Starting with a secret ingredient.
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 pasta with butter, Cheerios, and above all, a hot and melty grilled cheese. It’s easy to make a good grilled cheese. Unfortunately, it is also easy to make a bad one. Don’t take a wrong turn to rubbery, burnt sandwich town. Here are the 5 secrets to a golden, melty, perfect grilled cheese sandwich.
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The Secrets to a Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich
First, use regular old 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.
Second, do not use butter. 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.
Third, go 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, use the right 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 is my top choice, but a non-aged cheddar or Swiss are also acceptable. In general, avoid aged cheeses.
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.
If you are a fan of grilled cheese and turkey/ham/tomato and the like, 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 are your secrets for a perfect grilled cheese sandwich? Share below!