Anatomy of a Really Good Grilled Cheese

So unless you’ve been living under a rock as of late, you probably know that it’s grilled cheese month. And if you think I’d pass up an opportunity to get in on the cheesy madness, you’d better think again!

I have some pretty strong feelings about what a grilled cheese should be.  And, at the risk of getting a bit up-on-my-soapbox-y, I’d like to share them with you. First: Butter that bread. No oils, especially if they’re “spritzed” on (good grief). BUTTER all the way! Second: Use a light, mild-flavored bread. Because the bread is just a crispy vessel that contains and delivers the delicious, melty cheese. Which brings me to my last, but most strongly-held belief: The cheese is the one and only star. I like a hot sandwich with cheese and other tasty things as much as the next person. But if you ask me if I want a “grilled cheese” and I reply, “yes!” (which I always will), I don’t want any of that extra jazz. No stringy greens smacking me in the face. No tomato chunks falling into my lap. And no, not even any delicious (but overpowering and tough-to-bite-through) slices of bacon. Just buttery bread and ooey-gooey cheese, please.

OK, now that we have my diatribe out of the way, let’s talk components and assembly! When cheese is the prime ingredient, you need a filling that will melt well, while also packing a good deal of flavor. This can be somewhat tough to achieve with just one cheese, as many melting cheeses tend to be milder in flavor, while many of the tastier cheeses don’t melt very well and tend to be a bit overpowering on their own. The simple solution: two (or more) kinds of cheese — one that will melt, and one that will pack a nice tasty punch. And grate those cheeses! This facilitates melting, and allows you to mix in your other two ingredients: the “flavor enhancers” (i.e., herbs, spices, salt, pepper, etc.) and the creamy spread. (Basically, what you’re going to do is create a “cheese salad” of sorts.) This gives you even ingredient distribution, and also keeps your grated cheeses from flying all over the place when you flip your sandwich. NO CHEESE LEFT BEHIND. NOT ON MY WATCH.

For my grilled cheese, I went with mozzarella, an aged gouda, and plain greek yogurt. One other suggestion I have regarding cheese selection is to perhaps avoid really shiny ones. Jarlsberg, while one of my all-time favorite table cheeses, takes on an almost wax-like consistency when melted, which I find rather unappealing. While I haven’t tested the theory, I think that a shiny cheese may be a waxy one as well.

To make your cheese salad, simply grate your two cheeses and set aside. Add a dollop of your creamy spread of choice to a bowl, then mix in your herbs and spices. If you’re using dried herbs, I highly recommend giving them a good “finger crushing” as you sprinkle them in. This will release more flavor, and also make them a little less gritty, since they don’t really get a chance to rehydrate. Add your grated cheeses to the bowl and mix everything until it’s well-combined, with a “bound” salad consistency. (I literally just discovered that term as I was trying to come up with an adjective other than “paste-like.” Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Evenly apply the mixture to one slice of bread (leaving just a little room around the edges to minimize cheese loss during the grilling process), then top with the other. Your filling should be about as thick as one slice of bread.

Heat up your grill pan or cast iron skillet and butter one side of your bread. Once your pan is nice and hot, add your sandwich, butter-side down. While it cooks, butter the other side of the bread. Once the first side has some nice browning, flip the sandwich and give it a good press. At this point, I like to reduce the heat on the pan to low (or turn it off completely if using a cast iron pan), then cover it and let it cook for a minute or two. This ensures that your cheese will melt, and your bread won’t burn. (I’m also very intrigued by Alton Brown’s technique [8 minutes in] of using two hot cast iron pans as a press, even if he is an oil spritzer — c’mon, AB!)

And the last important step in making a grilled cheese: Cut that baby in half! Take a moment to marvel at the ooey-gooey cheese, then dig in.


    • says

      Yeah! There are just so many amazing cheeses out there, how could I possibly choose? I think a framework is a great, general approach. Thanks, Jamie!

  1. Michael says

    That looks utterly amazing! It has me craving a super cheesy grilled cheese. That certainly blows the garden variety American cheese version out of the water!

  2. says

    What a great entry! I found this post winding through my Twitter stream, and am so glad I found your blog.

    Your idea of a “Creamy Spread” appealed to me… as the sandwiches I make have a decent flavor but lack a lusciousness that a layer of sour cream might offer.

    My personal fave? I call it a “Croque Senior,” with some sort of Mexican cheese, chorizo, and a bit of salsa.

    Looking forward to reading through more of your posts.

    • says

      Thanks so much, Jeff! Using something like greek yogurt or sour cream definitely adds a really nice tangy flavor. And I love the name Croque Senior—sounds delicious! :)

  3. Greg says

    Great post! I was wondering what your feelings were on buttering and toasting both sides of both slices of bread. If you’re quick enough, the freshly toasted insides will help melt the cheese faster and also add extra crunch and firmness. I would also like to state that grilled cheese should only be cut on the diagonal. Cross cutting is for sandwiches only!

    • says

      Thanks, Greg! Oooo, I like the idea of toasting both sides of the bread instead of pan-grilling the thing (because it adds extra crunch and extra butter!). And 100% agree on the diagonal cut!!

  4. Elle says

    I just saw this on pinterest about 20 minutes ago, and I casually pinned it for another day. Yeah, that lasted about 6 minutes. Just got up and made mine: cheddar, mozzarella, ricotta mix I had leftover (from ‘lasagna soup’ that’s going around pinterest-it has italian herbs & parm mixed into the ricotta), a dab of yellow mustard, and a wedge of laughing cow onion flavoured cheese. I’m eating it now, and I can easily say that his is the best cheese-only grilled cheese I’ve ever made. I can’t believe I’ve been missing the ‘creamy’ ingredient for so long!


    • says

      That sounds so good, Elle! I’m really excited to use mustard in my next sandwich. For some reason it had never occurred to me to use it until I was thinking up “creamy” ingredients to add to the photo list. (I’ve seen that lasagna soup going around pinterest too — yummm!)

  5. Alice says

    The photos are gorgeous, and just take a look at that little diagram – wow! Gooey deliciousness! The photography pleases me, but the subject makes my tummy growl. Definitely saving this for a rainy day. Thanks!

  6. Vic says

    Wonderful idea publicized. I’ve been using shredded cheese when I make a ‘quick’ sammich, otherwise I like the slower melting slabs, but that’s personal tastes, I suppose. I also use Olive Oil instead of butter and keep a medium heat in a cast flat skillet. Allows more time for that Malliard reaction to happen to the bread (deli rye for texture) and gives a nice crunch while lowering cholesterol levels.

    Mascarpone lightly thinned with a bit of plain yogurt makes an excellent binder cream. Add a bit of granulated garlic, oregano, & fresh basil and let it sit overnight, and make the sammich with garlic-butter (or olive oil) on the bread, and aged provolone & mozzarella. Goes really well with Italian Tomato Soup.

    • says

      Thanks, Vic! Mascarpone with yogurt sounds deeevine. I also thought about making a roasted garlic butter spread for this post, but then I decided to keep it simple since the “anatomy” has a bit of a finickiness to it as is. :)

  7. says

    Hey, got this off tumblr, it looks delicious ! I was thinking of doing it with dijon mustard, but i’ve never cooked before and I have no idea as to how things work…so how much mustard should I use? Because it’s quite strong :P Sorry if this is a really stupid question !

    • says

      I’d suggest just adding a little bit at a time, tasting in between, until you’ve got it about where you want it. You might want to also use an additional spread that isn’t quite so spicy. Good luck!

  8. says

    Bless this post. I can’t believe this isn’t common knowledge; I can’t believe this isn’t my first memory of childhood; I can’t believe I have never made a good freaking grilled cheese sandwich in my life and that I’ve never had any idea why. Bravo, bravo, thank you so much. This is now my go-to example for What Recipes Can Do For You.

  9. says

    I tried this but I had no sour cream in the house, so I used cream cheese instead…all in all, pretty good. I’ll have to try it with sour cream next time, the cream cheese is kinda strong but it was very soft and gooey. >3<

  10. Karen says

    Absolutely love this! I got hungry and didn’t know what to eat, remembered this chart & just tried it out today. I tried sour cream, thyme, mozzarella & cheddar. Came out great. One of the best grilled cheese I’ve had! The sour cream & thyme just work great together. Thanks so much! :)


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