Sandwich

My Husband Picked Up His Best Cooking Trick at a Grateful Dead Concert

When Mike and I first started dating, we would cook together every week. We’d make simple, no-fuss meals, like balsamic chicken or spaghetti. Usually, the cooking had to start with cleaning though, to deal with the mess his roommates left behind and washing enough dishes that we could cook and eat off of, so it was probably good that we stuck with easy dinners.

Seventeen-ish years later, we’ve fallen out of the habit and, for the most part, settled into pretty traditional divisions of household labor. Personal proclivities and perfectionist tendencies (Mike cycles through a four-way rotation of which direction the lawn is mowed every time, and I have strong feelings about what laundry should never go for a spin in the dryer), as well as the space confines of a small galley kitchen means the majority of the time I’m doing the cooking and he’s cleaning up.

Except for one meal, where he kicks me out of the kitchen and takes over cooking duties. It’s the one he learned to make at a Grateful Dead concert: grilled cheese sandwiches.

Cheese puuuulll. Photo by James Ransom

No, he’s not a Deadhead. And no, there’s nothing illegal in them. So why are they so good? And how did he come to pick up cooking tips at a concert?

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The answer to the first question is garlic salt. The subtle garlicky flavor and extra hit of salt gives grilled cheese sandwiches a little extra something special that you might not be able to immediately put your finger on. And bonus: It can be applied to any cheese combination you’re partial to. Sprinkle some garlic salt on each side after buttering (or mayo-ing, you do you) the bread (use a light hand if you’re using especially salty cheese), cook as usual, and serve to someone you want to impress. You’re almost guaranteed to get an eyebrow raise and an exclamation of what a great grilled cheese sandwich it is.

As for the second question, growing up about a mile from a popular amphitheater, still known to fans as Pine Knob Music Theatre (despite corporate rebranding), Mike went to a lot of concerts (and took in a fair number of shows from the parking lot, too). Quite a few were groups that were more popular in our parents’ time: Eddie Money, Bob Seger, and yes, the Grateful Dead. (Okay, technically, he saw Furthur, which was formed by some former members of the Grateful Dead. I digress.)

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Top Comment:
“Now I must say that Furthur came along after the first grilled cheese was ever pawned for a buck or two in the imfamous parking lots on tour. With that being said, I 've had some mighty tasty gc's on Grateful Dead tour. Some made with tomatoes, fresh herbs, even bacon - real bacon no veggie fakon, I digress. But, my fave go-to treat before & a lot of times after a show was a falafel pita! A very filling, yet light, nicely tatzi-kied and with sliced cukes stuffed in. So, I hope others who have delightfully dined on some great tour food will chime in on this with me. I know some now-awesome professional cooks who got thier start on the black tops of the past. cheers!”
— catinmadison
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In the parking lot at the Furthur concert, someone was roaming around selling these especially delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. Hungry for the secret, Mike asked one of the sellers what made the sandwiches so good. Through the conversation, Mike learned that for a number of these hippie-ish concerts (Grateful Dead, Phish, etc.), there’s a contingent of fans that would follow a tour around the country and make livings selling food or drinks in the parking lots. The outdoor party was as big of a deal as the concert itself, and grilled cheese sandwiches were a popular item to sell since the supplies were relatively cheap.


with some chips on the side

This exposure to more than 75 concerts no doubt contributed to Mike's wide-ranging musical appreciation (aside from my penchant for pop, which he tolerates, if not appreciates), as well as his culinary prowess—at least with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tell us about your favorite grilled cheese sandwich (or concert-going experience!) below.

This article originally ran this spring, we're bringing it back today to make sure everyone has the best grilled cheese sandwiches possible.

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64 Comments

Francoise December 15, 2018
This is funny-- last year I realized that slicing fresh garlic into the butter as I melt it for the grilled cheese sandwich took it to a whole new level of delicious. My favorite is a mix of fontina and American cheese. I let the garlic brown, not burn, into the bread as the sandwich cooks. You have to be patient. It makes the most wonderful sandwich. And I totally reject the using mayo as butter trend. Yuck.
 
catinmadison December 12, 2018
Now I must say that Furthur came along after the first grilled cheese was ever pawned for a buck or two in the imfamous parking lots on tour. With that being said, I 've had some mighty tasty gc's on Grateful Dead tour. Some made with tomatoes, fresh herbs, even bacon - real bacon no veggie fakon, I digress. But, my fave go-to treat before & a lot of times after a show was a falafel pita! A very filling, yet light, nicely tatzi-kied and with sliced cukes stuffed in. So, I hope others who have delightfully dined on some great tour food will chime in on this with me. I know some now-awesome professional cooks who got thier start on the black tops of the past. cheers!
 
Dara December 1, 2018
I have been doing the same with Lawry’s seasoned salt for many years. Our family always has some Lawrys garlic salt as well so I am going to try a switch up. Thanks for the ideas!<br /><br />
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. December 1, 2018
I'm going to have to try a switch up as well, love that idea.
 
Peter D. November 29, 2018
Another suggestion to try for grilled cheese sandwiches is to add some Worcestershire sauce to the cheese prior to grilling - as for a good Welsh rarebit. Or, if you have it in your pantry, a smear of Branston Pickle, or a tart Green Tomato Chutney - both go well with melted cheese. These are common additions found in the UK, NZ, and perhaps Australia. The garlic touch is excellent too, but would not do all these together.
 
Tatiana November 28, 2018
I've seen Bob Seger and Jimmy Buffett at Pine Knob way back when. Don't remember anyone selling grilled cheese in the parking lot. I always rub the bread with a garlic clove and sprinkle grains of paradise and pepper on my grilled cheese.
 
beavergoodman November 26, 2018
Hands down best ever grilled cheese: at kappacasein, Borough Market, London. Key learnings: use grated cheese (best you can find), add chopped shallots, leeks, and scallions to the cheese, use awesome poilane bread. Use so much cheese that the cheese melts and the sandwich cooks in melted cheese. Swoon.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. November 27, 2018
I think a group field trip is clearly called for so we can all try them in person.
 
Cosmo November 26, 2018
Any kind of jam with any kind of cheese. Delicious!
 
Angela N. November 25, 2018
My ex spent a lot of time following the Grateful Dead and selling grilled cheese...his trick, in addition to the garlic salt, was sprinkling some shredded cheddar on the melted butter before laying the bread (in a non-stick pan). Crunchy and cheesy outside with a melted cheesy inside!
 
Jo August 5, 2018
No grilled cheese sandwich is complete without placing a slice of raw onion in the middle before grilling. I am looking forward to trying the garlic powder. And radish sandwiches...yum! I need to eat.<br />
 
Catsuite August 5, 2018
Another option is to lightly toast the bread first ( or use a dense bread), and rub a cut half of fresh garlic all over one side, then assemble the rest.
 
Karen S. July 24, 2018
Wow, can’t wait to try the garlic salt idea. I love to put blanched asparagus between the cheese on my grilled cheese sandwiches. I bet the garlic salt will take them up another notch.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. July 24, 2018
That sounds great, hope you like the addition of garlic salt!
 
Sam C. July 1, 2018
My favorite grilled cheese is with three kinds of cheese, cheddar, Swiss and smoked gouda, and tomato and bacon, wit lit's ofor butter. <br />Be sure to cut the tomato slices into quarters. And the bacon to bite size pieces. My first time trying this, I left the tomato slices whole. My first bite, I pulled out a whole slice of tomato and dropped it on my naked chest. I had a tomato burn for a week.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. July 2, 2018
That sounds like a phenomenal combination (and a horrible burn, yikes!).
 
catinmadison December 13, 2018
now THAT sounds awesome *drool*
 
Fred V. June 30, 2018
Great story and a wonderful addition to my next grilled cheese sandwich . Thanks. We had a sandwich shop that made grilled cheese sandwiches with thin slices of Avocado inside that was a big hit for them. So long ago that we had to wait for Avocados to be in season, not like today .
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. July 2, 2018
Ooh yes, hard to go wrong with an avocado addition!
 
Cupcakequeen June 23, 2018
My big grilled cheese trick is using half babybel cheese! It melts faster so you don't risk the burnt toast. And, once it's melting it takes the other cheeses with it. It's stringy, gooey, and soooo goood!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. June 25, 2018
Great tip Cupcakequeen, I'll have to try it!
 
Tammie L. June 1, 2018
We recently purchased a panini press and my kids and I are grilled cheese crazy at the moment. Definitely going to up our game with this trick. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. June 1, 2018
Hope you all love them Tammie!
 
marsiamarsia May 28, 2018
Lindsay-Jean, I'd like to suggest that you and your readers use GARLIC POWDER instead of garlic SALT. There's no extra salt in garlic powder, just pure dried and finely ground garlic––no other additions. I can't think of any cheese that benefits from added salt, and especially if you would like to avoid getting high blood pressure and other sodium-caused health problems in middle age. Just a suggestion from an old home cook who has been there. Garlic powder allows you to get that great garlic flavor without having to worry about oversalting your dish, whether it's a soup, salad, casserole, whatever. Try it on baked potatoes, other vegetables, and any recipe that's Mexican- or Italian-inspired.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 29, 2018
That's definitely a great option for those watching their salt intake!
 
catinmadison December 13, 2018
You are spot on. Cheese is salty all on its own. I get all my spices/herbs from the health food co-op, which I try & try telling people about, only to fall on deaf ears. Your local health food store most likely carries herbs & spices in bulk. This allows the consumer the option to purchase how much or how little they nbuyd. For instance, I don't use curry all of the time so I can go in there when I need it and literally buy 3 Tbs if that's all I need or want. It's so cheap, fresh & organic!
 
Tahni May 24, 2018
I usually avoided the grilled cheese and went for the beautiful veggie burritos at Dead shows, but I never heard the secret of deadhead grilled cheese! (And I never heard of a dosed grilled cheese. LOL) I'm going to try this garlic salt trick on my kids this weekend! They already love listening to the Grateful Dead with me. Keepin' the love alive! ✌️
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 25, 2018
Hope your kids love it too!
 
catinmadison December 13, 2018
Try garlic powder...it's better for you and the little ones.
 
Sonja May 24, 2018
I use fresh garlic and spinach in my grilled cheese...I don't eat a lot of veggies on their own so I try to incorporate them when I can😉
 
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Lindsay-Jean H. May 25, 2018
Yum, sounds good to me!
 
Zenqi May 24, 2018
I love to barbecue our "grilled" cheese sammies on slightly thick buttered sourdough. Creamy havarti is fabulous, I've used jalapeno havarti, and I've even used Miyoko's vegan mozzarella (which was delicious!). Sometimes I'll add in sliced fresh in-season tomatoes from the garden, maybe some arugula. Probably the best grilled cheese sammies I've ever had. Next time, I'll be sure to add the garlic salt. Thanks for the suggestion. Sounds delicious.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 25, 2018
Hope you like it! I'm a fan of adding tomato slices in the summertime, too!
 
Pam May 24, 2018
I dont know much about grilled cheese but my husband was a true deadhead. He quit jobs for deax concerts and relationships too. It was all about making just enough to go to another concert. He hitchhiked, slept in alleyways and flew to concerts. He has been to 130 shows. Then Jerry Garcia died in 95 and his family breathed a sigh of relief. It was over. But he doesnt regret any of it. He still gets misty eyed talking about it. It was the best time of his life.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 25, 2018
That is dedication!
 
catinmadison December 13, 2018
Deadication lol