This Grilled Cheese Can Be Made 32,256 Ways—Here Are 3 of Our Favorites

A look inside our newest recipe playbook, Cook in the Blank

October 23, 2018
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Grilled cheese. Pretty basic, right? Crusty bread, melty cheese, (lots of) butter, maybe some mayo or hot sauce. Glorious, though it can sometimes feel a little same ol', same ol'. But maybe it doesn't have to. Maybe you have a few nubs of cheese in your fridge that you wouldn't normally combine. Maybe you have some jam or fruit preserves on hand, or membrillo, or pesto. And maybe there's some salami or cooked bacon or leftover braised greens in your midst. Yep, you can and should put these—and really, whatever else calls out to you—in your grilled cheese, and you'll thank yourself for it. With some inspiration from these pantry staples, and a bit of guidance on how to pull it all together, your (and definitely my) go-to comfort food can benefit from a little mosey on the wild side.

Cue Cook in the Blank, our new playbook for easy weeknight dinners that comes out on 10/30. It lets you endlessly riff on tried-and-true standbys—burgers, baked pasta, chili, frittatas, and yes, grilled cheese, to name a few—with the help of a fill-in-the-blank recipe template. You can use whatever's in your fridge or pantry, poll your family and friends for ideas, or check out the "hints and winks" on the back of the recipe to guide you. You'll find three copies of each recipe that you can tear out, so make each dish a few times to find your favorite combinations, or pass them along to the other grilled-cheese lovers in your life.

Photo by Ty Mecham
Photo by Ty Mecham

I shared the template with a few fellow editors, to see the different grilled cheeses we'd all whip up. Out of the more than 32,000 distinct sandwich combinations you could make with this recipe (promise I checked the math), I'd say the resulting three were pretty epic.

Ella's Ooziest, Allium-est Grilled Cheese

Food writer and recipe developer Ella Quittner led the charge. She surveyed her kitchen and found a bunch of chives, scallions, shallots, and onions; some cheddar, Gruyère, and pecorino; a few slices of whole-grain bread; a couple of eggs. (Side note: I totally want to be the kind of person who has three types of cheese in my fridge at all times. Please teach me your ways, Ella.)

The prettiest mise, if you please. Photo by Ella Quittner

She filled in the template with her choice of ingredients and then got to cooking with the instructions. I feel that kind of love for melty cheese, too.

If going rogue means adding a fried egg on top, I never want to follow the rules. Photo by Ella Quittner

And this is the final result she landed on. She caramelized the onions; she added a small mountain of cheese; she topped the sandwich with chopped chives and a runny fried egg. Ella, you're my hero.

Cory's Ultimate, Peppy Grilled Cheese

And then Cory Baldwin, our Director of Branded Content, went in a completely different direction, combining relatively mild, nutty fontina with hot honey, peppery arugula, and tangy goat cheese on a rustic white loaf. "Add-ins that tug at your heartstrings," indeed.

Cory's fontina grilled cheese! Photo by Cory Baldwin

That crunchy, golden-brown, perfectly griddled crust! And the mess of arugula peeking out, like the world's most comforting hybrid salad-sandwich. I know what I'm making later today...

Just look at that melt. Photo by Cory Baldwin

Brinda's Savory, Melty, Dang Good Grilled Cheese

I, however, in desperate need of a trip to the grocery store, really only had the essentials on hand: a red onion; a (slightly wilted, but still completely edible) bunch of chives; a hunk of cheddar; some spicy mustard and a tiny jar of aioli; a couple slices of sourdough bread.

This was pretty much all that I had in my fridge, but turns out that was OK. Photo by Brinda Ayer

So I kept it pretty simple: Caramelized the onions (well, let's just call them "excitedly sautéed"...I was hungry); grated the sharp cheddar; generously slathered on the condiments; added a few shavings of pecorino. I was on the phone as I was cooking the grilled cheese, and absentmindedly aioli-ed both sides of one of the slices of bread. But that ended up being a happy accident—the crust I got on the outside was bar none, so I intentionally repeated that move on the other slice and made a note for myself to do it again next time. Some of the cheese also escaped from the inside of the sandwich, crisping up and browning into a frico-like situation in the pan.

Don't mind the chicken scratch... Photo by Brinda Ayer
Takin' notes for next time.

Because it was Sunday evening, and I had a little more time on my hands, I located a can of crushed tomatoes in the back of my pantry cupboard and stirred up the extremely quick, unfussy soup listed on the back of the grilled-cheese template (seriously, it took about seven minutes). Pro tip: it's pretty great when you leave it chunky, with a touch of heavy cream swirled in at the end and a handful of chives thrown on top. All in all, I felt pretty excited about my dinner.

My dinner, gazing wistfully out the window. Photo by Brinda Ayer

As different as they all turned out, these three sandwiches are really only an iota of what Cook in the Blank can do. Next time, I'll try brioche and gouda with pepper jelly and chopped cornichons. Or whole-grain bread with fontina, feta, pesto, and braised kale. Or a Hawaiian roll with mozzarella, mostarda, basil leaves, and an accent of pimiento cheese. Or—you get it.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Place jam & cheese on grilled side, allow cheese to melt. Enjoy! ”
— Carol

So if you're looking for ideas to change up your standard grilled cheese, or are just trying to figure out what to do with the stuff kicking around in your pantry, play this game and make your dinner (or sandwich) a little closer to an adventure.

What new-favorite grilled cheese will you make with Cook in the Blank? Order it now and let us know in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bge
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    Amy Wilke
Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.


Bge September 8, 2021
I’ll occasionally make a quick grill cheese for lunch. Nothing fancy like these, although they sound really great. A good amount of olive oil in a cast iron pan, bread and cheese.
Anita104 May 26, 2020
"Cook in the Blank" looks like "Mad Libs" for foodies. I love it. I must get it.
After reading the recipes and comments, my mouth is watering and I'm not even hungry, or at least I wasn't when I started reading.
Carol January 11, 2019
Sweet, salty, spicy, crispy. Rustic sourdough slathered with mayo. Turn over and swipe with bacon jam and then load grated pepper jack or sharp white cheddar. Grill until golden brown. Another option: Inside out. Place jam & cheese on grilled side, allow cheese to melt. Enjoy!
kimikoftokyo January 11, 2019
Hum I like the egg one. Let me go buy some eggs and cheese and favorite bread from Whole Foods.
Lynn R. September 5, 2020
Wait. You don’t have eggs cheese and bread on hand?!
Amy W. November 3, 2018
I'm gonna try a "sweet" version of this. I'm thinking banana bread or cinnamon swirl with an orange cream cheese and figs and ... well I'm still working on it! Love these, thanks for this! :D
btglenn October 28, 2018
While many ingredients can make a delicious grilled cheese -- on bread, soup, or whatever -- I do the basics for a really quick breakfast or mid-day snack: Just a slice of bread topped with a good melting cheese stuck under the broiler for as long as it takes to melt-- 5 to 8 minutes depending on whether you like it just bubbly or almost burnt at the edges. I make mine with a crusty chewy slice topped with Fontina or Provolone. Unpretentious but just as savory and delicious as the more complex varieties listed here.
Brinda A. October 29, 2018
Sometimes, simple is really the best—this sounds SO good! Can't wait to try.
Sue October 28, 2018
A havarti and mozzarella with an olive/caper/roasted red peper tapanade...
Brinda A. October 29, 2018
Tapenade rules, and on grilled cheese I bet it's just as great—thanks for the tip, Sue!
Sue May 26, 2020
Thanks, hope you enjoy...I like to put a little muffalatta influence in my sandwiches...
Talicia S. October 25, 2018
I actually flavor the butter when it's melting in the pan. Garlic powder, smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, etc. Every spice is fair game. Even if your grilled cheese is the classic white bread and American seasoning, it give it a bit of a boost.
Brinda A. October 29, 2018
What a cool tip! And it doesn't burn in the pan?! Can't wait to try...
Talicia S. November 17, 2018
Add the spices to the butter just a few seconds right before you put the sandwich in the skillet. I forget where I saw the tip. It's been a few years.
BakerBren October 23, 2018
Any hope of making one of these binders for breakfasts? I'm often stuck and would love inspiration for breakfasts. Granted, grilled cheese sandwiches, with or without eggs and/or sausage/ham, are one of my go-to breakfasts. I can prep them ahead and put enough for my family in a panini press to cook while I get ready for the day.
Brinda A. October 23, 2018
What a great idea, BakerBren! I'll definitely take note, and for now, hopefully these resources help:

Also, grilled cheese for breakfast is a BRILLIANT idea.
Sue May 26, 2020
Thanks for the thought. I'm feeling a brioche or even english muffin with some cooked, crumbled breakfast sausage with a good American/brie mix.
Barbra F. October 23, 2018
Loved the sandwich ideas. Also, the checklist great idea.
Have made a similar tomato soup for years, a little red pepper flake add to the onion while sauteing is great and topped with a bit of goat and fresh chopped basil. Yum
Brinda A. October 23, 2018
That soup sounds lovely, Barbra! Thanks for reading. If you try your own version of the sandwich, let me know, too...