A grilled cheese sandwich should never let you down. It should be crispy and toasted on the outside and gooey with cheese in the middle. It should hold together with integrity whether you're nibbling at the corners or dunking it into tomato soup. If it doesn't immediately make you relax a little farther in your chair, then it's not doing its job.
The perfect grilled cheese sandwich is a pursuit that has consumed many of us. Here is our contribution to the quest.
A grilled cheese sandwich is one of the world's most perfect foods — with good reason. Not only is it the ultimate marriage of bread and cheese, crunch and melt, but it's also one of the simplest, easiest meals ever. It's one of the first foods many of us learn to cook for ourselves and it always rises above whatever ingredients we throw at it. Homemade bread and artisan cheese, week-old grocery store bread and slices of generic brick cheese: it makes no difference. A grilled cheese sandwich is always good.
As such, I firmly believe that the grilled cheese sandwich should stay a simple meal. Over-complicating it just seems silly. If you've never made a grilled cheese before, the steps below will walk you through it. If you're an old pro seeking some new tricks, I have a few thoughts for you to consider:
Grate the Cheese
As someone who hates cleaning the cheese grater, I resisted trying this tip for a long time. And then I tried it. And now I'm convinced.
Grated cheese piled on the bread melts more evenly and more quickly than slices of cheese, thus guaranteeing that the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted in perfect synchrony. You might think that grated cheese would be messier and more of a hassle, but I've actually found (to my surprise) that grated cheese stays much more nicely contained within its toasted cage with less bubbling out the sides.
I've also found that a generous 1/4 cup of grated cheese is plenty for my cheese cravings, though it's certainly possible to stuff more in the sandwich.
Melt the Butter
I recognize that melting the butter in the pan — rather than spreading it directly onto the bread — is a bit of a controversial choice. There are good arguments for both, but for me, it really boils down to impatience.
I keep my butter in the fridge and it tends to tear the slices of bread if I try to spread it on right away. Waiting for it to soften requires either patience or fore-planning, neither of which are usually part of the agenda when hit with a grilled cheese craving. I find it just as easy, and just as effective, to melt the butter in the pan and rub each piece of bread in the melted butter before assembling the sandwich.
But no judgment — if you prefer buttering your bread over melting it in the pan, you'll get no grief from me. I salute either your readiness with softened butter and (or) your superior patience.
Cover the Pan
If you suffer from Slow Melting Syndrome, this tip is going to change everything. Slow Melting Syndrome is when outer crust perfection is achieved before the sandwiched cheese has adequately melted. Part of the solution is grating your cheese, but the other part is covering the pan while the sandwich toasts.
By covering the pan with a lid, you concentrate the heat and coerce the cheese into melting a little more quickly. The bread, in contact with the hot pan, toasts at the same rate. To avoid any potential sogginess from steam trapped under the lid, I leave the top off the sandwich, cover the pan until the cheese is melted, then add the top and finish the sandwich as usual, uncovered. Works like a charm.
Grilled cheese sandwiches really are some of the best stuff on earth, no matter how you make the magic happen. What's your method? Any tricks to share? What are some of your favorite cheese + toasty bread combos?
A grilled cheese sandwich is the ultimate marriage of bread and cheese, crunch and melt, but it's also one of the simplest, easiest meals ever.
How To Make A Fantastic Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Makes 1 sandwich
What You Need
2 slices bread
1 tablespoon butter
Generous 1/4 cup grated cheese, like cheddar, monterey jack, or any other melting chees
Skillet, large enough to fit your sandwich (non-stick, stainless steel, or cast iron)
Lid, which can be the actual skillet lid or another pan's lid or a handy baking sheet
Melt the butter in the skillet: Place the skillet over medium heat and add the butter. Let the butter melt completely. When the butter begins to sizzle, that means your pan is hot enough for the sandwich. Spread the butter around the middle of the pan with the spatula.
Rub the bread in the butter: Rub the bread in the melted butter. You only need to rub one side, but if you do both, I won't tell. Remove one of the slices and keep it close by.
Pile the cheese on the bread: Pile the grated cheese in an even layer over the entire surface of the bread. It's ok to go right up to the edge.
Cover the pan: Cover the pan with a lid. Let the cheese melt until it's almost entirely melted, but you can still see some distinct cheese pieces, 2 to 3 minutes.
Top the sandwich and flip: Uncover the pan and top the sandwich with the other piece of bread (buttered side out). Squish slightly so the top adheres to the melted cheese. Flip the sandwich over.
Continue cooking until both sides are toasted: Let the sandwich cook on the other side until toasted golden brown, another 1 to 2 minutes. If the first side wasn't as toasty as you like, flip the sandwich again and toast until golden brown.
Transfer to plate: Transfer the sandwich to a plate, cut in half, and eat immediately.
Grilled Sandwich Variations:
Olive Oil Grilled Cheese: Replace the butter with olive oil.
Grilled Cheese with Frozen Bread: If you keep your bread frozen, partially toast it before assembling the grilled cheese. Cambria, our Design Editor, swears by toasting frozen slices completely, until golden, and then making the grilled cheese.
Ham & Cheese: A timeless combo. I recommend cutting the ham into small squares before mixing it with the cheese — this makes the sandwich easier to eat.
Bacon & Cheese: Basically Ham & Cheese, but...with bacon. Seriously good. Ditto on the advice to break the bacon into bits before assembling. Also, try this with some chopped tomato come summer.
Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese: Along with the cheese, add some caramelized onions. Crazy good.
Three Cheese Sandwich: Grab three random cheeses from your fridge and ask yourself, "Will this melt?"
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(Image credits: Emma Christensen)