A cheeseburger is a hamburger topped with cheese. Traditionally, the slice of cheese is placed on top of the meat patty, but the burger can include many variations in structure, ingredients, and composition. The cheese is normally added to the cooking hamburger patty shortly before serving, which allows the cheese to melt. As with other hamburgers, a cheeseburger may include toppings, such as lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, or bacon; examples of less common toppings might be spinach or olives.
In fast food restaurants, the cheese used is normally processed cheese, but essentially any other melt-able cheeses may be used instead — common examples would include as cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, blue cheese, and pepper jack. Very soft/wet cheeses that melt poorly — like cream cheese, cottage cheese, or ricotta — are very unusual, and very hard/dry cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano (or its imitation, “parmesan”) would rarely be used in quantities sufficient to be a recognizable topping as opposed to a seasoning.
By the late nineteenth century, the opening of the vast grasslands of the Great Plains to cattle ranching had made it possible for every American to enjoy beef almost daily. Hamburger was one of the cheapest way for even the poorest of Americans to eat beef.
Adding cheese to hamburgers became popular in the late-1920s to mid-1930s, and there are several competing claims as to who created the first cheeseburger. Lionel Sternberger is reputed to have introduced the cheeseburger in 1926 at the age of 16 when he was working as a fry cook at his father’s Pasadena, California sandwich shop, “The Rite Spot”, and “experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger.”
An early example of the cheeseburger appearing on a menu is a 1928 menu for the Los Angeles restaurant O’Dell’s which listed a cheeseburger smothered with chili for 25 cents.
Other restaurants also claim to have invented the cheeseburger. For example, Kaelin’s Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, said it invented the cheeseburger in 1934. One year later, a trademark for the name “cheeseburger” was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado. According to Steak ‘n Shake archives, the restaurant’s founder, Gus Belt, applied for a trademark on the word in the 1930s. Another example of the hamburger invention. “The history of the hamburger appears to be divided into two aspects: the American-type hamburger, with which most people are familiar, and the idea of the hamburger from Hamburg, Germany. The essential difference is in the name and sandwich. Hamburgers may have been inspired in the German city with the profusion of beef from cows in the country terrain. Given the lack of refrigeration, the meat had to be cooked immediately, and the Hamburg beef patties became popular.
The steamed cheeseburger, a variation almost exclusively served in central Connecticut, is believed to have been invented at a restaurant called Jack’s Lunch in Middletown, Connecticut, in the 1930s.
The largest cheeseburger ever made in the world weighed 2,014 pounds (914 kg), “60 pounds [27 kg] of bacon, 50 pounds [22.5 kg] of lettuce, 50 pounds [22.5 kg] of sliced onions, 40 pounds [18 kg] of pickles, and 40 pounds [18 kg] of cheese.” The record was broken by Minnesota’s Black Bear Casino breaking the previous Cheeseburger record 881 pounds (400 kg).
In the United States, National Cheeseburger Day is celebrated annually on 18 September.
The ingredients used to create cheeseburgers follow similar patterns found in the regional variations of hamburgers, although most start with ground beef. Popular regional toppings include bacon, avocado or guacamole, sliced sautéed mushrooms or onions, cheese sauce and/or chilli. Less common ingredients include egg, feta cheese, salsa, jalapeños, and other kinds of chilli peppers, anchovies, slices of ham, mustard, gyros meat, or bologna, horseradish, sauerkraut, pastrami or teriyaki-seasoned beef, tartar sauce, french fries, onion rings, potato chips, a pat of butter, pineapple, and tofu.
A cheeseburger may have more than one patty and/or more than one slice of cheese — it is reasonably common, but by no means automatic, for the number to increase at the same rate with cheese and meat interleaved. A stack of two or more patties follows the same basic pattern as hamburgers: with two patties will be called a double cheeseburger; a triple cheeseburger has three, and while much less common, a quadruple has four.
Sometimes cheeseburgers are prepared with the cheese enclosed within the ground beef, rather than on top. This is sometimes known as a Jucy Lucy.
Another beef-alternative patty has been created by Impossible Foods. In 2016, they created a plant-based patty made from soy that mimics the traditional beef patty.
Traditionally, this dish breaches the kosher laws (Hebrew: כַּשְׁרוּת; kashrut) observed by Judaism as it combines ground beef and cheese. Mixtures of milk and meat (Hebrew: בשר בחלב, basar bechalav, literally “meat in milk”) are prohibited according to Jewish religious law (Hebrew: הלכה; halakha), following a verse in the Book of Exodus in which Jews are forbidden from “boiling a (kid) goat in its mother’s milk” (Exod. 34:26). This prohibition appears again in Deuteronomy. This dietary law sparked controversy in Jerusalem when McDonald’s began opening franchises there that sold cheeseburgers. Since that time, McDonald’s has opened both kosher and non-kosher restaurants in Israel.
In an attempt to provide a “kosher cheeseburger”, a kosher restaurant in New York City created a controversial cheeseburger variation which replaces cheese with soy cheese.