The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The grilled cheese sandwich is an American staple. It's an excellent choice for a quick lunch or dinner and is guaranteed to be a hit with the entire family. This grilled cheese recipe encourages you to step outside the box with the option to add bacon, mustard, pickles, and tomatoes.

The key to a perfectly gooey, delicious grilled cheese sandwich is the right cheese. Some cheeses melt better than others due to the interactions between the casein proteins and the calcium, while other cheeses will not melt at all. Gruyére, mozzarella, Muenster, fontina, Monterey Jack, Gouda, colby, and Swiss varieties are excellent melting cheeses. Mild or medium cheddar melts evenly, but aged cheddar is more acidic, so it tends to separate. Processed cheeses, such as the classic “American,” melt nicely because of the way they are developed.

Some fresh cheeses, such as cream cheese, soft goat cheese, and cottage cheese, are best paired with a firmer cheese that offers a more robust flavor. Pair cream cheese or Boursin with cheddar or mozzarella, or combine goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese with Parmesan and cheddar.

The bread is just as important as the cheese, and there are just as many choices. Artisanal breads make exceptional grilled cheese sandwiches, or you might choose a basic white, whole wheat, thick slices of a seeded bread, pumpernickel, or rye loaf bread. A sweeter bread is another good alternative, but keep in mind that it will brown more quickly.

“I added all the optional ingredients, and it was great with cheddar. Don’t use high heat; you want time for that cheese to melt. To know when it’s time to flip, give the crust a nudge with the spatula; it should be rigid and lightly crisp. Flip carefully if you load it up with ingredients.” —Colleen Graham

Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich/Tester Image A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 4 slices whole-grain bread

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded or sliced

  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard, optional

  • 2 pickle spears, optional

  • 2 slices tomato, optional

  • 2 slices cooked bacon, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    ingredients to make ultimate grill cheese

    The Spruce/Julia Hartbeck

  2. Place two slices of bread on a cutting board and spread 1 tablespoon of the softened butter evenly and thinly on one side of each slice. Make sure you cover the entire slice from edge to edge.

    two slices of buttered bread on a wood cutting board

    The Spruce/Julia Hartbeck

  3. Place a nonstick or well-seasoned skillet over medium-low heat. Place 1 slice of bread in the pan, butter-side down. Spread 1/2 teaspoon of mustard, if using, over the bread slice in the pan. Mound half of the cheese on the bread. If you're going to add the pickles, tomato, or bacon, do so now.

    shredded cheese, tomato, bacon and pickle on a slice of bread

    The Spruce/Julia Hartbeck

  4. Spread 1/2 teaspoon of mustard on the unbuttered side of the remaining slice of bread. Place the slice of bread on the cheese, butter-side up.

    grill cheese sandwich cooking in a skillet

    The Spruce/Julia Hartbeck

  5. Cook until the sandwich is brown on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula and continue to cook until the second side is brown, 2 to 3 minutes more. If the bread is browning too quickly, turn the heat down.

    grilled cheese sandwich cooking in a skillet

    The Spruce/Julia Hartbeck

  6. Remove the sandwich to a plate and repeat steps 2 through 5 for the second sandwich.

    ultimate grilled cheese sandwich

    The Spruce/Julia Hartbeck

Tips

  • If using sliced cheese, cut it to fit the bread—the entire slice should be covered.
  • Packaged shredded cheese usually contains fillers and anticaking ingredients, such as cornstarch, cellulose (processed wood pulp), and potato starch, which could impact your grilled cheese sandwich. Whenever possible, use a box grater or food processor shredding disk to shred your own. If the cheese is soft, stick it in the freezer for about an hour, and it will be much easier to shred.
  • If you are making several sandwiches to serve at once, heat the oven to 175 F to 200 F. Place the sandwiches on a rack in a rimmed sheet pan and keep them warm in the oven while you make the remaining sandwiches.

Recipe Variations

  • When you really want to step up your grilled cheese adventures, try bacon drippings, olive oil, or mayonnaise instead of butter. Adding sour pickles, crunchy potato chips, or sharp mustard, or spreading a bit of tangy-sweet onion jam on the bread before you add the cheese might be a pleasant surprise.
  • Bacon Grilled Cheese: Choose firm white or whole-wheat bread with shredded or sliced American or cheddar cheese and replace the butter with bacon fat. Top the cheese with strips of cooked bacon and place the second slice of bread on the bacon layer.
  • Caprese Grilled Cheese: Choose firm white or whole-wheat bread and replace the butter with olive oil. Spread a layer of pesto over the bottom slice of bread and then top with a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. Top the cheese with fresh, thinly sliced tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes (blot them with paper towels if they’re very juicy). Top with more cheese and the second slice of bread.
  • Rustic Grilled Cheese: Choose rustic sourdough (boule) and replace the butter with mayonnaise. Spread grainy mustard on the inside of the slices. Choose mild or medium shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Swiss Grilled Cheese: Choose rye, pumpernickel, or two-tone marble rye, and spread butter or mayonnaise on the outside of the slices. Layer with Swiss cheese or Gruyére and thinly sliced sour pickles.

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