How To Make The Perfect Grilled Cheese: Ultimate Guide

November 8, 2023

The grilled cheese sandwich: a mouth-watering combination of bread, cheese, and butter toasted to golden perfection. Whether you call it a cheese toastie in the UK, a cheese melt in certain corners of the globe, or a good old-fashioned grilled cheese in the States, there's no disputing its place in the pantheon of comfort foods. Simple yet infinitely customizable, this humble sandwich becomes a culinary canvas just waiting for your creative flair.

Long gone are the days when your only options were a slice of processed cheese between two pieces of white bread. The world of grilled cheese has evolved into a delicious kaleidoscope of choices—sandwich bread that ranges from classic white to earthy whole grain, a plethora of cheeses from mozzarella to parmesan, and an assortment of fats and oils like butter and olive oil that add that extra oomph of flavor. Not to mention a variety of tools at your disposal: whether you're a traditionalist who swears by a cast-iron skillet or a tech-savvy cook enamored with the efficiency of an air fryer, the perfect grilled cheese is just a few steps away.

Pair your master creation with a comforting bowl of tomato soup, sprinkle some fresh herbs for an aromatic touch, or even venture into the avant-garde by adding toppings like goat cheese and roasted veggies. Your grilled cheese sandwich can be anything from a simple cheese burrito to a gourmet feast.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the multitude of choices and techniques that await you in your quest for grilled cheese perfection. From selecting the perfect slice to knowing when to pull your masterpiece off the baking sheet, we've got you covered. Whether you're a novice looking for basic recipes or a seasoned chef aiming to elevate your sandwich game, there's something here for everyone.

So grab your favorite cheeses, pick out that ideal loaf, and let’s delve into the delicious world of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Picking The Right Bread

The bread you choose for your grilled cheese serves as more than just a vehicle for melted dairy goodness—it's the foundational element that can make or break your sandwich. Different bread varieties offer distinct textures, flavors, and structural integrity, all of which contribute to the overall experience of your grilled cheese.

Classic white bread or French bread is always a dependable choice for a slice of bread, especially if you're looking for a soft, neutral platform to let the cheese shine. For a heartier, rustic touch, consider whole-grain or sourdough bread. Both options bring a tangy complexity to the sandwich, complementing robust cheeses like sharp cheddar or American cheese. If you're after a touch of sweetness to balance out a salty cheese, try using brioche or challah; their slight sweetness and eggy richness make for an indulgent treat. Rye bread, with its strong, slightly sour character, pairs exceptionally well with mozzarella cheese or even a spicy Monterey jack. And for those seeking a lighter option, multigrain or whole-wheat breads offer a nutty flavor along with the added benefits of fiber.

No matter what type of bread you choose, make sure it’s fresh but not too soft, as you'll need it to hold up under the weight of the cheese and any additional toppings. So the next time you find yourself pondering over the bread aisle, remember that your choice serves as the cornerstone of your perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Cheese: To slice or shred

Selecting the right cheese—or even a blend of cheeses—can elevate your grilled cheese sandwich from a quick snack to a gastronomic experience. The spectrum of available cheeses offers a range of flavors, textures, and melting capabilities that can be tailored to your own personal tastes and the style of sandwich you're aiming for.

Firstly, let's talk about slices versus shreds. Cheese slices offer convenience and a uniform layer that melts evenly. They're an excellent choice for classic American grilled cheese sandwiches or if you're cooking for a crowd. However, if you're looking to venture beyond the basics, shredded cheese opens up a world of possibilities. Shredding allows for quicker and more even melting, and it also lets you get creative with cheese combinations. Imagine a blend of sharp cheddar for a rich tang, mozzarella for that delightful stretch, and a touch of Parmesan for a salty kick. When you opt for shredded, you unlock a new level of culinary creativity.

When it comes to types of melted cheese, there's no shortage of options. A young, soft cheese like mozzarella provides a mild flavor and excellent meltability, making it a crowd-pleaser and a staple for cheese purists. For those seeking a little more zest, sharp cheddar or pepper jack offers a depth of flavor that pairs exceptionally well with hearty bread like sourdough or whole-grain. Gruyère, with its nutty and slightly sweet notes, offers a complex flavor profile and is great for a more sophisticated sandwich. If you're in the mood for something distinct, a crumbly blue cheese or tangy parmesan cheese can add a unique touch when combined with a more traditional melting cheese.

And let's not forget the classics like American or Colby Jack, which offer reliable melt and flavor, making them solid choices for a no-frills, comforting sandwich. For those watching their fat or sodium intake, you can even find reduced-fat or lower-sodium cheese options that still deliver on flavor and melt.

The Art of Fats and Oils: Butter, Olive Oil, and Beyond

The type of fat you choose for grilling your sandwich is not a trivial detail; it's a crucial component that affects both the flavor and texture of your grilled cheese. The most traditional choice, butter, lends a rich, creamy flavor and helps achieve that signature golden-brown crust. It has a lower smoke point compared to some other fats, which means you'll need to keep an eye on your sandwich to avoid burning. For those seeking a slightly healthier but equally delicious option, olive oil offers a more nuanced, fruity flavor and a slightly crispier texture. It has a higher smoke point, making it a bit more forgiving if you get distracted in the midst of cooking.

An unconventional but increasingly popular choice is mayonnaise. Yes, mayo! While it might seem odd at first, using mayonnaise as your grilling fat can result in an exceptionally crispy and evenly browned exterior. Because mayonnaise contains egg, it cooks up differently than pure fats like butter or oil, creating a distinct crust that's crunchy yet light. Plus, it's generally easier to spread than cold butter, making for a more uniform layer of fat.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, consider experimenting with compound butters like garlic butter infused with herbs, or even a dash of spice for an added layer of complexity. Some chefs even opt for rendered bacon fat for an indulgent, smoky twist on this classic sandwich.

Each type of fat or oil brings its own character to your grilled cheese, affecting everything from color and crunch to underlying flavor notes. So whether you're a butter purist, an olive oil aficionado, or a mayo maverick, choosing the right fat is an important step in perfecting your ultimate grilled cheese sandwich.

Our Best Grilled Cheese Recipes

We’ve combed through our selection of chef-created recipes for the most delicious grilled cheese recipes to inspire your next sandwich.

How to Make a Grilled Cheese

Both an air fryer and a traditional skillet have their merits when it comes to making a delectable grilled cheese sandwich. Here are the steps for using each method to achieve a cheesy masterpiece.

Grilled Cheese in an Air Fryer

Preparation: Start by lightly buttering one side of each slice of your chosen sandwich bread. Place your cheese—slices or shredded—between the unbuttered sides.

Preheat: Preheat your air fryer to 370°F (185°C). If your air fryer has a preheating function, this usually takes about 3 minutes.

Placement: Once preheated, carefully place your sandwich in the air fryer basket, ensuring the buttered side is facing up.

Cooking Time: Close the air fryer and set the timer for 5-8 minutes. The exact time will depend on how crispy you like your sandwich and the specific model of your air fryer.

Flipping: Halfway through the cooking time, carefully flip your sandwich using a spatula to ensure even cooking and browning.

Check and Serve: Once the timer goes off, check that the sandwich has reached your desired level of crispiness and that the cheese has fully melted. Serve immediately for best results.

Grilled Cheese in a Skillet (Cast-Iron Preferred)

Preparation: Similar to the air fryer method, lightly butter one side of each bread slice and place your cheese between the unbuttered sides.

Preheat Skillet: Place your large skillet on medium-low heat and let it warm up for a couple of minutes.

Cooking: Place your sandwich in the skillet, buttered-side down. If you're making multiple sandwiches, make sure not to overcrowd the skillet.

Lid or No Lid: Placing a lid over the skillet can help the cheese melt faster, but it may also steam the bread, making it less crispy. Choose based on your texture preference.

Flipping: After about 3-4 minutes, or once the bottom slice has a golden exterior, flip the sandwich to cook the other side. This should take another 3-4 minutes.

Check and Serve: Once both sides are golden brown and the cheese is melted, your grilled cheese is ready to be devoured.

Both methods offer their own benefits: an air fryer can provide a slightly crispier exterior and is often quicker, while a cast-iron skillet gives you more control over the cooking process, potentially leading to a more evenly cooked sandwich. Choose the method that best suits your preferences and available tools, and you'll be well on your way to grilled cheese nirvana.

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