How to Make a California Cheeseburger

Ever heard of a California cheeseburger? Turns out, different parts of the country have different definitions of a proper Cali burger.

Unsurprisingly, a California cheeseburger is known from coast to coast as a fresh take of the nation’s favorite cookout food. But, if you’ve enjoyed one before, it might surprise you to learn that the definition of a Cali burger is different depending on where you’re eating it. Here’s the scoop.

Before you start, bookmark our favorite California recipes.

East Coast and Midwest

In-N-Out, the iconic burger chain founded in California back in 1948, topped their original cheeseburger with American cheese, crispy lettuce, onions and one tomato slice. McDonald’s, founded the same year, also topped their burger with American cheese—but ketchup, mustard and a pickle were the standard condiments. McDonald’s restaurants spread across the country, and those condiments became standard. Perhaps for this reason, “California cheeseburgers,” outside of the West coast, refer to burgers done up the In-N-Out way, with lettuce, tomato and onion. (You won’t believe how McDonald’s menu has changed over the years.)

The simpler theory is that, in more wintry locales, California is associated with year-round fresh produce, so logically, a California would be topped with fresh veggies.

Test your In-N-Out knowledge!

How to Make an East Coast/Midwestern “California Burger”

  • Prepare hamburgers as usual—here’s how to do that on a stove, grill or broiler
  • Top with a slice of American cheese toward the end of cooking
  • Garnish with a slice of raw onion (red onions for bite, yellow for sweet)
  • Add a thick slice of a ripe beefsteak tomato

Crave a restaurant burger? Here’s how to make the most popular fast food burgers at home.

West Coast

If you’re actually living in California, chances are that your “California burger” looks different. Unsurprisingly, avocado plays a major role on burgers here, as California is the largest grower of avocados in the US. (Here’s a foolproof trick to tell if an avocado is ripe.)

California burgers on the West Coast may include sliced avocados, often with the addition of bacon. You might also see a California burger topped with guacamole—nothin’ wrong with that, either. We’d suggest adding a pinch of cayenne and paprika to the ground beef to add a bit of heat and flavor.

How to Make a West Coast “California Burger”

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Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.