nyc.

                    2. I will partially dissent and note that American processed cheese is precisely well suited to cheeseburgers because it is designed to melt without a hint of graininess but also not to take too much attention away from the beef. But, if I can get Jarlsburg, I'd choose that first (another pale imitation of a better cheese, but that is superlative playing second fiddle in a melting role).,

                      1. I think it's the "proper" cheese for a cheeseburger however I have no real problem venturing down another path. But I also feel that a grilled cheese sandwich is on sandwich bread with American cheese. Not that I'm against a grilled provolone on a good crusty Italian bread. It's just not a grilled cheese to me.


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Davwud

                          I'm with you. I love regular ol' "yellow American" toasted on grocery store wheat sandwich loaf. It's what I grew up with (yes, during the gastronomic dark ages) as a grilled cheese sandwich.

                          That said, taleggio on pain de campagne... DROOL...

                          1. re: Davwud

                            Agreed - always yellow American cheese on grilled cheese sandwiches. And if I don't have other cheese for burgers, I will use American - it melts just right. But I've used Swiss, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, and mozzarella. Love the mozzarella burgers. I like Swiss or Monterey Jack for bacon cheeseburgers.

                          2. I never eat a burger without cheese, regardless of the quality and taste of the meat. I am a cheeburger kinda gal, heart and soul, whereas I can easily do without bacon, or fried onions, or all kinds of other stuff. Well, 'cept for thinly sliced red onion, a thin juicy tomato slice, green leaf lettuce, and mayo & ketchup. Perfection on a bun. But NEVER without cheese (sharp cheddar preferred, or aged gouda.... that is, unless it's a lamb burger -- then pecorino or even feta might do). Ever.

                            1. Now a days, I honestly think that cheese burger means "any" cheese. Back in the days, American cheese was the primary cheese for the most part. Not in some parts of the world, but in the US, that is what people expected on their burger. We are talking years ago. Well, we learned there are alot more cheeses. Not if my son orders a cheeseburger he wants cheese. Never cheddar, he expects a variety. So do my friends I go out for lunch and they order a burger with cheese and they expect a variety.

                              Times change. I enjoy all cheeses with all different kinds of topping. Some cheese with some toppings. Blue and bacon, Mushroom and swiss, cheddar lettuce tomato and onion, gruyere and onions, manchego, peppers and salsa, fontina pancetta and lettuce and onion, even feta sundried and onions. Just about all goes ...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                American or blue cheese for me on a burger. I find cheddar overpowers the flavours and often sticks to the bun. I don't like 'American' Swiss cheese. I don't know what it is but it sure ain't Swiss.

                                1. re: smartie

                                  I like gorgonzola close enough, good cheddar, not the gooey stuff and swiss, I like gruyere ... or a good swiss

                                  1. re: smartie

                                    Agree both American and blue are good options, but my third choice is sharp cheddar and jalapeƱos. JalapeƱo slices first, then the cheese on top to melt and help hold them in place.

                                2. While I can always enjoy an American cheesebugher, there's nothing wrong with branching out! The decision is usually based on what's in the fridge. Any cheese that melts easily will do. Had some leftover smoked Gouda and that made a great addition. I draw the line at goat cheese.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: cavandre

                                    Gouda is smokey, great with some BBQ, add some chipoltes in adobo to the sauce and some grilled onions, fresh maple smoked bacon and then the gouda. Amazing flavor. It is a favorite burger of mine. I grill the bacon right on the grill on my small cast iron and the same with the onions, mix the BBQ, your favorite with the chipoltes and good to go. I nice piece of soft, boston, bibb or anything moist and subtle works great with this for me or you can delete it.

                                    Burger Heaven.

                                  2. I like sharp cheddar. On many things, burgers included; but mild cheddar is pretty much a waste of time. American is OK, but kinda bland (ok, not 'kinda;' it's bland, pure and simple). For some reason I've never liked Swiss on burgers, though it's fine in other applications. Blue is good, but can be overpowering.

                                    1. IIRC, many attribute the "creation" of the cheeseburger to a mom-n-pop in Denver. Cannot recall the exact attribution, and am too lazy (as my soon to be cheeseburgers are on the grill) to look it up.

                                      For me, it's cheddar (note capitalization, or lack thereof). I am not a fan of American cheesefood product. Never have been, even as a child. Others would eat their Kraft stuff, and I'd cut off from a block of aged Swiss, or cheddar, depending on the other ingredients on my sandwich. One thing that I had, as a kid growing up, was access to better cheeses.

                                      While I love Swiss, both aged and "baby," I don't enjoy it on my burger. Maybe it's my choice of wines to go with those cheeseburgers?


                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        I thought it was a steak place in New Hampshire. They still cook them the same way 100 years later.

                                        Food for thought....as it were.


                                        1. re: Davwud

                                          Hamburg, NY claims the title. During a summer fair a vendor ran out of frankfurters and could only find some ground beef at the butcher, so viola, the Hamburg.
                                          As told to me by some hot dog from Hamburg.

                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                            I don't think that story will cut the mustard. I relish hearing it again.


                                        2. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Bill - I'm very much pleased to see that cheeseburgers find their way onto your menu. As to wines to have with them, I've recently and quite succesfully had a ribera del duero, a domestic malbec with some age to it, a very nice cab franc, and a lovely domestic so. rhone style wine.

                                          1. re: ibstatguy

                                            Sounds like a good match. I'm having a Chilean (I know, not my normal choice, but this one was gifted and came with great recs.) blend, '05 Primus. Not a bad wine, and for a Chilean, it surprised me. Now, I did use a big splash of it in the meat.

                                            Normally, I am more often reaching for a Merlot (depending on the exact BBQ sauce), or my regular, a Zin.

                                            I'm more of a Mendoza Malbec fan. Tell me more about the domestic Malbecs, that you like. I've had a very few, but none has quite done it for me like most Mendozas do. Just curious, as I am always looking for wines, that I have not tried - just like the Primus. BTW, the cheeseburgers were very nice, and the Primus surprised me, in a good way. Now, there are two Chileans, that I might actually purchase.


                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              Bill - this was a '94 Arrowwood Malbec and it was a beauty. Can't say if it represents a broader spectrum of domestic Malbecs though.

                                              1. re: ibstatguy

                                                I have never seen a Malbec from Dick Arrowood. I like most of his wines and will look for this one.



                                        3. I was very lucky to live on the upper west side of Manhattan during the 80's where there were many options for cheeseburgers, but the greatest burger on the uws was at a little restaurant called the All-State Cafe which was down a few steps on W.72nd street bet. Broadway and West End Ave.. Wonderful beef cooked any way you wanted it (as if there's any other way BUT medium rare) with a choice of american, cheddar, swiss or muenster. My choice was always muenster with perfectly cooked bacon (an of course a side of zucchini chips). There's something about the way muenster melts in such a way that in envelopes the burger very evenly. This is sick! Why am I going on about a cheeseburger that I haven't had in over a year? Because like many other stories in NY, the All-state was forced to close because of a landlord raising the rent. By the way, no one has taken over the spot since it closed, and because it WAS the best burger I've ever eaten and thankfully was able to bring my son to try the place.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jnk

                                            Zucchini chips are the best. I still make them myself. Sorry change of subject. Love muenster too, soo gooey. One of my favorite cheese for vegetables and burgers!

                                          2. I feel it's important to distinguish betwen American Cheese and American Cheese "food". When I first met my wife, the only cheese she used on sandwichs and burgers was that hideous individually sliced cheesefood. I have since convinced her that the only quality American cheese is deli sliced Boar's Head brand, which is, as far as I know, the only readily available (in my area anyway) American cheese that is allowed by law to be called Cheese, and NOT cheese food . My second choice would be Land 'O' Lakes, but that is cheesefood, not cheese. I usually use American at home, but like almost any cheese on burgers, except for blue, a bit strong for my tastes.

                                            22 Replies
                                            1. re: kimfair1

                                              Thank you kim! Finally someone with sense. Not all american cheese is cheese food, as you said. Even the phrase cheese food puts me off. I mean what is that? Something you feed cheese? I don't eat cheese food, but I do eat american cheese. And I promise that it is not wrapped in plastic.

                                              1. re: kimfair1

                                                So are you saying American food comes in blocks like other cheeses? I've never noticed. I'd taste it but can't imagine giving up my Cheddar.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Go to the deli and look. It's there. White american and yellow.

                                                  2. re: kimfair1

                                                    jfood thinks LOL is Cheese, not Cheese Food. Are you sure the LOL American is cheese food?

                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                      Most of LOL is standard American pasteurized process cheese (and its the processing that gives the superior non-grainy melting abilities), though they have a few cheese food or cheese product items.

                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                        PS and off-topic, Karl. Thanks for the info a few months ago about "proper" scrambled eggs. I love "your" way better than any I've ever had. Hope this doesn't get deleted before you read :)

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          U R welcome. I don't think one would use American cheese in *those*!

                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            Hahaha. That makes it on-topic after all, doesn't it? And no. I must have 8-10 cheeses in fridge right now but never considered American.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              Well, hamburgers are one of the best uses for American cheese. It doesn't have many fine uses, but its use on hamburgers is one area I think it beats many other finer eating cheeses. Jarlsberg, Colby, Havarti and American Muenster are probably its only peers for this application - all are mediocre eating cheeses that can be sliced thinly and melt well and play well in a supporting rather than lead role.

                                                              I am not one for lots of messing with hamburgers. A touch of melted cheese, maybe a shaved slice of vidalia-type onion or well-rinsed red onion, perhaps the thinnest glaze of ketchup on the other side of the burger, on a griddle-greased warm bun, pickle on the side.

                                                              Then again, I put in a separate category the acme of American burgerdom: the Patty Melt.

                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                My husband's a mayo-burger guy and I think that does hold some appeal. I go back and forth. Just ground my own beef for the first time last night (ooh la la) so will be doing more at home.

                                                                Care to share your Patty Melt recs?

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  Patty Melt by definition has a swiss-type cheese (I would venture American Swiss - not Emmethal) - burger, topped with said cheese and onions cooked in grease on the diner grill-top, and the whole thing put in seeded rye bread that when assembled is also grilled in grease on the grill-top. The sometime graininess of the Swiss is masked in this preparation by the greasy onions and bread.

                                                                  The burger meets immortality.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    Burger, kaiser roll, mayo, lettuce, tomato, green chile, onion slice, cheese is the after thought.

                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                        No, whole roasted and peeled (with a little garlic salt) New Mexico (aka Anaheims) chiles.

                                                                        A chile a day keeps the blues away!

                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                          I'm keeping fresh chiles around more and more. Even if not perfectly fresh, they still are great when roasted or cooked. Just picked up some pasillas, jalapenos, anaheims and a plain red pepper.

                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                            I just returned from Las Vegas w/ a suitcase of green chiles (and another one of tortillas). Always keep baggie of roasted green chiles and pintos in the freezer.
                                                                            ONE NEVER KNOWS WHEN THE GREEN CHILE BEAN TACO WILL STRIKE!

                                                                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                Nope, pork or chorizo (or Maine shrimp). Meriken chicken tastes funny.

                                                                  2. re: Karl S

                                                                    Was in a big Safeway in NoCal yesterday and finally remembered to look for American cheese. Of all the blocks (1, 2, 3#s) no American. Didn't check the deli.

                                                          2. re: jfood

                                                            There is cheese, and there is pasteurized process cheese (all american cheese is this, Boar's Head, LOL, etc) and then there is cheese food such as the cheese that comes individually wrapped in plastic. I was talking to the cheese guy at the deli yesterday and this is what I learned. But Boars Head, LOL are a better quality than the ones you get in the dairy case, if you get them from the deli.

                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                              I guess that that is the "good" American cheese food product I've missed all of these years...:)

                                                        2. I can't deal with "American cheese"- it's not something that I grew up with, and it tastes (and feels and smells) nothing like cheese to me.
                                                          I love a good bacon cheeseburger with cheddar. I think a nice blue cheese is also great on a burger with some grilled onions.

                                                          1. Jimmy Buffett's cheeseburger in paradise is my perfect burger - with cheddar please.

                                                            1. I disagree with your premise that American cheese is the standard default. It is true at fast food places, but diners, greasy spoons, etc? Nope, not in my experience. I think it's more typical that to "add cheese" gives options-- at least cheddar, sometimes swiss or even blue. I do like a good cheesy burger, will usually go cheddar , jack, or swiss, although blue is great too.

                                                              1. "American can have the tendency to vanish into taste non-existance, and in the end it only feels like a fatty binder and nothing else"

                                                                I could not disagree more. Heck, even Ruby Tuesdays offers a variety of cheeses to choose from. Come on! We're not foodie Philistines! Why is "American" equal to tasteless?

                                                                1. There is a place by me (Sterling Hotel in Seterling NJ) that has port cheddar and horseraddish cheddar, two great cheeses for a burger.