Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Jucy Lucy - A Burger with the Cheese on the Inside.

The Jucy Lucy

This simple, yet tasty twist on the Cheeseburger is a local favorite in Minneapolis Minnesota- invented at either Matt's Bar, or the 5-8 Club depending who you ask. Being from the tri-state area, I never heard of the Jucy Lucy until recently while watching shows like Man vs Food that featured it. Since I'd have to drive about 20 hours to get the real thing, I just had to try making my own.

Since we're talking about a hamburger here- a simple american classic, you need to start with good ingredients- I recommend using 80/20 ground beef - (80% lean 20% fat) - because fat is flavor folks. Leaner ground beef is actually slightly more expensive, and is actually lower in quality and flavor. Besides, for the Juicy Lucy, you want plenty of rendered fat moving around and mixing with the cheese. For cheese, I wanted to keep it simple, and went with a decent quality cheddar. For the hamburger meat, you really don't need to do much to it- season with salt and pepper and mix it well. I like some onions with my burgers, so I added about 1/2 a minced onion. Beyond that, you could maybe add a dash of worcehestershire sauce if that's your thing. But really, if all you do is season your meat a little, you're ok- less is often more.

When I assemble my burgers, I like to work on a  counter top or cutting board lined with a piece of wax paper so I can easily clean up, and won't have to worry about meat sticking to everything.

The Jucy Lucy begins life as a pair of meatballs
To form a Jucy Lucy, start with two meatball sized wads of meat as shown above. If they fit nicely in the palm of your hand and you can close your fingers around the top without squishing it, it's about the right size, unless you have freakishly small or freakishly large hands. If you're unsure, just compare the meatballs to my knife in the photo above and make your best guess. This is not an exact science so you won't have to worry about the burger police coming to get you if your burger is a little too big or too small. Either way, after making a few, you'll get the feel for it.

Adding the Jucy Lucy's creamy center...
Take one of the balls an flatten it out. You'll want to make it a relatively thin patty- about half as thick as you want your burger. Again, the burger police aren't going to come and get you, but you should try to keep it thin. Put a nice hunk of cheese in the middle.

Making the top of the Jucy Lucy

Flatten out your second meatball to about the same size and shape as the first. This patty will go on top of the other- forming a nice thick burger with a cheesy surprise in the middle. Word of warning- when you put the top on the Jucy Lucy, make sure you work the edges of the burgers really well with your fingers when you meld them together- probably more than you think you need- ground beef seems to have this uncanny memory effect thing going on - when it hits the heat, sometimes the two pieces of beef, seemingly melded together will remember that they're supposed to be two different pieces of meat. When they start to cook, the two pieces will somehow reorganize and the seam will open up again- moral of the story, work the burger around until you can't find the seam... then work it some more- when this baby hits the heat, you don't want to have a run in with melted cheese flowing at volcanic temperatures... 

The Jucy Lucy is born- it looks like any other burger, but has a secret buried deep inside...
Once you've worked over and sealed up your burger as well as possible, you're ready to start cooking. I like the idea of using a flat-top grill pan for this, so I can get a nice sear on as much of the burger as possible. Make sure your flat top has time to heat up - you want the burgers to start sizzling the second they hit the grill.

By now the Cheesy Center is turning into something akin to Molten Lava.
You can cook the Jucy Lucy just like any other burger- keeping in mind that it is probably thicker than most burgers you're used to. You'll want to put the burger down, and not touch it until you have a nice brown sear. Then flip and leave it alone until that side is seared as well. Once you've got a good sear you can employ fancy tricks to make sure the burger cooks through- like dropping a metal bowl over the burger to act as a mini-oven- maybe even squirting a shot of water under the bowl to steam it a bit- whatever works for you.

Unless you have a heat-proof digestive system, you should probably let your Jucy Lucy rest for a few minutes before diving in. You've been warned, don't blame me if you get third degree cheese burns! You'll still want to eat it while it's hot though (just not volcano hot!)- the cheese and the melted fat will get to know each other and meld together into something gooey and, well just plain good. Just watching the cheese slowly run out of the open wound where you just took a bite is entertaining in itself.  It's a gooey, beefy sensory experience.

Add a few basic sides, and Jucy Lucy becomes a good meal you can probably talk the kids into eating.
I served up my Jucy Lucy on a soft bun, and no toppings except for a little ketchup. Add some  fresh oven-baked potato wedges seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic, and a fresh green salad (lettuce, snow peas, carrot slivers, tomato, and some leftover minced onion) with your favorite dressing (Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil for me), and you have a complete meal.

Lessons learned- I probably could have flattened  my burger halves more- my burgers came out a little on the thick side (but were still delicious). I probably also should have used two slabs of cheese per burger- they were cheesy, but could've gone to the next level. As I mentioned before- you really need to make sure you seal your edges very well. My first two had no visible seam, but still pulled open on the grill (but not so bad that I had a burger meltdown)- so keep working the edges beyond what you think is enough.

So the idea of a stuffed burger opens up worlds of possibilities- different cheeses, things like grilled onions and garlic, and, of course, bacon. Explore at will, but keep in mind to respect your ingredients, and not go too crazy changing too many things at once- the original is a classic for a reason- it's good, very good. Respect that as you experiment and you'll have a lot of great burgers as your reward!


  1. oh that looks awesome! I'd love to stick a laughing cow wedge in the middle.

  2. The main lesson I learned from this venture was that I didn't use nearly enough cheese... they still came out great, but I could've easily packed in at least twice as much cheese, so your laughing cow idea is right on track- any cheese, or combo of cheeses can work, it's all up to your own creativity and imagination. If I do it again, I'll also want to use the old diner trick of covering the burger with a bowl an hitting it with a shot of water or stock to steam it- these are very hard to do without making them well-done- just using the grill unassisted means they either come out too rare in the middle, or well-done. I think the steam trick will give a little more control.