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Choose the Right Cheese to Build a Better Burger

Photo: Brian Woodcock; Styling: Claire Spollen

A key component to an awesome burger, cheeses should be carefully considered in the grilling process. Find out our favorites and the best ways to use them. 

We spend a lot of time talking about how to make a great burger. Whether it's the technique needed to form a proper patty or cooking strategies to make it perfectly succulent, we've seriously got burgers on the brain. While the meat part does matter, there's a key component to many burgers that is often overlooked: cheese.

Let's all agree: those flat squares of processed cheese don't really cut it, so rather than reaching for a package pre-wrapped slices, head over cheese counter and pick out something tasty. Here are a few ideas to guide you:

Semi- Soft Cheese

These cheeses (such as Fontina, Monterey jack, Havarti), are the kings of melting. They're especially creamy when melted because they have a lot of moisture and are easy to just slice and go since they don't have rinds. Fontina brings a nutty flavor to burgers – it's especially good with turkey burgers because it adds an extra depth. Monterey jack is mild and buttery (with a kick if you choose pepper jack) and Havarti is sweet and buttery – try it as a rich addition to lean bison burgers.

Firm and Hard Cheese

Cheeses like Cheddar, Gruyere, Parmesan, and Pecorino work well with all kinds of burgers, from classic beef, to chicken, to veggie versions. Aged Cheddar is bold and tangy, but it won't give you the same creamy melt as a sharp, medium, or mild Cheddar. Gruyere has a salty, nutty flavor. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino can be grated and melted under medium heat or cut into thin shavings (the intense flavor means a little will go a long way) and placed on a patty as soon as it come off the grill. 

Soft Ripened Cheese

These are super soft, sometimes runny, cheeses with a firm outer rind. Look for cheeses like Brie, Taleggio, Camembert, and St. Andre. You can cut a thick slice while the cheese is cold (keep the rind or not) and place on the burger right at the end of cooking to melt. Or at room temperature, remove the rind and spread the soft interior onto a toasted bun.

Fresh Cheese

The milky flavor of fresh cheeses like Mozzarella, goat cheese, Feta, and Ricotta really comes through on burgers. Mozzarella will melt into stretchy strands, with the water-packed kind bringing the most prominent milky flavor. Feta really stands out in this group for its salty, tangy notes. Goat cheese has an almost lemon-like character that cuts through the richness of many burgers. Ricotta is mild: spread it onto the bun, and add a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of black pepper.

Blue Cheeses

Blue cheeses are often very crumbly, but also quite creamy. Depending on the variety, they will have medium to strong pungent tastes. Cheeses like Maytag, Gorgonzola, and Stilton are classics atop burgers. Crumble this cheese onto patties about 1 minute before removing from the grill or pan.

TIP:  Cheese will shred or slice best when cold. To make sure that it doesn't take extra long to melt, let the cheese come to room temperature before adding to burgers.