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.
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When done correctly, a classic grilled cheese sandwich has the perfect contrast between a crunchy bread exterior and a 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 your immediate cravings, the misconception is to crank up the heat and get the cheese melted fast! However, it’s quite the opposite. To ensure the bread gets evenly toasted and the middle completely gooey, patience and low heat are 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?
The best cheese for grilled cheese
My top choice is sharp or mild cheddar cheese because it combines flavor and cheese pull. This cheese has a solid structure that holds together and stretches 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 its 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.
How much cheese to use
I find that using at least two thick slices, about ⅛ to ¼-inch max, of sharp cheddar provides the correct 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.
There’s no wrong answer here on the variety for this grilled cheese recipe. You just want to ensure your slice of bread is about ½ to ¾-inch thick. I like big slices of homemade white bread or whole wheat bread for a gourmet look.
Alternatively, sweet brioche or Hawaiian bread nicely complements aged gouda, but the sugars inside brown more 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.
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 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 consistency is to brush the side of each slice of bread that will be in contact with the pan with melted butter. You can microwave the butter and quickly brush the liquid on each slice. This allows you to control how much fat is applied, so it doesn’t get too soggy. Softened butter can also be used to spread on the bread instead.
Do this step right before adding the bread, butter side down, to the preheated pan. If you have salted butter, that will enhance the flavor further. The milk solids in the butter transform into nutty, deep golden brown hues when gently heated, which elevates the taste and texture. Cook the bread and cheese in a skillet over medium-low heat until golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on color changes!
Frying in extra butter
If you like extra crispy bread and a little more richness, you can add some butter to the pan to fry the grilled cheese. Just watch for the browning of the butter solids when you flip the sandwich. 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. Clarified butter, like ghee can be used instead to avoid bitter notes form developing.
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, red pepper flakes, or thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes. Spread fresh pesto sauce, sundried tomato spread, or whole-grain Dijon mustard inside before toasting. If you have some bacon jam, use it!
Tasty food pairings
- Dip it in a hot bowl of tomato soup.
- Serve it with some crispy baked potato wedges or sweet potato fries.
- A fresh green salad with balsamic dressing.
- Homemade Caesar salad.
Both can be used. However, I prefer butter as a better-tasting choice for grilled cheese. It adds a buttery flavor to the sandwich, and the milk solids are lightly brown to add a nutty taste and aroma. Mayonnaise contains oil and eggs that will crisp the surface but will have a slight egg-like taste.
Absolutely! Gently toasting the greased slices of bread ensures a consistent crispy texture on both sides. This also allows the cheese to melt fully.
Yes, other types of neutral-tasting fats can be used, like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or a thin layer of mayonnaise. If you want to skip adding fat, make the grilled cheese sandwich recipe on a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet. However, the surface will be drier.
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, providing 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
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4 slices white bread, ½ to ¾-inch thick
- 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
- Melt the Butter – In a small bowl, add the butter and use 15-second intervals on high power in the microwave, 60 to 75 seconds. Evenly brush the melted butter on one side of each slice of bread.
- Add the Cheese – Add 1 to 2 slices of cheese between the unbuttered sides of the bread to make a sandwich.
- Cook First Side – 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 Sandwich – Flip and cook until golden brown, and the cheese is melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Cut & Serve – Slice diagonally and serve immediately while still warm.
- Bread Options: White, whole wheat, squaw, sourdough, or brioche. Cook sweeter pieces of bread on low heat as the sugar brown quicker.
- Cheese Options: Any type of firm, low melting point cheese can be used, like cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, swiss, gouda, Monterey Jack, or pepper jack.
- Using Shredded Cheese: 1 cup of shredded cheese can be used instead of slices. Use about ½ cup per sandwich.
- Using Extra 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.
- Butter Alternative: Mayonnaise or olive oil can be used to coat the bread instead of butter.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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