Who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese sandwich? There’s something about a hot, pressed sandwich with perfectly crisp, buttery bread and melting, oozing cheese that’s so comforting and nostalgic. When you eat a decadent grilled cheese sandwich, you can’t help but feel completely satisfied and like all is right in the world. However, when you come across a mediocre grilled cheese with soggy bread or cheese that’s not properly melted, it’s wildly disappointing.
To ensure that no one ever has to consume a so-so grilled cheese sandwich again, let’s all step up our grilled cheese game together. With a little patience, a good grater, two slices of thick-cut sourdough, and some simple culinary know-how, you can take your grilled cheese experience to a whole new level. Ready to go there? Here is how to make the world’s best grilled cheese sandwich ever.
In its most basic form, the grilled cheese is three humble ingredients: bread, cheese, and butter. If you’re making this type of simple sandwich, in order for it to be delectable, you must use the best quality ingredients you can afford. A good sliced sourdough, a hearty whole-wheat, or a crusty ciabatta are ideal. Sliced Wonder white bread is okay in a pinch, but if you’re going to make the best grilled cheese, a sophisticated grown-up style sandwich, you must use a crustier bread. Pumpernickel, pullman bread, English muffins, and flavored breads—lemon rosemary, olive, walnut—are other great options.
Make it: This recipe for grilled ham and cheese with strawberry red-wine jam uses 1/4-inch thick slices of brioche.
For a grilled cheese to be successful, you must use some sort of melting cheese. Certain types of cheese melt better than others. Mozzarella, fontina, gruyére, American, cheddar, taleggio, and brie are excellent melting cheeses. Crumbly cheese, like feta, and hard cheese, such as parmesan and pecorino, don’t melt properly.
However, you don’t have to disregard these cheeses from your grilled cheese repertoire. A non-melting cheese can be paired with a melting cheese to make a delightful combination grilled cheese sandwich. Therefore, once you consider the melting properties of the cheese, move on to its flavor. A grilled cheese with just mozzarella may be a little bland, as mozzarella is a mild, somewhat flavorless cheese. But a grilled cheese with mozzarella and parmesan will be scrumptious. The duo work together on pizza, so why not in a grilled cheese sandwich, too?
To ensure that the melting cheese is properly melted, it’s crucial that you take the time to grate the cheese. You may be tempted to simply slice it, but I assure you that grating the cheese will result in a better sandwich where the cheese is evenly melted.
Make it: This vegan recipe for harissa-spiced chickpea avocado grilled cheese sandwiches uses homemade macadamia nut cheese.
There is an art to building a stellar grilled cheese sandwich. Think of the cheese as the glue that holds the sandwich together. It melts and sticks to the bread, keeping whatever else is inside the sandwich inside. When layering the sandwich, spread a thin layer of room temperature butter (or mayonnaise—some people like to use mayonnaise) on one side of one slice of bread. Place butter side down on a cutting board. Top with cheese. Spread a thin layer of butter or mayo on one side of the other slice of bread. Top the cheese with this piece of bread, butter side out. If you are adding any extras, like shaved ham or caramelized onions, be sure to place it in the middle of the sandwich, so layer it like this: bread, cheese, ham and onions, cheese, bread.
Make it: This recipe for slow-roasted tomato, bacon, and chipotle mayo grilled cheese assembles the sandwiches like so—bread, mayo, cheese, bacon, tomato, cheese, mayo, bread.
Patience is required to cook a good grilled cheese. The technique that I use comes from cheese expert Laura Werlin. I learned the proper procedure from her years ago at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. It’s also detailed in her book, Grilled Cheese, Please! one of the few cookbooks that actually changed my life for the better, one grilled cheese at a time. Here’s how she says to make a grilled cheese.
Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat for about two minutes. You want the pan to be warm when you add the sandwich. Place the assembled sandwich in the pan and cover with a lid. Covering the pan will help the cheese melt—don’t skip this step! Cook for three to four minutes, remove the lid, and flip the sandwich. Press down with a spatula. Cover and cook for two more minutes. Turn the sandwich once more, press with the spatula, and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove from the pan. Let rest for two minutes. Slice and enjoy immediately. It may seem a little complicated, but once you’ve made a couple of sandwiches this way, you will never use any other method again.
Make it: This recipe for Mediterranean grilled cheese with pesto, roasted red peppers, and provolone is slow-cooked to ensure the cheese melts properly.
Although a perfect grilled cheese can be just bread and cheese, for a truly grown-up variation experiment with additions. Deli meats like prosciutto, salami, and turkey will make a sandwich heartier, while ingredients like pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, add flavor. Vegetables—such as fresh tomatoes and basil in summer and sautéed mushrooms and spinach in winter—are also welcome in a grilled cheese sandwich.
Don’t forget about the outside of the bread, too. For a super crispy exterior, mix some parmesan cheese with the room temperature butter before you spread on the outside of the bread. You can do the same thing with blue cheese to add a pungent flavor. In one of her most genius recipes, Werlin mixes crushed tortilla chips with the butter before spreading it on the outside of the bread. It results in a crunchy sandwich with a Tex-Mex inspired twist.
Make it: Here are three recipes that all feature different extras—a sweet grilled cheese with fontina, blueberry jam, apple, and basil, super sharp cheddar cheese, with egg and spinach, and caramelized onions and gouda.
The possibilities are endless, so get creative. Roasted asparagus, goat cheese, and fontina on lemon rosemary bread? Why not?! Pancetta, provolone, and roasted red peppers on olive bread? Delish! Brie, smoked turkey, and gruyére on croissants? Sounds divine. Other ideas: sautéed kale with sun-dried tomatoes and havarti on whole-grain, pepper Jack, roasted poblanos, and goat cheese on sourdough, and shallots, gouda, and pepper turkey on pullman.
Make it: In this recipe, pesto, gouda, and sourdough come together to make one tasty sandwich.
What is the best grilled cheese sandwich you've ever had? Tell me what made it so memorable below.