The humble grilled cheese. Usually one of the first things you enjoyed eating as a kid and one of the first things you learned to cook as you got older. I mean all it takes to cook one is bread, cheese, and butter. How hard can it be? With this simple concept of a sandwich, you can do pretty much whatever you want with this. All it takes is good execution and the limits of your own imagination.
So, how do you properly execute a grilled cheese sandwich? It's cloyingly simple so it can stump plenty of people who have zero clue what they’re doing. Either they burn the bread, or the butter, or simply toss the cheese in the pan thinking that's all it takes (please don’t do this). Well, I’ll help you out. Toast one side of both slices of bread with butter. Put your cheese on the toasted sides then put the sandwich on the pan on the untoasted side. Plenty of butter and have the temp be nice and low (medium lowish). Have something weight it down a bit like another pan or some chefs weights. Flip when one side is nice and golden brown. Feel free to move the sandwich around and absorb any butter that's in the pan. Repeat until the other side is golden brown and the cheese is melty. Bam. Grilled cheese.
The grilled cheese we all know and love is classic Wonder white bread, Craft single American cheese, and butter. This results in the signature yellow gold that oozes and melts out of the sandwich with no effort. Even if people hate American and say its plastic, nobody in their right mind can resist this sandwich. The king of meltiness. How does American cheese do this and make other cheeses jealous out of their mind? Simple. Emulsifying agents. Now that sounds toxic but in reality its the key ingredient that gives you that signature melt. This comes in various forms but the most common one is sodium citrate, salt that comes from citric acid, which, of course, comes from citrus fruits. This salt prevents the fat in the cheese from splitting off and forming a greasy mess much like how many aged cheeses act when they try and melt.
Taking this into account, you can make a cheese sauce consisting of many kinds of aged cheeses and add that sodium citrate (or another emulsifying agent like gelatin) so that it can be “processed” like American. Just cool it down and slice it like any other cheese.
This does take a bit time and not everyone has sodium citrate or gelatin in their kitchen (it is highly recommended though for amazing mac and cheese) so what’s another solution you could do? It all leads back to American cheese. Because it already has that oh so valuable sodium citrate in it, you can put a slice of American between flavorful aged cheeses and it’ll help those other cheeses melt perfectly. Science is delicious.
So with all of this in mind, you can let loose with whatever cheeses and fillings you want. Yes, I know the copypasta that putting anything else in a grilled cheese makes it NOT a grilled cheese, and I’m choosing to ignore it. And I recommend you do the same.
Let’s start with the bread. White bread always gets the job done, especially if its a nice thick cut, Texas toast like. Then there’s sourdough, which has irresistible crunch when toasted. Ciabatta has a similar quality too. If you wanna get super creative with flavors, there's brioche and challah, which are both sweeter than your run of the mill white bread, which kinda turns them more into a pastry when toasted.
I mean, you CAN use wheat bread or multigrain but come on, you’re really trying to be conservative with grilled cheese? It's like going to a strip club but wanting the dancers to wear bulky sweaters. Go all-in with the carbs. You deserve it. You can also say screw it, waffle grilled cheese.
Now the most important part of a grilled cheese. The cheese. It’s a balancing act when it comes to picking cheese. Pick mostly soft cheeses, and you lack those complex flavors you get from aged cheeses. Likewise, you don’t get the meltiness if you just go for aged cheeses. That’s where your good friend American cheese comes in. If you’re gonna go all-in with more aged cheeses, add a slice of American to ensure the sodium citrate helps the other cheeses melt perfectly. Then there are the flavors. Do you want nuttiness, tanginess, sweetness, spiciness, saltiness, and so on and so forth? There’s plenty of variants to fit certain niches too. Smoked cheddar and smoked mozzarella can add in a smokey flavor depending on what wood was used.
Chipotle Gouda and pepper jack can add in a bit of heat, perhaps counteracting any sweeter cheese that may be involved. This is where you can experiment. Just browse the cheese aisle and go wild dude, you can’t really go wrong. Its all gonna be delicious.
Now we get into the controversial part of the grilled cheese. Fillings. Many people meme that adding anything besides cheese to a grilled cheese sandwich makes it a melt. I’m reminding you again to ignore those people and do what you want. When it comes to fillings, think of things that go well with cheese and whatever flavors those cheeses are bringing to the table. Bacon is always a solid choice, pepperoni or something similar for an Italian grilled cheese, spinach or arugula is great for a veggie choice, and even certain fruits like pears can be delicious especially if you’re bringing in a little bit of heat. Then there’s the galaxy brain move of grating meats like chorizo into the cheese.
Then there’s the discussion of dipping avenues. Tomato soup goes hand in hand with grilled cheese, certain hot sauces can bring in necessary spice and acidity, and you can even save some Raising Cane’s sauce knowing it's so good to dip their bread in the sauce. Experiment with what sauces you prefer, or hell, make your own.
So if there’s any takeaway from this article that was clearly written because I fucking love grilled cheese, grilled cheese is a form of art. The various cheeses, bread, butter, fillings, and sauce are the paint and your spatula is the brush. It takes a bit of time to get right, just like actual art. Experiment, see what works for you. And remember, this is all an excuse to eat copious amounts of cheese, butter, and bread.