Gooey grilled cheese sandwiches have been proven by moms throughout the ages to sooth sore throats, heal heartbreak and warm winter revelers from the inside out. It’s the ultimate comfort food, and it deserves careful preparation. Anyone can slap a slice of cheese between two pieces of bread (and sometimes that’s all you got time for), but a real God-Bless-America-good grilled cheese requires a little extra time and thought.
Lucky for you – and my kids – I take the art of grilled cheese-making quite seriously. For years I have been committed to achieving the crispiest crust, the gooiest melt and the most delicious buttery flavor. And so, after much (really yummy) experimentation with my brood, I offer you my five best tips for creating the creamiest, crunchiest grilled cheese in town.
It Begins with Bread
Choose your bread carefully—it’s the key to achieving the right amount of crunch. Good ol’ fashioned white bread delivers every time, especially if it’s a day or two old. Sourdough is delicious if you plan on using a mild cheese like cheddar or American, and whole grain bread with seeds throughout the dough is my favorite for the added texture.
If you’re feeling a bit creative, something that’s not bread at all – like a patty of smashed tater tots – can do the trick too. Just be sure to avoid a super crusty bread, like a French baguette. Too much crunch is just not right. Grilled cheese shouldn’t scrape the roof of your mouth!
Consider the Creaminess
Choose a cheese first for its melting ability, and then for its flavor. Here are some of my top choices:
Shoot for Soft. Hard cheeses, like blocks of Cheddar or Asiago, are full of flavor, but they just don’t melt well. Go for the soft, un-aged cheeses like American, Mozzarella or Monterey Jack to create the creaminess you crave.
Go for a Blend. Mixing multiple cheeses together—some for flavor, others for creaminess–can really boost your sandwich to the next level. My favorite combinations are Gruyere, Swiss and Monterey Jack or Mozzarella, Asiago and Pecorino. Shred or grate them together for even distribution.
Keep it Dry. Cheeses with a lot of moisture in them, like fresh Mozzarella, should be patted dry before toasting to achieve that perfect melt. This is also important for yummy additions like ham and juicy tomatoes.
Play with Flavor. Pepper Jack adds a touch of heat, while Swiss adds a nutty flavor. Freshly grated Parmesan toasted on crusty, buttery bread gives your sandwich a little extra saltiness.
Grease it Well
The difference between a good grilled cheese and a great grilled cheese is how it’s basted. Real butter, a buttery spread, olive oil and mayonnaise are all tasty options. Whatever you choose, be sure to spread it on quite generously. Grease the bread and the pan for a deliciously crunchy finish.
Play with the Pan
For me, there are only two real options for optimal grilled cheese-making. Cast-iron pans or griddles are best at creating the crispiest crust. They hold their temperature as you bust out a whole dinner table full of sandwiches, and—bonus!—they’re easy to clean.
No cast-iron? Nonstick pans are great too. The bread never sticks to them, and you can get a pretty darn good crust with less butter/oil/mayo. Just don’t forget to use a plastic spatula so you don’t scrape the nonstick finish on the pan!
In either case, use a pan that has a corresponding lid. Once you place the sandwich in the pan, use the lid to trap the heat and melt the cheese. After a minute or so, remove the lid, flip the sandwich and grill the other side until you achieve that perfect golden crust.
Consider a Side
The creamiest, crunchiest grilled cheese tastes even better paired with a saucy side. Tomato soup is classic, of course, but consider branching out sometimes. A favorite supper in our family is Pepper-Jack grilled cheeses on a seedy bread basted in olive oil and dipped into a slowly-simmered Italian bean soup. Make up your own combinations and see what becomes the winning, ooey-gooey favorite at your house.