The Meat Tip For Making A Bodega-Worthy Chopped Cheese At Home

Whether you were born and raised in New York City or you've simply admired the destination from afar, you've probably heard that the city is home to some of the best foods in the world. From the distinct flavor of its bagels to the iconic slice of floppy, cheesy pizza, NYC is a foodie's heaven. Even in the city's corner stores, referred to as "bodegas," you can get your hands on a local delicacy wrapped in tin foil: the chopped cheese.

When you order a chopped cheese at a bodega, be prepared for a less-than-typical sandwich experience. Unlike traditional sandwiches that layer meat, cheese, and veggies on top of one another, a chopped cheese mixes all its sandwich contents together for a perfectly even bite every time. While this concoction may sound similar to a Philly cheesesteak, a chopped cheese is most closely related to a burger based on its ingredients. The taste, however, is uniquely distinct. 

If you don't have any plans for a trip to the Big Apple anytime soon, do not worry. You can whip up your very own chopped cheese right at home, although there are a few things to keep in mind. Anyone can chop up the contents of their sandwich and call it a chopped cheese. But if you want to recreate an authentic sandwich that rivals one you would order at a bodega, make sure to pay attention to what type of ground beef you are using.

You don't need to travel to NYC to enjoy this unique sandwich

A typical bodega-style chopped cheese consists of ground beef, American cheese, and onions. All the ingredients are chopped, mixed together on a hot griddle, and sandwiched into a Cuban roll topped with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayo. While out shopping for your DIY chopped cheese, make sure to add 80/20 ground beef to your shopping list. This means there is 80% lean meat and 20% fat in your ground beef mixture, which is ideal for cooking. With this percentage of fat, your meat will cook nicely without the addition of supplemental fats such as butter or oil. Then, form your 80/20 ground beef into patties; this is the best way to render fat without drying out your meat. After the patty has been fried for a few minutes on each side, you can begin to chop it up and mix in your onions and cheese.

Another hurdle you may run into when preparing your DIY chopped cheese is where to cook it. Most people don't have the luxury of cooking on a flat-top griddle in their home kitchen the way bodegas prepare their hot sandwiches. Luckily, a large skillet or cast iron will get the job done, as long as you have enough room to chop up your meat and veggie contents well with a spatula.

Harlem is the birthplace of the chopped cheese

The chopped cheese has gained popularity in recent years as food trucks and local sandwich shops have introduced the sandwich to hungry foodies across America, but the most authentic ones can still be found in Harlem. While upper Manhattan is most widely recognized for its innovations in food, music, and Black culture, the historic neighborhood is also known as the birthplace of the chopped cheese. The exact origins of the chopped cheese are still up for debate, but most agree that Hajji's in Harlem put the chopped cheese on the map. The New York Times reported that long-time bodega employee Carlos Soto invented the sandwich in the 1990s. Fellow employees have multiple theories about why Soto created the chopped cheese, ranging from a desire to fit a cheeseburger onto a hero roll to his struggles with chewing tough foods.

As the chopped cheese's popularity continues to rise, so does its price. What was once a $5 well-kept local secret has become a stop on many tourists' checklists. Locals have become frustrated at expensive, gourmet-style chopped cheeses that artisanal shops have begun offering — food critic and TikToker Keith Lee shocked New Yorkers when he visited the food capital and ordered a salmon chopped cheese. One TikToker responded, "Salmon and chop cheese don't even belong in the same sentence." Whether you order a chopped cheese in NYC or recreate the sandwich at home, be sure to ask for 80/20 ground beef, not fish.