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How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Hands pull apart a halved sandwich, strings of melted cheese between them.
James Ransom

A perfectly executed grilled cheese sandwich relies on a number of factors, the most important being: textural contrast, cheese that melts, and avoiding burnt toast at all costs. Also, a lot of butter.

Here is the biggest problem with grilled cheese making: Sometimes your cheese does not melt as quickly as you’d like, so you either get hard, cold cheese surrounded by perfectly golden bread, or melted cheese hiding behind charred, black bread that you then have to scrape into the sink. There is no kitchen sound more shameful than this.

But lucky you! I have a no-fail way to make grilled cheese sandwiches at home, and it yields both melty cheese and a buttery, golden exterior. It also allows you to serve multiple hot sandwiches at a time, which means if you want to have, say, a grilled cheese party, you don’t have to draw straws to decide who gets to eat the only warm one.

1. Before you get started, set yourself up for success: Slice your bread, shred whatever cheese you’ll be using, and bring your butter to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 350° F and preheat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.

Generously butter two thick slices of bread. I like crusty, chewy bread (like a sourdough or levain) without too many big holes, but if you grew up on Wonderbread and Kraft singles, well, I’m not going to stand in your way. You want an even smear of butter that covers the whole slice—this makes for a crisp, golden, flavorful exterior. If your butter is unsalted, sprinkle a bit of salt over each buttered side.

Hands use a knife to spread thick layer of butter across a slice of bread.
James Ransom

2. Lay one piece of bread, butter-side down, in your hot pan. The butter should sizzle, but not angrily—you don’t want your pan so hot that it burns your bread in under two minutes. Top the bread with shredded cheese; I use a mix of Gruyère and cheddar. Use whatever cheeses you like, but remember that melty cheeses should dominate, and something sharp like cheddar will balance out all of the fat and general unctuousness happening here.

You can also customize your filling here: Try dashandbella’s pickled jalapeños or sautéed mushrooms. Some people swear by a smear of mustard; I have never tried this, and maybe never will. (I’m lazy.)

A hand sprinkles grated cheese onto a slice of bread in a frying pan.
James Ransom

3. Lay down your second piece of bread, buttered side up, and press down with a spatula. You don’t want to flatten the sandwich completely, but a good press will help your cheese melt, your butter sear, and your bread smoosh in a pleasant way.

A spatula presses down a half-cooked sandwich in a frying pan.
James Ransom

4. After a minute or so, begin to check the color on your bottom slice. Once it’s nice and brown, flip everything over, holding the sandwich together with your other hand to keep it from falling apart. Press down some more with your spatula, and cook until the bottom slice looks like the top slice.

A hand grasps a golden brown grilled cheese sandwich.
James Ransom

5. Here’s the kicker! Once you’re happy with the color of your crust, finish your sandwich on a baking sheet in the oven. If you’re making more than one, use the oven as a way to keep everything warm. Let your sandwiches bake for at least 5 minutes, or until their cheese is completely melted.

Slice in half, and enjoy immediately. Remember that tomato soup is never a bad idea. And you’ll want some napkins at the ready.

The grilled cheese sandwich on a metal baking sheet.
James Ransom

Food52’s Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipes

1. Labneh Grilled Cheese

Molly Yeh’s updated grilled cheese makes use of labneh, a creamy strained yogurt spread, as the base for white cheddar and Parmesan, plus za’atar and sumac for warmth.

Two triangles of a grilled cheese sandwich with white filling are stacked next to a bowl of tomato soup.
James Ransom

2. Mustardy Grilled Cheese

The mustard in this mustardy grilled cheese comes twofold: In the peppery mustard greens that fill the insides and add heft, and in the lip-smacking stoneground mustard that’s spread on the bread, providing sharpness and a textural bite.

A halved sandwich with spinach and cheese oozing out of the middle.
James Ransom

3. Tomato Soup & Saint-André Waffled Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

The bisque is to die for, but it’s made even better thanks to the grilled cheese sandwiches that are buttered and pressed in a waffle iron. Thanks for the idea, Feed Me Dearly!

A bowl of pale yellow soup next to two waffle-like triangles.
James Ransom

4. Spanakopita Grilled Cheese

This Greek-inspired grilled cheese sandwich is loaded with garlic, spinach, and feta for a fresh take on a comfort-food classic.

Two halves of a sandwich stacked on top of each other with leaves poking out.
James Ransom

5. Fig & Bacon Grilled Cheese

Campbell Cheese & Grocery says that this is one of their signature sandwiches they sell at their shop. We’re in love with a few things: the sweetness of the fig jam, the savoriness of the scallions, and the Comté (of course), which works great with the cultured butter. (Cultured butter has a slight tang to it and is a favorite choice for grilled cheese if you can find it.)

On a countertop, a cheese grater, a jar of red jam, a metal pan with bacon, and a wooden cutting board with a grilled sandwich on it.
James Ransom

6. Ruth Reichl’s Diva Of A Grilled Cheese

“Ruth Reichl has been publicly aligning herself with grilled cheese for a long time,” writes Genius Recipes columnist Kristen Miglore. This recipe uses the mayo trick: that is, a smear of mayonnaise on the outsides of the bread (instead of butter), which crisps up golden and delicious on the griddle. But don’t worry: There’s butter, too, inside the sandwich.

A sandwich covered with crispy cheese, cut in half on a wood surface.
James Ransom

Read the full article on Food52.