How to Make Grilled Cheese

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Learn how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich on the stovetop! I’ll show you a few simple techniques for gourmet results that will put big smiles on the faces of both kids and adults.

How to make grilled cheese sandwich

Best grilled cheese recipe

When done correctly, a classic grilled cheese sandwich has the perfect contrast between crunchy bread exterior and creamy melted cheese filling. It’s one of those fast and easy meals to serve picky eaters. But when paired with (and dipped in) a big bowl of tomato soup, it’s the ultimate adult comfort food.

To satisfy our immediate cravings, the misconception is to crank up the heat and get the cheese melted fast! However, it’s quite the opposite. To make sure the bread gets evenly toasted and the middle completely gooey, patience and low heat is the answer. Melted butter also helps with crispness, but not too much otherwise you’ll get greasy results. Ready to go over the science behind making this well-loved sandwich at home?

slices of cheese, bread, and butter on a table

The best cheese to use

My top choice is sharp cheddar cheese because its combination of firmness and flavor. This cheese has a solid structure that holds together and stretches nicely when heated, and during its aging process, it undergoes complex flavor development as it ripens. Other fallback options with similar firm characteristics are swiss cheese, gruyere, gouda, Monterey jack, pepper jack, and mozzarella.

Plastic wrapped American cheese is a convenient choice, although it’s flavor tends to be saltier. Kids usually don’t mind, but this may turn off some adults. Soft and spreadable brie while delicious, can get a bit greasy when melted. For a stronger flavored sandwich, you can sprinkle on Parmesan or blue cheese in combination with one of the mild-flavored firm cheeses.

person brushing melted butter on a slice of white bread

How much cheese to use

I find that using at least 2 thick slices, about ⅛ to ¼-inch max, of sharp cheddar provides just the right ratio of cheese-to-bread. If the slices are any thicker, it’ll affect the melt time. If using a block of cheese, you can grate or shred it to make an even layer, although it will melt quicker than slices.

When placing the cheese on top of the unbuttered side of the bread, leave a little bit of space along the edges so the cheese doesn’t spew over, unless you like a little bit of fried cheese on the edges.

Bread selection

There’s really no wrong answer here on the variety, you just want to make sure your bread slices are about ½ to ¾-inch thick. For a gourmet look, I like big slices of homemade white bread or whole wheat.

Alternatively, sweet brioche or Hawaiian bread nicely complement gouda, but the sugars inside brown quicker. Squaw bread sweetened with molasses is tasty with brie, gruyere, or swiss cheese. Sourdough pairs well with a spicy pepper jack or smoked gouda.

two slices of cheddar cheese placed on a slice of bread

What pan to use

I prefer to use my cast iron skillet as it maintains a consistent heat better and gives a superior crispy surface. A nonstick skillet works well and prevents sticking if using sweeter types of bread. In either case, you want to use very moderate heat for making the sandwiches, about medium-low or low if the bread is toasting too quickly.

Melted butter is a must!

The key to an evenly-greased and toasted bread is to brush the top and bottom of the sandwich with melted butter. You can microwave the butter and easily brush the liquid on each slice. This allows you to control how much of the fat is applied so it doesn’t get too soggy.

Do this step right before adding to the preheated pan. If you have salted butter, that would enhance the flavor further. The milk solids in the butter transform into nutty, deep golden brown hues when gently heated and this elevates the taste and texture.

grilled cheese sandwich cooking in a cast iron skillet

Frying in extra butter

If you like extra crispy bread and a little more grease, you can add some butter to the pan to fry the grilled cheese. Just watch for the browning of the butter solids, you don’t want that to become burnt. If this happens, wipe the pan clean if needed, and in between batches when making more than two sandwiches.

Some fancy add-ins

If you want to take your sandwich to the next level, here are a few options to try. Caramelized onions balance savory and sweet, freshly chopped herbs, sauteed shallots and garlic, or thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes. Spread some fresh pesto sauce, sundried tomato spread, or whole-grain Dijon mustard inside before toasting. If you have some bacon jam, use it!

crispy toasted bread

Tasty food pairings

Alternative fats you can use

You can substitute mayonnaise for the melted butter. Using a thin layer spread on the bread is all you need. It’s an emulsion made of oil and egg, so it provides enough fat to help crisp the surface. The absence of butter solids prevents it from browning as quickly, so it makes for a good prolonged cooking option. For a healthier alternative and a higher oil smoke point, you can use olive oil instead of butter.

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Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Learn how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich on the stovetop, and understand the science behind the process for truly gourmet results.
Pin Print Review
4.59 from 12 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time20 mins
Servings 2 sandwiches
Course Snack
Cuisine American

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 slices white bread, ½ to ¾-inch thick
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese

Instructions 

  • Melt the butter in a small bowl in 15-second intervals on high power in the microwave, 60 to 75 seconds.
  • Evenly brush melted butter on one side of each slice of bread. Add 1 to 2 slices of cheese between the unbuttered sides of the bread to make a sandwich.
  • Heat a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-low heat, adjusting to low if needed. Once hot, add the sandwiches to the pan. Lightly press down with a spatula, then do not move the sandwich. Cook until the bread is crisp and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Flip the sandwich over, cook until golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Slice diagonally and serve immediately while still warm.

Notes

  • Bread Options: White, whole wheat, squaw, sourdough, or brioche. Cook sweeter breads on low heat as the sugar brown quicker.
  • Cheese Options: Any type of firm, low melting point cheese can be used like cheddar, mozzarella, provalode, swiss, gouda, Monetery Jack, or pepper jack.
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese can be used instead of slices. Use about ½ cup per sandwich.
  • Mayonnaise or olive oil can be used to coat the bread instead of butter.
  • The sandwiches can be fried in some extra butter, however, cook on low heat so the milk solids don't burn. Wipe the pan clean and add fresh butter if making more than two sandwiches.

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Nutrition Facts
Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Amount Per Serving
Calories 408 Calories from Fat 234
% Daily Value*
Fat 26g40%
Saturated Fat 16g80%
Cholesterol 74mg25%
Sodium 643mg27%
Potassium 112mg3%
Carbohydrates 25g8%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 19g38%
Vitamin A 736IU15%
Calcium 534mg53%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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8 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Debbie says

    I have made so far the buttermilk pancakes, sweet potato hash, hollandaise sauce, and the ricotta pancakes …everything has turned out so well and have been good except for the ricotta pancakes. Not sure what went wrong but eager to get it right!

    But love your website and your approach to cooking, and the great cooking tips that help me understand the cooking techniques. Everything has been so delicious!

  2. Laura Barajas says

    I’m reminded of an old Barefoot Contessa episode where she made grilled cheese sandwiches with different cheeses and fillings, then cut them up into small triangles to create a sampler appetizer tray. It would be fun to try something like that with this recipe!

  3. Diane says

    Hi! I do not have a cast iron skillet, but I do have an electric griddle. What temperature do you recommend I use for these? Thanks!

  4. Trena Mccaslin says

    I have been putting butter on the inside of my bread for years. I couldn’t believe the difference it made to do just the outside. I feel silly. Thank yo, my children ask “mom! What’s the difference? Jessica Gavin stopped by. Your awesome. Trena mccaslin of Eureka Ca.

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