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[Photographs: Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Grilling season is upon us, and for me that means taking awesomely-delicious patty melts off of the stovetop and into the great outdoors. What could go better with juicy ground beef, oozy melty cheese, and sweet caramelized onions than a bit of smoke from a real fire? Ok, perhaps cold beer. But that goes without saying.

The key to cooking a patty melt outdoors is to go hard and fast on the burger, and low and slow on the bread. I know that the purists out there will scoff at the American cheese I chose to use for these guys, and you are certainly welcome to use Swiss, but it's just what I happened to have on hand.

The easiest way to prepare the patty melt is to cook each component separately before assembling everything to let'em meld together. So that means first cooking a few rings of onions (brush'em down with oil, salt and pepper first) until tender and charred, followed by heavy searing of the burger patties (they should be well-charred but still a good 20°F undercooked in their center).

After the patties come off the grill, I place my bread over moderate heat to lightly toast the first side. I then flip the bread, place a slice of cheese on one, add my burger patty, my onions, a second slice of cheese, and top it all with the second slice of bread—and this is key—toasted-side-facing-in.

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This extra side of toasting accomplishes two goals. First, it adds an extra level of charred, smoky flavor, but more importantly, it gives the cheese a head start on melting for ultimate goo-factor.

Slow cooking over a moderately cool section of the grill allows the burger patty in the center to gently come up to its final temperature as the exterior of the sandwich toasts. Meanwhile, the cheese and onions melt into each other and all over the bread and meat, fusing the sandwich into a glorious whole. Remember: A patty melt is not just cheese, burger, and onion on bread—it must come together into a coherent package to achieve its true potential.

Head to the recipe for more precise instructions »

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