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

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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.
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?

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.

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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.)

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.

Tags: Cheese