Kenji is the former culinary manager for severe Eats and also a current culinary consultant for the site. The is likewise a brand-new York time food columnist and also the author of The Food Lab: far better Home cooking Through Science.

You are watching: How to melt cheese on burger


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Take a look in ~ this lover block that Comté. Together we every know, it starts together milk: a mixture the water, proteins, fat, and a couple of trace minerals all swished with each other in a white, frothy soup the gets squirted the end the nipples that cows (ain't the appetizing)? now when cheesemakers convert this milk right into cheese, they start by adding rennet, an enzyme uncovered on the inner lining the calves' stomachs. This rennet reasons proteins in the cheese (mainly casein) come unravel and also link together into a matrix, which subsequently traps both fat and also liquid in that web.


After pushing out overfill liquid, the cheese climate gets aged, during which period, it loses yet an ext moisture v evaporation. The larger a cheese is, the much less moisture the has. The much less moisture it has, the higher its concentration that fat, protein, and other minerals. Luckily, all the fat remains trapped far in that protein net, which keeps it from pooling the end in greasy puddles when you heat it.


Melting changes every one of this. As quickly as you being to warm cheese, its fat starts to soften. Also at warm room temperature, you'll notification that cheese it s okay softer as it sits—this is all because of the softening that fat.


At greater temperatures—between 130°F and also 180°F or so—proteins start shedding their grip on each other. The net gets holes in it, and also minuscule fluid fat droplets start to escape. Just like fish recognize their method out the a fisherman's net and also schooling, as quickly as these fat droplets are complimentary they begin to congregate and also amass themselves right into larger and also larger pools. Eventually, you're left v a sticky, tangled ball of protein surrounding by a greasy pool of fat. Ick.


I'm certain you've all seen this occur when trying to melt one expensive part of yes, really well-aged cheddar on her burger.


"Without a great ratio of fluid to fat, it's simply difficult to type a smoothly flowing emulsion."


Within a given course of cheeses, the age of a cheese has actually a direct relationship through the family member moisture content, which in turn has actually a direct relationship with how conveniently it melts. Through low moisture cheeses, like, say, the 20-month old Comté above, proteins are more tightly pack together, and thus kind tighter binding which have to be heated come a greater temperature to melt. At the same time, this high temperature heating reasons extra humidity to evaporate. Without a an excellent ratio of fluid to fat, it's simply impossible to kind a smoothly flow emulsion.


How steam Helps

With timeless methods of melt cheese—in a pan, under the broiler, in the grill—it's really hard to transfer warm evenly and efficiently come the cheese. One component of the cheese inevitably ends up overheating prior to the other comes to melting temperature. This can exacerbate breaking, as localized hot pockets will kind on, say, the base of the pan, or in ~ the height of the cheese under a broiler. And also once fat starts breaking out, it makes it even much easier for much more fat to break out.


A steamer fixes this difficulty in two ways. First, that heats very evenly. inside a steamer, there room constantly shifting and flowing convection currents of hot air and water vapor traveling around. This forces energy all approximately the cheese, not simply from the peak or bottom surface favor in a pan or broiler. Grating the cheese so that vapor can flow easily approximately it helps on this front.


Secondly, and almost more importantly, heavy steam also adds fluid to the cheese. much of the warm that is moved to the cheese comes from the energy released as soon as water vapor condenses into actual droplets that water as the steam hits the cooler surface ar of the cheese. The water droplets cloak the cheese, adding back few of the moisture that was lost throughout aging.


By the way—you don't require a magic tradition steamer to perform this—small bowls the cheese collection in a standard steamer insert over a pot the simmering water will work simply fine.


With younger cheeses prefer mozzarella, young cheddars, or Jack, steaming in chin is an effective way to melt your cheese there is no breaking it. Because that older cheeses, you have to still need to give'em a little helping hand.


Stablilization

So exactly how does one form a secure emulsion? 2 ways: addressing the ratio of fluid to fat, and including an emulsifier. This is exactly the way that American cheese slices are formed. To do American cheese, curds of actual cheese (yep, real, honest-to-goodness, cultured cheese!) are melted together together with extra milk and also an emulsifying agent.


If you inspect the ingredients list with an open up mind and also a willingness to discover out precisely what those long, funny-sounding chemicals yes, really are, you'll discover that they're totally harmless, and indeed occur naturally in countless foods girlfriend eat every day. Because that instance, trialcium phosphate is actually a naturally emerging salt the you'll discover in milk...and as soon as you burn animal bones.


In commercial cheeses, this emulsifying agents normally work ~ above a molecular level—they space tiny molecules with hydrophillic (water loving) heads and hydrophobic (water-hating, i.e., fat-loving) tails. These molecules bridge the gap between fat and water, allowing them come coexist relatively harmoniously.


But there room other species of emulsifiers the end there. Flour, because that instance, can assist keep a mornay sauce native breaking. It does this by taking in water in the starch, ede up and gelatinizing, and also physically impeding fat molecule from bumping into each other and also coalescing, choose a bouncer at a night club.


I tried tossing mine cheese with a little bit of consistent flour and with some cornstarch before steaming it, but it didn't job-related all that well. The problem is that it bring away too lengthy for the flour to hydrate and also gelatinize. By the moment it's in a state in i m sorry it deserve to perform the emulsifying duties, it's already too late—the fat has actually escaped. What I need is a means to acquire my flour come absorb water and gelatinize faster.


Gold Medal's Wondra flour is an instant flour—that's one ultra-low protein flour that's to be pre-gelatinized, climate dehydrated into individual, sandy granules. Because of this treatment, that doesn't have actually the very same raw flavor as constant flour, and it very rapidly absorbs water, making it excellent at creating smooth, lump-free emulsions. Tossing my grated cheese through a little bit of it before steaming helped quite a bit, despite it tho wasn't quite as smooth or break-free as I would have actually liked it come be.


I can't be certain without a microscope, but my instinct tells me the the difficulty is that together the cheese melts, also when coated v the Wondra flour, some of the fat leaks out prior to sufficient steam condenses ~ above the surface to fully hydrate the flour. The solution? Just add more liquid.


"I was able to form a mixture that melted and stretched long, thin, gooey strands together you bit right into it, yet to be solid enough to stay put on optimal of a hot burger"


By adding just a teaspoon of hefty cream or milk per oz of grated cheese to mine bowl. I was may be to type a mixture that melted and also stretched long, thin, gooey strands as you bit into it, yet to be solid sufficient to stay put on height of a hot burger, just like a slice of an excellent old American cheese.


While I admit that the applications that this method are pretty limited—cheeseburgers, grilled cheeses, and the like—and the texture is no quite as an excellent as you'd gain from a true-blue American cheese or chemically emulsified homemade cheese slice, there space some major advantages here.

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For starters, you can make it through long-lasting pantry staples the you have the right to purchase at any supermarket. It's also extremely fast. It takes around 30 seconds for girlfriend to collection up a steamer and also toss some grated cheese and also flour along with cream, and an ounce of grated cheese (the best amount because that a 4- come 6-ounce burgess patty) collection in a steamship insert bring away just about a minute come melt right into a gooey fondue-like consistency that sets together you pour it on height of your cooked burger.