Grilled cheese ranks high in the world of comfort food. A top-notch grilled cheese hits these essentials: ooey, gooey cheese, buttery toasted bread, and—above all—simplicity. The mark of good comfort food is, after all, an ease in preparation. A few ingredients and less than 10 minutes will yield a mighty tasty grilled cheese sandwich.
The beauty of the grilled cheese framework is that it comes with the chance to build and experiment. There is a whole, big, grilled cheese universe out there beyond those sliced white bread and American cheese slabs. Armed with this recipe and our Grilled Cheese Chooser—the basic premise of bread, cheese, fat/oil, and add-ins—you can build an endless variety of soul-satisfying grilled cheese sandwiches. 12,650, to be exact.
Your very first grilled cheese sandwich was probably on simple white sandwich bread, not an artisanal loaf. But that shouldn’t stop you now from mixing things up as you build your way to grilled cheese glory. The bread should be sturdy enough to stand up to a few flips around a skillet and nothing too crumbly. But otherwise, the choice is yours—you may want to stand out with flavor (like a marbled rye bread would) or simply hold space for the other flavors and melting cheese to shine.
The lead actor in this story is certainly the cheese and there is much to consider when deciding what you want for your final product. The ooey, gooey melt of a cheese like American or the sharp bite of a cheddar? Why not both to cover all of the bases? The cheese can also go off the beaten path to roads less traveled in this context, like a goat cheese or a Brie. This element of your sandwich is where the comforting warmth comes in, so pick your dairy wisely, but know that since it is cheese and cheese is delicious, you can't really make a wrong choice here.
In order to garner a crisp, golden brown toast to your bread, some fat is necessary. Butter or mayo can be spread directly on the outside of the bread slices before making it to the pan; while bacon fat or other oils can be warmed in the pan first before sandwich grilling kicks off. This element is essential to that crisp toasted crunch that marks a grilled cheese worth celebrating. Butter and bacon fat will add an extra hit of flavor, while other choices will simply aid in even-browning and toasting.
Grilled cheese purists can skip this step, but the inclusion of a little something extra is what sets your tasty invention apart from a just-your-average grilled cheese. These add-ins can be something that lends contour to a flavor profile—like a schmear of garlicky fresh pesto, the sharp tang of dijon mustard, or another condiment. The add-in can also be an extra element that lends crunch (hello, bacon) or spice (chipotle, pickled jalapeno, or Sriracha to name a few). Just like the cheese selection, the add-ins can be singular or a few at once. Think chipotle-bacon, cheddar grilled cheese on sourdough, or a mozzarella, tomato-pesto number on brioche.
The key elements never change, like actors in a grilled-cheese play. The bread, cheese, fat, and optional flavor add-ins are ready to guide you along a choose-your-own-adventure grilled cheese journey. The specific options laid in this matrix are really just the beginning. Now that you have the formula, the options are endless.