Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Perfected

Crispy and melty are no more typified than in America's greatest culinary accomplishment, the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Who thought up such a wonderful combination, bread, butter and melted cheese? Pure culinary genius!

The first signs of what we know as the Grilled Cheese sandwich surfaced around the 1940's. Cheese toasties – open faced grilled cheese sandwiches – were made with white bread and popular in both England and with the U.S. Navy. Did these toasted, melty precursors come from the English Welsh Rarebit or the French Croque Madame? I'm not sure, but I do know that now more than ever this nostalgic sandwich has become increasingly popular and more and more refined. Is it because of it's simplicity and comfort-evoking qualities?

Whatever your reason for making one, I’ve got 5 tips to guarantee it turns out stellar.

  • Go Cast Iron

The pan is important to your sandwich success. I like to use a cast iron skillet. A cast iron griddle will work too, but a properly seasoned cast iron skillet is perfect for grilled cheese. It heats evenly and slowly so you won’t have too many dark spots, and it can be put into the oven ( see my next tip).

  • Skillet Fry, Then Bake.

Great technique here. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Start the sandwich open faced in your hot cast iron skillet with a nice amount of butter. Press the bread lightly into the pan so that it browns evenly and gets really nicely crisp. Spread equal amounts of cheese onto each slice of bread and allow to cook on the stove top for a few minutes. Now pop the whole skillet into the hot oven and allow the cheese to melt evenly. You get your crispy and your melty, and it's done evenly.

  • Shred Your Cheese.

Two reasons. One is melt-ability: Shredded cheese will melt more evenly and faster. The second is it allows you to combine more than one cheese for the ultimate melt and flavor combination. I love hard, strong, nutty cheeses like aged Goudas and intense Pecorinos, but they don't melt great, Shred them and and combine with great melters like Provolone, Gruyere and young Cheddars, and you'll get the melt you want. The end result is that stretchy-silky-stringiness we all love, plus a flavor combination that will blow you away.

  • Brick It.

Take a common brick, wrap it in tin foil and use it as a weight. This is not for open faced grilled cheese sandwiches . This is for stove top. If you don’t want to do the bake method, this is a great substitute. Just be sure to flip your sandwich halfway through cooking, the brick will press it down and make cooking faster and an intensely crispy crust.

  • Let It Rest!

When I make grilled cheese sandwiches, I make ‘em big. I use thick bread and I load on the cheese. So when they come out of the oven bubbling hot with molten cheese, I simply make the open-faced sandwich into a closed traditional one.And then, like a good steak, I put it aside on a plate to rest. You won't burn your mouth on the first bite, and all that delicious precious cheese will stay in the sandwich rather than pour out onto the plate. Don't wait too long, a few minutes is perfect so your still in that melted range but not quite mouth-blisteringly molten.

Bonus: Condiments to Pair With Your Grilled Cheese

The perfect pairings for your grilled cheese sandwiches!

Now that you’ve made the perfect crispy, melty grilled cheese sandwich, make it really shine. Here are my 5 favorite accompaniments to elevate your sandwich to the next level.

  • Whole Grain Mustard

This is my go-to condiment when it comes to grilled cheese. A nice pile of mustard alongside a hot melted, buttery grilled cheese is perfection. The acid in the mustard cuts right through the fatty, fried bread and hot cheese for a palate-cleansing burst of contrast. The seeds provide a great textural contrast as well and get stuck into the nooks and crannies of the buttery bread.

  • Pickles

My pickles of choice for grilled cheese sandwiches are the little snappy and crisp cornichons, also called gherkins. They have a bright acidic bite that works wonders against a perfect hot grilled cheese. Plus they're small and easily pop into your mouth for a bit of fun with your sandwich. They make you feel very kid-like, a big plus when eating such a nostalgic dish.

  • Jam

Yes, a good jam with a grilled cheese can be a fun spin on the classic. One of my favorite combinations is a fresh goats milk chevre and Camembert cheeses melted together on buttery brioche bread then dipped or spread with a great strawberry jam. Boom. Once you try this you'll have a hard time going back to your classic grilled cheese.

  • Tomato Soup

It’s an obvious choice, but not to be overlooked. A good grilled cheese dipped into tomato soup can cure just about anything! And don’t forget about this great combo in the summer: Sub a gazpacho for the traditional tomato soup.

  • Beer!

Not for the underage crowd,but a frosty ice cold beer with a crusty, crispy, melty grilled cheese is blissful. Especially if you opt for an astringent, mouth-puckering, floral hoppy IPA. If you've read this far and you are not heading to your stove top to start cooking whilst popping a cold one, please check your pulse!

And my last bit of advice: Make it personal.

Everyone has their own ideal grilled cheese. Some go uber-fancy with artisan bread and farmstead cheeses, others more traditional with sliced bread and sliver-thick slices of orange American cheese. Whatever your style is, don't get stuck in a rut. Play around: Elevate it, honor it and make it the best you possible can. Strive for the perfect golden-brown, buttery bread and gorgeous stringy-strechy-melty cheese, then invite me over for a good critique and a beer.

Jason Sobocinski is the owner and founder of New Haven’s award-winning restaurant/cheese shop Caseus Fromagerie Bistro, host of Cooking Channel’s The Big Cheese and an all-around food lover.

Grilled Cheese Recipes from The Big Cheese:
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