Is There A Difference Between A Patty Melt And A Burger?

Is a burger a sandwich? The debate rages on, as heated as the argument about pineapple on pizza or whether drums or flats are the superior chicken wing. The dictionary suggests that a burger may in fact fall under the sandwich category as it defines a sandwich as "two or more slices of bread with a layer or meat, fish, cheese, etc., between them." Yet there are some pretty compelling arguments out there against this philosophy. For example, Wichday, a sandwich shop in Connecticut, makes the case that sandwiches and burgers are different shapes, and sandwiches, unlike burgers, typically don't require cooking.

If you're tormented trying to figure out the right answer here, there is one sandwich-hamburger hybrid that may put your mind at ease or make things even more confusing, depending on how you look at it. Enter the patty melt, a hearty meal invented in the 1950s, several centuries after the first burgers were eaten. What really is the difference between a patty melt and a "true" burger?

Patty melts are sandwich-burger mashups

A patty melt isn't so different from a burger, as a classic patty melt incorporates ground beef, cheese, and onion into a rich meal that you can eat with your hands. However, there are a few distinct qualities that separate a patty melt from its burger brothers. Instead of a circular bun, patty melts are typically made using toasted rye bread, although you could also use sourdough or just regular wheat bread. In between the bread slices, you'll usually see ground beef, caramelized onions, and American cheese — but again, you could also use cheddar, Swiss, provolone, or another meltable cheese. 

A key difference between burger meat and patty melt meat is that the latter is shaped into squares as much as possible to fit on the sandwich bread. And while burgers can go crazy with toppings, adding everything from fried eggs to jalapenos to peanut butter, a patty melt's magic is in its simplicity. You could try adding mushrooms or bell peppers to evoke the taste of a Philly cheesesteak, but more often than not, you'll see this dish in its classic form.

From the outside, a patty melt looks a lot like a grilled cheese sandwich, which adds an asterisk to our original burger-sandwich debate: Is a patty melt a sandwich? It has burger meat and sandwich bread, so it's really open to interpretation here — we'll let you decide.