How To Make The Best Grilled Cheese, According To Actual Chefs

If your bread is burned and your cheese is still unmelted, you need this guide.
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Nearly anyone can make a passable grilled cheese without much effort, but to get a great grilled cheese, you need to put a little more thought into this beloved sandwich.

Most grilled cheese sandwiches involve just three ingredients, and choosing them wisely is essential. But contrary to what you might think, gourmet isn’t always better, and knowing how to choose the right combination of ingredients can elevate your grilled cheese from basic to divine.

We asked chefs for their tips and tricks to get the best grilled cheese possible.

Is anything better than butter?

Most people butter bread for grilled cheese sandwiches, but many grilled cheese connoisseurs think mayonnaise is superior. Josh Archibald, executive chef for Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, Oregon, said that mayo “helps crisp up the bread and gives it a savoury, almost crouton-esqe crunch” that is better than butter. For the best results he recommends “applying the schmear very liberally, ensuring you get coverage all the way to the edges.”

Another alternative to butter is olive oil. “It makes it so crispy and gives it a buttery taste, without burning,” said chef Lisa Dahl of Dahl Restaurant Group in Sedona, Arizona.

Laura Werlin, author of the cookbooks “Great Grilled Cheese” and “Grilled Cheese, Please!” has spent years developing over 100 grilled cheese recipes. She thinks nothing beats butter for the best flavour. She said that butter “crisps the bread just fine” while bringing “richness to the entire sandwich.” Werlin prefers salted butter because “the bread in a grilled cheese sandwich must be seasoned, too.”

Is it better to smear the bread or the pan?

When it comes to making grilled cheese, Werlin said that “there’s no doubt in my mind that the bread should be buttered before laying the sandwich in a hot pan,” she said. “The butter can be so much better distributed over the entire sandwich before cooking it” this way, she explained. As long as the butter is room temperature, it can easily cover an entire slice without tearing the bread.

Werlin concedes that it’s easier to throw butter in the pan and let it melt before adding the bread, but said that with this method you wind up “using a half a stick of butter for each sandwich” and the result will “border on a fried sandwich, not grilled.”

Spread the butter evenly on the bread for an even, golden crust.
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Spread the butter evenly on the bread for an even, golden crust.

Choose your cheese wisely.

When it comes to choosing cheese, “the sky is the limit,” Werlin said. However, she cautioned that “the important thing to keep in mind is that not all cheeses do the same thing.” While taste is largely a matter of personal preference, there is an art to creating a gooey, oozy grilled cheese.

To get a mix of flavor and a classic grilled cheese “pull,” mixing cheeses is best. Werlin explained that hard cheeses like parmesan “will never become oozy” and “a soft cheese like brie, fresh goat cheese, or a blue cheese will become softer and creamy but never gooey.” To get the classic grilled cheese pull, Werlin prefers Comté, a type of cheddar. Werlin often combines Comté with a hard or soft cheese to get the flavour and consistency she likes in grilled cheese.

If you prefer a cheese you can buy at the supermarket, Werlin recommends medium or sharp Tillamook Cheddar, which she said has a “classic orange colour and melts perfectly.” She also likes Jasper Hill Farm’s Alpha Tolman and Uplands Cheese Company’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Werlin noted that expensive cheeses are often a poor choice for grilled cheese.“More upscale artisan cheddars often separate and become gritty when melted,” she explained.

Archibald also likes to use a blend of cheeses. One of his favourite combinations is medium white cheddar mixed with sharp cheddar. “The medium white has the great meltability, stretch and ooze factor we are all looking for from a classic grilled cheese, and the sharp brings in those bright and tangy cheddar notes,” he said.

Although cheese is the key ingredient in grilled cheese, Dahl says that it’s important “not to over cheese.” That’s because the flavours from the bread “blend as one” and need to be balanced.

Use the best breads.

Even though artisan breads taste great and work well for toast, when it comes to a grilled cheese sandwich, Werlin prefers something more simple.

“It’s all about texture,” she explained. According to Werlin, “If the bread is rustic and firm, it doesn’t produce the same soul-satisfying result as a bread that succumbs to the heat of the pan and cheese but maintains its structural integrity just the same.”

Werlin strongly prefers “store-bought” sourdough for grilled cheese sandwiches. Supermarket sourdough is “not as crusty as a great loaf of bakery-made sourdough, but it has the sour flavour that cuts the richness of the sandwich ever so slightly,” she explained. “Plus, sourdough has lots of little crannies,” which is great for absorbing the flavours of the other grilled cheese ingredients she said.

Dahl prefers“fabulous, good-quality grainy bread” that adds “an extra layer of texture.” She likes using Dave’s Thin Slice Multiple Grain Bread because it “adds a unique hint of sweetness.”

A panini press is great and will give you the lines seen above, but it's not necessary.
boblin via Getty Images
A panini press is great and will give you the lines seen above, but it's not necessary.

The perfect pan method

Some people use a panini press or other special equipment to make grilled cheese. However, Werlin uses a nonstick pan, a lid and a spatula to create the perfect grilled cheese.

“Put the buttered sandwich in the pre-heated pan, and cover it. Let it get golden underneath and then turn it. Give it a little press with the spatula and cover it again. Let the underside get golden too, remove the lid, turn the sandwich once more, give it another press with the spatula, and cook it uncovered for about 30 seconds,” Werlin said.

The sandwich won’t get soggy, but it will melt the cheese faster and result in “a crisp, melty grilled cheese sandwich,” she explained.

If you don’t have a lid, Archibald recommended cooking grilled cheese “low and slow, turning and flipping often to really give a chance to get a full melt on the cheese and to get the bread evenly toasted and golden brown.” Pressing the sandwich down gently will help ensure that all the cheese inside melts and gets gooey.

Take it up a notch.

A great way to take your grilled cheese up a notch is to add an extra ingredient. “Add-ins like bacon, tomato, apple slices, jams, chilli crisp, kimchi and pretty much anything taking up space on your refrigerator door or in the back of your pantry will likely enhance a grilled cheese sandwich,” Werlin said. She especially likes crunchy ingredients that give contrast to the texture of gooey cheese.

Dahl likes using a light layer of honey mustard on the inside of the bread to add some sweetness and spiciness to her grilled cheese. She also likes adding a slice of honey-baked ham.

When choosing an add-in, make your selection wisely. Werlin cautions that “less is more.” Sticking with one add-in per sandwich is best.