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How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

By • October 28, 2013 • 57 Comments

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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Food52's Assistant Editor Marian Bull proves that the perfect grilled cheese is within reach -- and you don't need a recipe to make one.

How to Make a Grilled Cheese on Food52

A perfectly executed grilled cheese sandwich relies on a number of factors, the most important being: Textural contrast, cheese that melts, and avoiding burnt toast at all costs. Also, a lot of butter.

More: We love butter so much we created a whole Provisions collection around it.

Here is the biggest problem with grilled cheese making: Sometimes your cheese does not melt as quickly as you'd like, so you either get hard, cold cheese surrounded by perfectly golden bread, or melted cheese hiding behind charred, black bread that you then have to scrape into the sink. There is no kitchen sound more shameful than this.

But lucky you! I have a no-fail way to make grilled cheese sandwiches at home, and it yields both melty cheese and a buttery, golden exterior. It also allows you to serve multiple hot sandwiches at a time, which means if you want to have, say, a grilled cheese party, you don't have to draw straws to decide who gets to eat the only warm one.

Perfect Grilled Cheese on Food52

How to Make a Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich in 5 Steps

1. Before you get started, set yourself up for success: Slice your bread, shred whatever cheese you'll be using, and bring your butter to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 350° F and preheat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.

Generously butter two thick slices of bread. I like crusty, chewy bread (like a sourdough or levain) without too many big holes, but if you grew up on Wonderbread and Kraft singles, well, I'm not going to stand in your way. You want an even smear of butter that covers the whole slice -- this makes for a crisp, golden, flavorful exterior. If your butter is unsalted, sprinkle a bit of salt over each buttered side.

How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese on Food52

 

2. Lay one piece of bread, butter-side down, in your hot pan. The butter should sizzle, but not angrily -- you don't want your pan so hot that it burns your bread in under two minutes. Top the bread with shredded cheese; I use a mix of Gruyère and cheddar. Use whatever cheeses you like, but remember that melty cheeses should dominate, and something sharp like cheddar will balance out all of the fat and general unctuousness happening here.

You can also customize your filling here: try dashandbella's pickled jalapeños or sautéed mushrooms. Some people swear by a smear of mustard; I have never tried this, and maybe never will. I'm lazy.

How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese on Food52

 

3. Lay down your second piece of bread, buttered side up, and press down with a spatula. You don't want to flatten the sandwich completely, but a good press will help your cheese melt, your butter sear, and your bread smoosh in a pleasant way. 

How to Make a Grilled Cheese on Food52

 

4. After a minute or so, begin to check the color on your bottom slice. Once it's nice and brown, flip everything over, holding the sandwich together with your other hand to keep it from falling apart. Press down some more with your spatula, and cook until the bottom slice looks like the top slice.

The Perfect Grilled Cheese on Food52

 

5. Here's the kicker! Once you're happy with the color of your crust, finish your sandwich on a baking sheet in the oven. If you're making more than one, use the oven as a way to keep everything warm. Let your sandwiches bake for at least five minutes, or until their cheese is completely melted. 

How to Make a Perfect Grilled Cheese on Food52

Slice in half, and enjoy immediately. Remember that tomato soup is never a bad idea. And you'll want some napkins at the ready.

Perfect Grilled Cheese on Food52

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (57)

Tags: grilled cheese, sandwich, How-To & DIY, vegetarian, everyday cooking, sandwich, kids

Comments (57)

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3 months ago Mickey

Wow, I'm hearing a little bit of hostility from some ...it's OK people! This is a great site to share the joys and secrets of cooking great meals, not a bash forum. We all do our best, no one's perfect, and we each of us have different tastes and preferences. If the bread's too burned for you, just don't eat it. Cook it your own way. Or not at all. With or without nutmeg, although I'm gonna try that next time, and the mayo too! And with some must-have freshly sliced organic tomato to slip in there after grilling. Yum

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6 months ago Jodie Ross

Zeldie, what you believe is your business only. You may be in the minority in the kitchen though as far as cast iron and carbon steel pans go. Cast iron is not only non-stick naturally when properly seasoned and cared for, but is beneficial to your health as it adds iron into your diet. Well cared for cast iron IS clean, but not scrubbed. Carbon steel on the other hand gets better with age also when cared for properly, and that is not scrubbing it within an inch of it's life. The grease and oils cooked onto carbon steel baking pans over the years puts a nice patina on the pans that is also somewhat non-stick and much better for you than the so called coated non-stick pans that people buy. I am sorry you are anal about scrubbed pots & pans, you miss a lot in life that way dear. Also, do not judge other people by the look of their cookware. I have been using cast iron pots, pans and baking pans and carbon steel baking sheets and pans for over 50 yrs and my carbon steel pans are now black with a very nice patina. I finally got my husband who does the dishes in our house to treat my cast iron pans with reverence by giving him fried eggs with the yolks broken. He asked why and I told him it was because he had scrubbed my egg pan and not reseasoned it. He now knows how to clean all the pans and he even rubs them down with a kitchen towel that has a bit of lard on it and sets them in a warm oven when he does the dishes. Have a wonderful weekend.

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6 months ago zeldie

Grilled cheese looks great but do not like the very used skillets and cookie sheets shown in these photos. Yes, I know a cast iron skillet is better with wear and tear but I believe in scrubbed and cleaned pots, pans, skillets, cookie sheets and everything else in my kitchen. At least a piece of parchment paper on the cookie sheet.

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7 months ago Stephanie

We've gotten into "painting" the bread with olive oil, salt and pepper, using a pastry brush. It lets you get the oil everywhere that might touch the pan, and adds some nice taste to the outside.

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7 months ago penny kay

I have ten grandchildren and I am famous for my grilled cheese sandwiches. I've been making it exactly as you did but the only thing I add to mine is very thinly sliced red onion. People who don't like onions, love it in the sandwich, it really does something amazing to the flavor. Sourdough is the best, and when the cheese is grated, it melts more evenly.

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7 months ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

Those are some seriously lucky grandchildren. I'll have to try the red onion addition!

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14 days ago ndalpe

Hi Penny,
I totally agree with you on the thin onion slice. I usually cook my grilled cheese with caramelized red shallot and garlic. Also, i found that a few apple dice in the caramelized onion goes very well with cheese, especially cheddar...my two cents ;)

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7 months ago Jodie Ross

Love the recipe, but am wondering why you grate the cheese. I use Kerry Gold's Dubliner cheese on my grilled cheese sammies with either a real sour sourdough bread or a dark rye bread I make myself in my bread machine. I don't grate the cheese, I slice it and put a couple of slices of cheese something a bit less and 1/4" thick, side by side on the bread. I would think that grating the cheese would make it almost impossible to turn the sandwich without burning yourself for having to hold on to it so tightly. The sliced cheese melts real good when you put the cast iron lid on the cast iron griddle after you turn the sandwich and turn the heat down just a smidge and let it toast and melt away. I make a nice tomato bisque soup to go with as my husband prefers creamed tomato soup and I like the bits of tomato in the cream. A sprinkling of Penzeys Florida seasoned pepper on the soup at serving, or even just their Extra Bold Peppercorns freshly cracked on top is the perfect touch to soup and sandwich(we dunk sandwich into soup at our house).

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7 months ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

You definitely don't have to grate the cheese, but I find it melts more easily that way! Thanks for the tip about covering the pan -- I'll have to give that a try.

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8 months ago Chuck Flett

remember to preheat your pan,very important!! try substituting mayonnaise in place of butter on the outside of your sandwich, it really works. now do what my father did and sprinkle on some worcestershire sauce, and serve with red pepper tomato soup, and voila!!! mighty fine eating.

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10 months ago helen meserve

My husband begs for grilled cheese sandwiches made with buttered bread and cheddar, as you suggest, but here's the kicker......he adds currant jelly and Dijon mustard. Swears it is his favorite....for me, it's just cheese and tomato.

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10 months ago Dr.Insomnia

I've found that our waffle griddle, which can be flipped to flat griddle irons for sandwiches, makes a perfect grilled cheese. The surrounding heat ensures melted cheese, and the iron presses the grilled cheese panini-like.

But if I don't feel like pulling out the waffle iron (e.g., for one sandwich) I simply put the a lid on the cast iron skillet after I flip the sandwich. It basically combines the oven step with the grilling step.

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10 months ago Dr.Insomnia

Pro-tip: if you recently cooked a few strips of bacon in your cast iron, you can skip the butter step and enjoy a truly delicious grilled cheese.

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11 months ago Jeany

I never use butter, I make my own ghee and use that to make my grilled cheese. It toasts without burning, and it's easy to use sparingly and still get a fully rich and satisfactory result. I find that the grilling process is much more forgiving, i.e., less likely to burn; I get the crispy, crunch outside and fully melted cheese. There's no flavor compromise, and much less danger that I'll have to deal with grease running down my hands.

My favorite grilled cheese is Rudi's organic honey wheat with pepper jack cheese, spread with Crofter's Morello cherry jam.

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11 months ago lapadia

Love the ghee idea. Love a buttery flavor w/o the grease running down my hands :)

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11 months ago lapadia

I like grilling the bread on both sides; grill two slices of bread in salted butter, flip them over, and with the browned sides facing up, add the cheese to one slice and close the sandwich so that the cheese is sandwiched in between the browned surfaces. This gives the cheese a head start to melting as well as an extra buttery taste. Next, butter the outside (untoasted sides) of the sandwich, place back into the skillet and proceed with Marian’s step 3.

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11 months ago fhp

BTW: My Italian husband doesn't like butter, especially cooked or fried buyer. So I have started making grilled cheese without buttering the levain first and it always turns out fine. His favorite cheese mixture is sheep's ricotta and parmigiano. I also add some cheddar sometimes. Then there is also chopped fresh boiled spinach (well rung) mixed with a fork into the ricotta and parmigiano and a little grated nutmeg. He thinks is the crazy good. Try it.
PS: Are you all really serious about the bit of burn on the toast?
No one has to eat it.

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11 months ago lapadia

An interesting grilled cheese filling, fhp; I make a similar filling to layer with my lasagna, love the nutmeg! When you toast the sandwich do you use some olive oil?

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11 months ago Barbara Evans

For Judith and Sharron, I've just rechecked the grilled cheese photos, and the burned section (black, on the left part of the left half of the sandwich) is definitely on the grilled cheese sandwich, not French toast. I don't even see a photo of French toast on this page, just photos of the grilled cheese sandwich in several stages of preparation. All you have to do is look at the bottom photo and you'll see black on the left of the left half of the sandwich. No need to criticize me -- I didn't burn the bread.

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11 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Some people really like their bread, toast, etc. super dark (i.e., burned to the rest of us). I've found it interesting that the bakeries here charging the most for hearth baked breads often sell them with entire bottom crusts (and most of the rest of it) that are black or nearly black. To each his or her own, I suppose. ;o)

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11 months ago I_Fortuna

There is no conclusive evidence that burnt food causes illness. There are different reports and here is one from the International Food Information Council. http://www.foodsafetynews...
Broader studies and education on the subject is needed.
And, "We found that, if we took one individual study that finds a link with cancer, it was very often difficult to repeat that in other studies," said Schoenfeld. "People need to know whether a study linking a food to cancer risk is backed up before jumping to conclusions."
From: http://www.theguardian...
Personally we have been eatting it since the beginning of time so I am still not sure of the benefits or lack of. I hope to follow "everything in moderation" as my grandmother taught. She lived into her 90's, raised Angus beef and ate a lot of meat including BBQ'd. She also drank an Old Fashion in the evening and did not smoke.

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10 months ago Dr.Insomnia

The burnt foods causing cancer derives primarily from mouse studies. Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist who has advocated that cooking arose in concert with the evolution of the human species, argues that the strong appeal of burnt and charred food to us may suggest that we have evolved mechanisms for coping with the bad chemicals in "burnt" food, as there was a benefit in eating food that had fewer parasites. In other words, humans may have evolved a feature that renders mouse models useless for testing the harm of burnt food.

But I would argue that our dislike for things that are too burnt could suggest that there is still some drawback to eating too much of it. A little char on your dinner is not going to kill you.

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11 months ago Janet Xara Buckingham

I like to cover the sandwich with a small pan lid (smaller than the frying pan I'm using, and a bit larger than the sandwich) while I cook the first half. This helps the cheese to melt more quickly, making the sandwich easier to flip.

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11 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I do that, too, Janet. Oh, it makes me so hungry just to think about it. ;o)

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11 months ago James Foley

This is comfort for for me. I sometimes substitute onion salt or garlic salt, add a sprinkle of romano cheese inside. I have used a light coating of olive oil in place of the butter or margarine before browning in the skillet. When eating with a bowl of tomato soup, I will sometimes drizzle a little Franks Red Hot sauce onto the sandwich. (I only use my very well seasoned cast iron skillet for stove top cooking of this type.)

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11 months ago Susige

It's a rainy, windy and unseasonably warm afternoon in Western Kentucky. Which had me wanting to stay in for lunch. So I made a grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread with Provolone and Shredded Sharp Cheddar along with a hit of Dijon Mustard on one side. So yummy!

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11 months ago sleepylopy

I can't believe I am just finding out how to make the perfect grilled cheese, but this method (stove+oven) really worked well! The bread was just crunchy enough on the outside, and the inner parts of the bread weren't hard. And the cheese melted just right! :)

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11 months ago Sandie

Whoa. Genius oven strategy for multiple sandwiches! Also, the (great) Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune Restaurant in NYC mentions the Mayonnaise Technique in her book (Blood, Bones and Butter) and says that by spreading the bread with mayonnaise instead of butter, it gives the cheese ample time to melt because the mayo doesn't brown or burn the bread quickly, the way butter does. It definitely works! I've tried it! But being a butter lover, I spread the bread first with a thin layer of butter and THEN add a layer of mayo. (Calorific I realize, but sublime. Don't judge me. :)

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11 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I read somewhere (here, on a thread several years ago) that short order cooks in many diners spread mayo diluted with a bit of club soda, so it can easily be dispensed with a squeeze bottle, I assume, on rolls grilled for burgers, etc. Pure fat, salt . . . what's not to love? ;o)

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11 months ago sharron stroum

barbara, you need to recheck the pictures. the burned edges are on the french toast, NOT the grilled cheese. maybe YOU need glasses!

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11 months ago ZingersMom

If it's tomato season, I put a nice slice of beefsteak on top of the cheese before I add the top slice of bread. Love the oven idea. Such comfort food!