Grilled cheese sandwich recipes and ideas from chefs and food experts that will have you making the popular dish better than ever
- From the best bread and cheese to use to cooking methods and fun new things to try, these tips will have you upping your grilled cheese game in no time
- One celebrity chef recently learned how air frying can be a game-changer: ‘The great thing is it is toasted all the way around’
When it comes to comfort food, few dishes can beat the grilled cheese sandwich.
But nudge yourself out of your comfort zone and you can transform the grilled cheese into an even more satisfying eating experience.
What’s special about the grilled cheese sandwich?
For many, grilled cheese sandwiches dish up a memory of childhood, with a parent or grandparent often serving up melty goodness along with a bowl of soup – typically tomato.
“It’s a comfort food. It’s a simple meal,” celebrity chef Carla Hall says. “But if you don’t make it with love, it could be just as disastrous, like the bread is not lined up properly or the bread is burned and the cheese is cold.”
However, as an adult, we might want something “more interesting”, Hall says.
Changes can be as simple as using a different type of cheese or preparing the bread another way before putting it in the pan.
You could also radically up your grilled cheese game by adding new ingredients or grilling your sandwiches in an entirely new way.
What’s the easiest way to improve my grilled cheese?
If you usually put some butter in the pan, try something else. Butter the outer side of both slices of bread evenly before putting them in the pan, so they have equal coverage.
The best way to evenly coat the bread? Brush melted butter on the slices, suggests the cooking show America’s Test Kitchen.
An alternative approach: on the bread, spread mayonnaise, which is made with oil and eggs, and allows for more even grilling, Hall says.
“The mayo isn’t going to burn. You are able to control the temperature better on your grilled cheese.”
And it can be tastier, because mayonnaise “has flavour, acidity and salt”, she says.
You can even try using butter and mayonnaise. A recipe from American food magazine Bon Appétit, entitled “Best-Ever Grilled Cheese”, proposes melted butter in the pan and mayo spread on the sandwich exterior.
“When mayo-slicked bread meets buttered pan, that’s when the magic truly begins,” writes senior food editor Alison Roman.
A hunger-inducing scene from the 2014 movie Chef offers another tasty strategy.
Jon Favreau – who wrote, directed, produced and acted in the film, as chef Carl Casper – makes a grilled cheese for his son.
He butters both pieces of bread, squirts some olive oil into the pan then places each piece of bread, butter-side down, into the oil and slides them around, combining the oil and butter.
Then he places slices of cheddar and some shavings of other cheese, including gruyere and Parmesan, on each piece of bread. As the cheese begins to melt, he lifts the slices to check on how brown they are. When they look good, he finally flips one half of the sandwich onto the other.
What’s the best bread for grilled cheese?
White bread is the classic choice. But there are many types of white bread. Many recipes, including the Bon Appétit offering, mention Pullman bread, which is a square-sided loaf.
Other breads to try? Country white, hearty wheat, oatmeal or – a favourite of Hall’s – pumpernickel. “I love how toasty and crunchy it gets,” she says.
Eden Grinshpan, host of Top Chef Canada, has a recipe in her book, Eating Out Loud: Bold Middle Eastern Flavours for All Day Every Day, in which you stuff a buttered pita with a mixture of Gouda, sesame seeds and nigella seeds.
“I use fluffy bread like fresh sourdough, challah or, a personal fave, fluffy pita,” Grinshpan says.
She and husband Ido “have really fond childhood memories of eating cheesy toasts in Israel”, she says.
What about the cheese?
Finally, we get to the cheese. Here, the traditional choice is American cheese, with the “Classic American Grilled Cheese” recipe from US cable channel the Food Network including one slice each of white and yellow American cheese.
When you want to branch out from there, America’s Test Kitchen recommends three ounces (85g) of mild cheddar or a combination of cheeses including sharper cheddar and Monterey Jack. These can be grated and mixed.
Don’t want to shred your cheese? Chase Brightwell, associate editor for America’s Test Kitchen Reviews, suggests using a Y-shaped vegetable peeler.
How to not burn your grilled cheese sandwiches
Experiment with cooking your grilled cheese on low to medium heat.
“As for when to turn the sandwich, the longer you take, the more developed and crispy the exterior will be; low to medium-low heat is what’s wanted,” the America’s Test Kitchen recipe advises.
How to make grilled cheese in an air fryer
Hall learned a new trick during the pandemic: the air fryer can do miracles with a grilled cheese.
She tried it with an over-the-top creation called “Taco Grilled Cheese”, which includes pre-prepped taco meat, the sandwiches dipped in an egg mixture, and processor-puréed tortilla chips.
The sandwich can be cooked over medium heat on a pan, but she suggests trying your air fryer.
“You put it on the rack and then you set it to do 300-325 [degrees Fahrenheit] and it’s ready in about seven minutes. It depends on your air fryer,” Hall says.
“But the great thing is it is toasted all the way around. And I love that you get that crunch of your bread and it’s all melted because the heat is circulating … And if you are having it with soup, it’s a great dunker.”
Of course, when you think of fantastical recipes, celebrity chef Guy Fieri comes to mind.
For a totally different type of grilled cheese – and one you could try cooking over a campfire – Guy Fieri has concocted “Sausage, Mac ‘n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese Camping Sandwiches”.
These require some preparation, too, including cooking some Italian sausage, and some macaroni and cheese made with shredded American cheddar, smoked Gouda and provolone cheese.
You place King’s Hawaiian sliced sweet bread in the sandwich toaster, add a slice of provolone, some mac and cheese, some sausage and another slice of bread. Then cook over the fire or your burner.
The recipe could be done in an air fryer, too, or a panini maker as Nicole Gallucci, senior editor at news website Mashable, used when Fieri coached her over Zoom.
“A classic grilled cheese is delicious but sometimes even the classics deserve a little bit of extra attention,” Fieri says.
“My grilled cheese camping sandwiches will definitely up your grilled cheese game. Four super melty cheeses, sausage and some home-made mac ‘n’ cheese all toasted up golden brown in a Camp Chef sandwich press … Now we’re talking next level!”