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How to Make Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Say cheese!

Learn how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich with a pan, bread, cheese, and a secret ingredient. These are the 5 secrets to the best grilled cheese ever: crisp and brown on the outside, gooey on the inside. 

how to make grilled cheese in a pan

How to Cook the Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Some things never get old, no matter what. For me, it’s Seinfeld reruns, Converse All-Stars sneakers, and some favorite foods I loved as a kid, and still love now. Specifically, I’m talking about a hot and melty grilled cheese sandwich, cooked in a pan and served up hot, gooey on the inside and crispy brown on the outside.

It’s easy to make grilled cheese. Unfortunately, it is also easy to mess up. Don’t take a wrong turn to rubbery, burnt sandwich town. Here are the 5 secrets to a perfect golden, melty, best grilled cheese sandwich recipe.

grilled cheese in a pan ingredients

How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Recipe Steps

We’ll go into more details, below, but here’s the quick rundown on how to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a pan.

  1. Use regular sandwich bread.
  2. Spread mayo on one side of each piece of bread. You could use softened butter, but mayo is best. (More below.)
  3. Layer a few slices of American cheese inside the sandwich.
  4. Cook low and slow. This gives the cheese time to melt and the bread toast.
  5. Use the microwave oven at the end if you need an added melt boost.

First, the best grilled cheese means plain Jane sandwich bread.

Now is not the time for fancy artisan bread. A classic grilled cheese demands two slices of regular, soft sandwich bread. Whole wheat or whole grain slices are fine — in fact, preferred — as long as they are not too thick. If the bread is too thick, the heat won’t reach the cheese to melt it.

use mayo instead of butter for grilled cheese sandwiches

Should I use butter or mayo for grilled cheese?

Don’t use butter to make grilled cheese. Use mayonnaise. Seriously!

This is, perhaps, the biggest — and most controversial — grilled cheese trick of all. Many (all?) of us picture a grilled cheese sandwich as gooey, melted cheese between two slices of golden-brown, buttery bread that leaves just enough grease on your fingers.

But here’s a chef secret: That delicious greasiness that made the bread so toasty and golden at the restaurant? It’s probably not butter. It’s mayonnaise.

That’s right. Instead of butter, spread the outside of the bread with a thin layer of mayonnaise. It’s easier to spread than butter, and toasts the bread as well or better than butter. This makes sense. Mayonnaise is little more than an emulsion of oil and egg yolks (fat). The mayo melts in the skillet, which then grills the bread and adds richness and color.

If you are a butter purist, though, do not melt butter and add the bread. Instead, soften your butter and spread it directly onto the bread, then grill.

How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich in a pan

Third, cook your grilled cheese in a pan, low and slow.

Good things come to those who wait. Do not put your skillet above medium-low. If you do, your bread will brown, and then burn, before the heat makes its way through the bread to melt the cheese. Moreover, heating cheese too quickly can cause the proteins to seize up and coagulate. This squeezes out the fat and causes greasy, clumpy cheese. Yuck.

Put your buttered or mayo’d bread on a low-heat skillet and let it toast to the perfect brown, then flip and let the other side cook the same way. The melting magic usually starts to happen on side two.

Fourth, your grilled cheese needs the right cheese. American cheese.

A perfect grilled cheese sandwich demands the perfect cheese. For my money, nothing — nothing — can beat the salty, melty perfection of three slices of American cheese. Grilled cheese needs a great, uncomplicated melting cheese. American cheese is my top pick for the best cheese for grilled cheese, but a non-aged cheddar or Swiss are also acceptable. In general, avoid aged cheeses.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich recipe

Fifth, remember the microwave.

If you follow all of these rules for building a perfect grilled cheese and for some reason, the cheese is not melted, don’t worry. Finish the grilled cheese by putting it in the microwave for five or 10 seconds. The cheese will melt perfectly.

How to Make Grilled Cheese Better: Bonus Tips

You don’t have to only put grilled cheese in your grilled cheese sandwich.

Add turkey, ham, tomato, or avocado as extra grilled cheese fillings. Put the extra filling in the center, between slices of cheese. That way, the cheese can still melt, and traps any stray tomato or meat juices that could make the bread soggy. Some of my fillings are turkey, ham, tomato, fig jam, and caramelized onions (use Gruyère cheese for the last two).

I also recommend heating or cooking lunchmeat first, before adding it into a raw grilled cheese, so make sure the entire sandwich is hot throughout. The thicker you make it, the harder it is to cook a grilled cheese through without burning the bread.

What to Eat With Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Grilled cheese 100% stands on its own. But soup makes an ideal grilled cheese pairing, such as tomato soup or black bean soup.

best grilled cheese sandwich recipe

Love a great grilled cheese sandwich? You’ll also love these cheesy recipes:

How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich in a pan

How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Here's how to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a pan so that it's perfect every time: gooey and melty on the inside, and crispy buttery brown on the outside.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time7 minutes
Course: dinner, lunch, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keywords:: comfort food, easy, grilled cheese, lunch, sandwich, vegetarian
Servings: 1 sandwich
Print

Ingredients

  • 2 slices soft sandwich bread
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise (or softened butter if you prefer)
  • 3 slices American cheese
  • sliced tomato, lunchmeat, pickle slices, or other add-ins (optional)

Instructions

  • Spread one teaspoon of mayonnaise on one side of each bread slice. You can use soft butter if you prefer.
  • Heat a medium-sized skillet on medium-low heat. Sandwich the cheese slices between the bread, so that the mayonnaise faces outward. If you're adding tomato slices, pickles, or lunchmeat, put those in between the cheese slices, so that the cheese is against the bread.
    PRO TIP: The temperature should emphasize the low side of medium-low.
  • Cook the grilled cheese on one side until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Check the bottom with a spatula from time to time to make sure it's not getting too dark and adjust the heat as needed.
  • In one confident motion, flip the grilled cheese. Cook on the other side until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Slice with the edge of the spatula or the knife, and serve hot.
    PRO TIP: If you still need to get that cheese just a tiny bit more melted, do so on low to prevent over-browning the bread, or microwave it on a plate for about 10 seconds.

8 comments

  • I’m totally committed to mayo. I love me some butter, but the mayo takes it over the top every time. And low and slow it the way to go. Lol!

    • Unpeeled

      I love butter, too, but the mayo is just so easy and works so well, doesn’t it?! Glad you enjoyed.

  • I’m a big grilled cheese fan and have always used butter (spread on the bread, not melted) to make my sandwiches. I will give the mayo suggestion a try.!
    You mentioned putting the the sandwiches in the microwave if the cheese hasn’t totally melted.. What I do while making the sandwich is to put a lid on the pan while cooking and that takes care of the melting!.

    • Unpeeled

      Yum…I’m a huge butter fan as well. And keeping the lid on is a great idea! I’m going to try that this weekend. (I started craving grilled cheese while putting my newsletter together!) Thanks for these great notes!

  • Lynn Thompson

    I believe you and I need to have a grilled cheese grill off! My grilled cheese have received epic reviews from friends and family! It has been topped only the the one served in the cafeteria at East Tennessee Children’s hospital.

    • Unpeeled

      OH MY GOODNESS we have GOT to make this happen!! I don’t even need to win; I just want to try yours!

  • I knew that my husband was THE MAN FOR ME when he made me the BEST grilled cheese sandwich I had ever eaten. His secret? Low and slow of course but the thinnest slice of sweet onion between 2 slices of gruyere cheese. Delicious and our inside joke today, 35 years later, that if not for a grilled cheese we might not have married?

    • Unpeeled

      This is the best grilled cheese story I have ever heard! I am going to try this very soon and think of you both. What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on 35 years!

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