It’s Time to Perfect the Jucy Lucy, America’s Beloved Molten Cheeseburger
Chef Mike DeCamp of Jester Concepts in Minneapolis shares his take on the Twin Cities staple
Across this great country of ours, there are certain regions that are synonymous with a particular sandwich that originated there: the cheesesteak in Philadelphia, the Italian beef in Chicago, the lobster roll in Maine (or Connecticut, depending on whom you ask).
Another item that divides opinions? Minnesota’s famous cheese-stuffed Jucy Lucy hamburger (which is spelled with an”i” by some establishments), which has been dealing with a rightful-ownership controversy for decades. Located about three miles apart on Cedar Avenue South in south Minneapolis, Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club both claim to be the birthplace of the cheese-stuffed burger, with the former spelling it without an extra vowel and the latter spelling it how Webster’s would.
Chef Mike DeCamp of Jester Concepts in Minneapolis, who grew up outside the Twin Cities and had his first Jucy Lucy when he was 16 or so at Matt’s, has heard rumblings that a third restaurant, The Nook in St. Paul, also lays claim to creating the cheese-and-beef concoction.
“We hear stories up here. As far as the history goes, it was either invented at Matt’s Bar, the 5-8 or The Nook,” DeCamp tells InsideHook. “People have a favorite and are either in one category or the other. It’s like loving your sports team, you know?”
While he isn’t the biggest fan of the 5-8, DeCamp puts Matt’s and The Nook on equal footing.
“I’m going to get a lot of shit for this if people come across it and I think the grind in the beef is a little different, but I don’t really see a huge difference,” he says. “They’re both delicious and I would eat both of them right now if they were in front of me. I can tell there’s a difference with the 5-8. I prefer the other two better. Those two are my go-tos.”
Though its conception is somewhat complicated, the Jucy Lucy is a relatively simple sandwich that, whether made in St. Paul or Minneapolis, is beloved by every grillmaster who calls the Gopher State home.
“You stick close to your traditions,” DeCamp says. “It’s such a simple thing. Generally, hamburgers or cheeseburgers are really only seasoned on the outside. The best part of a Jucy Lucy is that the cheese kind of seasons the inside of the meat and gets it a little salty. There’s a pocket of cheese on the inside that doesn’t melt off the top or stick to the bun or anything like that. There is, for lack of a better term, cheese lava on the inside. You can dip your fries in that cheese. You can’t do that with a regular cheeseburger.”
There’s also a local secret for eating the gooey creation that will save you from bodily harm.
“It is exceptionally hot, so you’re going to burn your face a little bit the first time you eat a Jucy Lucy. That’s part of the experience, I think,” DeCamp says. “But after you’ve had a couple of them, someone will tell you the secret: take a bite and then just hold the sandwich for a bit. Let it cool off on the inside before you eat the rest. You have to open it up to let it breathe a little bit. That’s the secret.”
Feel like putting the secret to the test? DeCamp’s Jucy Lucy recipe is below.
Chef Mike DeCamp’s Jucy Lucy
- 2 pounds ground beef portioned into 4-oz portions (I like 50/50 brisket/sirloin blend)
- 8 slices of your favorite cheese
- 4 buns of your choice (I prefer a brioche-style)
- 2 cups shredded lettuce
- 4T butter
- Salt and pepper
- Shaved red onion
- Garlic aioli (your favorite recipe)
- For the patty, you will ideally need a patty press and some parchment paper cut into four six-inch squares. If you have to, use your hands to make patties as best you can.
- In your patty press, press all of the four-ounce portions, between parchment paper, to a thickness of a ½ inch.
- Place one of the patties on a new piece of parchment paper and break up one slice of cheese, I like to fold them in half, then in half again, and place the cheese into the center of the bottom patty.
- Place another patty on top and then top with another piece of parchment paper and press in the patty press. You may need to adjust the thickness of the press a little.
- To cook the Jucy Lucy, get a heavy-bottomed pan (I use a cast-iron pan) and heat a little oil over medium heat until very hot.
- Season the Jucy with salt and pepper and begin to cook until a nice crust forms, 3-4 minutes.
- Flip the Jucy and cook for 3-4 more minutes.
- Top with another slice of cheese (this is not necessary but I like extra cheese) and let the cheese melt. Then transfer the Jucy to a cooling rack.
- Wipe out the pan and add the butter and toast the buns. Once the buns are toasted, you are ready to assemble.
- I like to begin with the heel of the bun, then I add the aioli, then the Jucy, shaved onion, lettuce and finally the crown on the bun. This recipe should serve four.
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