I never really had the grandparent experience. My mom’s parents both died in a car accident long before I was born and while I knew my dad’s parents, they were much older and my grandma had Alzheimer’s for most of the time I knew her. But I did have the most fantastic next-door neighbor. Her name was Mrs. Miner and she used to let me hang out at her house and talk her ear off and she would make me grilled cheese sandwiches. This might not sound like a big deal, but my mom made “grilled cheese sandwiches” in the microwave (my mom was a lot of things, but a grilled-cheese-sandwich-maker she was not.) And later, after my mom died, my step-mom made them in the oven.
Those are not acceptable alternatives.
Grilled cheese sandwiches are made in a pan. With butter. Is it something you should eat every day? No. Is it something you should eat sometimes? Yes. But only if it’s made in a pan. With butter.
I didn’t think knowing how to make grilled cheese sandwiches was that big of a deal until recently, I went to a sandwich chain and got their grown-up grilled cheese and it wasn’t right. And I thought maybe it was a fluke, so I ordered it another time and it was still not right. And then I went to a local restaurant that specialized in fancy grilled cheese–all sorts of cheese, caramelized onions, figs and jams and cured meats and pepper jellies. And I thought surely they would get it right, this restaurant that specialized in grilled cheese.
It was still not right. Too greasy, cheese not melted in the middle, bread not toasted right. Now, lest you all think I’m a giant food snob who is unbearably picky, I am really not. I’m usually more than happy to let someone else do the cooking. But. When it comes to grilled cheese, this is a life skill everyone should have, like tying your shoes or riding your bike or knowing how to swim or watching an entire season of a TV show on Netflix in a 24-hour period. If my kids leave the house knowing how to properly make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, I’ll mark that in the “win” column. For each sandwich, you’ll need two slices of bread, about 1 1/2 ounces of cheese (more or less depending on your taste and how indulgent this experience is going to be) and about 2-3 teaspoons of butter.
Let’s talk for a second about the bread. There is a time and a place for fancy ciabattas and focaccias and whole grain breads with nuts and seeds. In my opinion, when it comes to straight-up traditional grilled cheese, you’ve got two options: sliced white and sliced white sourdough. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can venture into Texas Toast territory, which is more of an advanced grilled cheese situation because enough heat has to get through the thick bread to adequately melt the cheese without burning the bread. We’ll discuss that more in a minute.
And then the cheese. Some cheeses are meltier than others. The “sharper” the cheese, the tricker it is to melt it, so when it comes to grilled cheese, I tend to stick to the milder cheeses: mild or medium cheddar, Colby Jack, pepper jack, Havarti, mozzarella, American (the good stuff from behind the deli counter, not the uber-processed cellophane-wrapped single slices). I haven’t had great luck with Swiss, but if you do use it, it pays to spend a little more. Also, I don’t recommend using pre-shredded or pre-sliced cheese (especially the shreds)–they’re often coated in a non-stick powder that makes them melt in less-than-desirable ways.
The next big thing is heat. You want to cook your grilled cheese on the low side. I like to keep things around medium on the stovetop or 300 degrees F if I’m using an electric skillet. Basically, it needs to be hot enough to melt the cheese and create a nice, toasty exterior without being so hot that it burns the bread (while leaving the cheese un-melted). If it’s not hot enough, the butter will melt and the bread will get soggy and the cheese will half-heartedly melt and then solidify. And no one wants that.
Cookware. While I have a lot of opinions on all things grilled cheese, I don’t actually have a preference on what kind of pan to use; cast iron is always a great choice and you don’t have to worry about sticking. Stainless steel might cause some sticking if you’re not careful, but it will also help create a crispier crust. I usually just grab a non-stick pan or use my non-stick electric skillet because they’re easily accessible and we always wind up with delightful results.
Ready to get started? Heat a skillet or griddle to medium heat (about 300 degrees if you’re using an electric skillet.) Butter one side of each slice of bread.
There’s some discussion about toasting both sides of the bread (like buttering both sides, toasting one side, flipping the bread, placing the cheese on the toasted side, yada yada yada)–some people swear by it–but I tried it and it all felt too greasy and it didn’t taste different enough to make it worth the effort or the extra calories. HOWEVER. I think this would be a good method if you’re using a thick bread like Texas Toast.
Place the cheese evenly on top of one un-buttered side,
then top with another slice of bread, butter-side up.
When the skillet is hot, carefully place each sandwich on the skillet. Cook until the cheese is starting to get melty,
the butter is smelling caramel-y, and the bread on the skillet side is golden brown.
Using a pancake turner or spatula, carefully flip the sandwich.
(the one on the bottom right-hand corner is perfectly toasted…the others are a little underdone, but I can give them more time later.)
Cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is completely melted (the cheese around the edges will look dark and oily right before it’s ready, then it will suddenly turn very light when it’s ready.
(this cheese is not ready)
Also, if you pick up the top piece of bread, you’ll be able to feel that the cheese is melted through and holding the sandwich together.
Cut each sandwich in half diagonally and you should probably serve it with creamy tomato or roasted red pepper soup. This creamy tomato soup and this roasted sweet corn and tomato soup are both fantastic options, and we also have a roasted red pepper and tomato soup in our latest cookbook that is one of my FAVORITES.
- Sliced white or sourdough bread
- Softened butter
- Cheese of your choice, preferably NOT pre-sliced unless using American cheese; good choices include medium or mild cheddar, colby jack, pepper jack, American (the good-quality stuff from the deli counter at the grocery store), Havarti, and mozzarella. Good quality Swiss will melt, but sometimes this can be hit or miss--spend a little more for the good stuff.
- For each sandwich, you'll need two slices of bread, about 1 1/2 ounces of cheese (more or less depending on your taste and how indulgent this experience is going to be) and about 2-3 teaspoons of butter.
- Heat a skillet or griddle to medium heat (about 300 degrees if you're using an electric skillet.) Butter one side of each slice of bread.* Place the cheese evenly on top of one un-buttered side, then top with another slice of bread, butter-side up.
- When the skillet is hot, carefully place each sandwich on the skillet. Cook until the cheese is starting to get melty, the butter is smelling caramel-y, and the bread on the skillet side is golden brown.
- Using a pancake turner or spatula, carefully flip the sandwich. Cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is completely melted (the cheese around the edges will look dark and oily right before it's ready, then it will suddenly turn very light when it's ready; also, if you pick up the top piece of bread, you'll be able to feel that the cheese is melted through and holding the sandwich together. Cut each sandwich in half diagonally and you should probably serve it with creamy tomato or roasted red pepper soup.
- *If you're using thick sliced bread, butter both sides of the bread. Toast one side of both slices, flip one side over, and while the other side is toasting, add the cheese and top with the other slice of bread, toasted side facing the cheese, then flip when ready.
- If you don't have any soft butter ready, you can take a stick of cold butter and rub it generously into the hot pan before adding then bread, then again as you flip the sandwiches.
- If you want to add things in, these are a few of my favorites. If you're using something big or substantial like lunch meat or tomato slices, put a slice of bread on each side to hold the sandwich together.
- *Tomato slices
- *Pickle slices
- *Deli ham, turkey, or roast beef