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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter
- 4 slices white bread, ½ to ¾-inch thick
- 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
- 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.
- 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.