The key to a perfectly gooey, delicious grilled cheese sandwich is, of course, the cheese. Some cheeses melt better than others, due to the interactions between the casein proteins and the calcium, while some cheeses will not melt at all. Gruyére, mozzarella, muenster, fontina, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Colby, and Swiss varieties are excellent melting cheeses. Mild or medium cheddar melts evenly, but aged cheddar is more acidic, so it tends to separate. Processed cheeses, such as the classic "American," melt nicely because of the way they are developed.
Some fresh cheeses, such as cream cheese, soft goat cheese, and cottage cheese, are best paired with a firmer cheese that offers a more robust flavor. Pair cream cheese or Boursin with cheddar or mozzarella, or combine goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese with Parmesan and cheddar.
The bread is just as important as the cheese and there are just as many choices. Artisanal breads make exceptional grilled cheese sandwiches, or you might choose a basic white, whole wheat, thick slices of a seeded bread, pumpernickel, or rye loaf bread. A sweeter bread is another good alternative, but keep in mind that it will brown more quickly.
A grilled cheese sandwich doesn't have to be confined to bread, cheese, and butter. Try bacon drippings, olive oil, or mayonnaise instead of butter. Adding sour pickles, crunchy potato chips, sharp mustard or spreading a bit of tangy-sweet onion jam on the bread before you add the cheese might be a pleasant surprise! Take a look at the tips and recipe variations for more combinations and flavor ideas.
- 4 slices bread (such as white, whole grain, sourdough, rye, or brioche)
- 4 ounces cheese (shredded or sliced)
- 1 ounce butter (approximately 2 tablespoons, at room temperature)
- Optional: sliced pickles, grainy mustard, sliced tomato, bacon, basil leaves, pesto, red pepper flakes, or potato chips
Gather the ingredients.
Place two slices of bread on a cutting board and spread a quarter of the softened butter evenly and thinly on one side of each slice. Make sure you cover the entire slice from edge to edge.
Place the pan over medium-low heat. Place one slice of bread in the pan, butter-side down. Mound about 2 ounces of cheese on the bread (more or less, depending on the size of the bread).
Place the second slice of bread on the cheese, butter-side up.
When the bottom slice is browned, carefully flip the sandwich over to brown the other side. If the bread is browning too quickly, turn the heat down.
Remove the sandwich to a plate and repeat steps 2 through 5 to make the remaining sandwich.
- If using sliced cheese, cut it to fit the bread—the entire slice should be covered.
- In general, allow about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese per sandwich.
- If you are making several sandwiches to serve at once, heat the oven to 175 F to 200 F. Place the sandwiches on a rack in a rimmed sheet pan and keep them warm in the preheated oven while you make the remaining sandwiches.
- Spread a thin layer of butter (or other fat) evenly over the bread, covering the slice completely. Butter should be at room temperature or melted.
- For best results and easy cleanup, use a nonstick or well-seasoned skillet, griddle, or grill pan.
- Packaged shredded cheese usually contains fillers and anti-caking ingredients, such as cornstarch, cellulose (processed wood pulp), and potato starch, which could impact your grilled cheese sandwich. Whenever possible, use a box grater or food processor shredding dish to shred your own. If the cheese is soft, stick it in the freezer for about an hour, and it will be much easier to shred.
- Bacon Grilled Cheese: Choose firm white bread or whole wheat with shredded or sliced American or cheddar cheese and replace the butter with bacon fat. Top the cheese with strips of cooked bacon and place the second slice of bread on the bacon layer.
- Caprese Grilled Cheese: Choose firm white or whole wheat bread and replace the butter with olive oil. Spread a layer of pesto over the bottom slice of bread and then top with a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. Top the cheese with fresh, thinly sliced tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes (blot them with paper towels if very juicy). Top with more cheese and the second slice of bread.
- Rustic Grilled Cheese: Choose rustic sourdough (boulé) and replace the butter with mayonnaise. Spread grainy mustard on the inside of the slices. Choose mild or medium shredded cheddar cheese.
- Swiss Grilled Cheese: Choose rye, pumpernickel, or two-tone marble rye, and spread butter or mayonnaise on the outside of the slices. Layer with Swiss cheese or Gruyére and thinly sliced sour pickles.