If you’re not familiar with the Jucy Lucy (or Juicy Lucy), let me introduce you. A Juicy Lucy is a cheeseburger, with cheese inside of the burger, instead of on top of it, two ground beef patties sealed around a small stack of cheese. Your days of eating plain old, not-stuffed-with-cheese burgers may be over. This is Minnesota’s claim to fame!
The rivalry behind the Jucy Lucy
There’s a war going on in south Minneapolis between two rivals. The only weapon is an endless dribble of scalding hot cheese. For half a century, these two bars on Cedar Avenue South have claimed to make the original, and best, Juicy Lucy.
While both sides were racking up supporters and media attention, their ooey-gooey burgers became as intrinsic to Minnesota food culture as hotdish.
The two Minneapolis dive bars, Matt’s bar and the 5-8 club, claim to have invented the Juicy Lucy, the legendary cheese-stuffed burger. They have been battling over this famous burger since the 1950s.
Minnesotans love to go to a dark dive bar and eat something it’s known for, something fun and something that will potentially burn your face, there’s an element of risk. The Juicy Lucy is the latest over-the-top dish, and perhaps one of the reasons why the burger is so well known beyond the Minnesotan border is because of the Matt’s Bar and 5-8 Club rivalry. It’s been featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food”, and President Barack Obama unofficially chose a side when he stopped in to Matt’s for a Jucy Lucy and fries in 2014.
People will often stop in to both eateries in the same day to compare. The super ambitious also add to their Juicy Lucy tour, The Nook in St. Paul, and the Blue Door Pub with three locations in the Twin Cities. It seems the dispute comes down to two points: who invented the Juicy Lucy, and which one is better. On the first point, Matt’s Bar has a better story.
History of the Jucy Lucy
Back in 1954, as a neighborhood eatery, a regular customer ordered a cheeseburger from Matt’s bar, now a Minneapolis landmark. The customer asked owner Matt Bristol to put the cheese on the inside instead of on top. Bristol obliged, and when the customer bit in and got a face full of molten cheese, he exclaimed, “Wow, that’s one Juicy Lucy!”
The burger was a hit and landed on the bar’s menu — though misspelled as “jucy” because customer demand grew so quickly.
At Matt’s, the burgers are cooked on a tiny grill wedged in behind the bar, on the same top as a heaping mound of caramelizing onions that lend their smell and a little slick of grease to everything in the dark living-room-like bar. Even if you don’t order the onions on your burger, you get the essence of it. The American-cheese-only Jucy Lucys are served simply, on a bun with pickles. And that’s it.
At 5-8, the larger and cheesier burgers have a little more room to themselves on the kitchen’s griddle. There, the cooks get creative with toppings and fillings. A Thanksgiving Juicy Lucy is a turkey burger filled with stuffing. An experimental concoction is stuffed with peanut butter and jelly. The classics, filled with either American, Swiss, pepper jack or bleu cheese, can be piled high with bacon, onion rings and house-made barbecue sauce. 5-8 were definitely the first ones to innovate.
As for which one is better, that’s up to the fans. Both restaurants use a fatty grind of beef, and the grease mixes in with the cheese in the center to create a liquid cheesy, meaty sauce. Both season with nothing more than salt and pepper. It’s the simplicity of the Jucy Lucy. It was made up before all the fancy things that go into a burger today.
Being a fellow Minnesotan, of course I ventured out to both these iconic places to taste the burgers first hand. Unlike every other food served in a restaurant, the Jucy Lucy comes with a warning not to eat it. At least not at first. “You know you need to wait a minute or two,” my waitress at Matt’s Bar said when she put the burgers down. “Or you’ll get burned.”
I heard the same thing a few days later at the 5-8 Club, after ordering the correctly spelled Juicy Lucy. “Give it a little time before you bite,” said the server, winking. “Or it’ll bite back.”
The Jucy Lucy (or Juicy Lucy) is a South Minneapolis creation, a burger style unique to the Gopher state. Possibly because the only warm things in Minnesota are traditionally stuffed inside of other things, it involves essentially combining two thin patties around a ball of American cheese and sealing the corners, so that when the burger is cooked, the cheese inside gets melty and gooey and explodes into your mouth when you break through.
While I can’t say which the better of the two is, a few things to consider when you are making your own Jucy Lucy at home is:
The Cheese in the Jucy Lucy
You don’t want anything fancy. Use American cheese, the not-quite-cheese that melts like no other. The American cheese in a Juicy Lucy should be melted all the way through and get a little bit messy when you bite into it. It’s that moment when you bite into the burger, revealing a cascading river of dairy that seems to only exist in slow motion, that the joy of a Juicy Lucy becomes visible.
The Beef in the Jucy Lucy
The patties present the largest possibility for error in the Juicy Lucy equation. To start, they have to be beef patties, and they have to be well-seasoned. There’s nothing more disappointing than good but under-seasoned ground beef, and adding more cheese won’t distract from that.
Then there’s the griddle technique. A deep sear is crucial for a Juicy Lucy. The sear provides some crunchy, textural variety, making the burger more interesting to eat.
The Toppings in the Jucy Lucy
Since we’re not putting cheese on top of the patty, a Juicy Lucy looks pretty barren. But that’s the way it should be. Our focus is on the simplicity of the creation. The topping selection isn’t necessarily about what is best, but what adheres to tradition. A Juicy Lucy is not about an array of toppings. It’s about the execution of the core ingredients.
The Bun in the Jucy Lucy
There is no place for a fancy bun in the Juicy Lucy world. Like the cheese, the bun should not be trying to prove anything. Don’t try to use brioche or ciabatta or sourdough. The bun should be humble and unassuming. Use a bun that is soft and simple that will let the glory of the meat and cheese do the talking. The bun is there to soak up grease and give you something to hold onto.
Now that you have a full arsenal of how to make your best version of a Jucy Lucy, go make your own!
- 2 lb ground beef (preferably chuck)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper , freshly ground
- 4 slices American cheese
- Pickled jalapeño slices
- 4 hamburger buns
- Tomato slices
- Thinly sliced onion
- Place the ground beef in a large bowl and add the Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and mix.
- Divide the beef into 8 equal portions to form 8 patties.
- Cut each slice of American cheese into 4 square pieces (if not already cut).
- Place 1 slice of cheese in the center of each of 4 meat patties. Add 2 to 3 slices of jalapeño peppers to the cheese. Place another meat patty on top and then with your fingers, pinch and seal around the edges, completely enclosing the cheese into 4 burgers.
- Heat a cast iron skillet or a griddle.
- Cook the hamburgers for about 3 minutes on each side to get them rare, and a little more time to get them well done.
- Place the 4 burgers in a dish, cover with aluminum foil and let them rest for 3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, lightly toast the hamburger buns.
- Fill each bun with a Jucy Lucy and add the toppings.