Grilled cheese sandwiches are an American classic. But are you making the most delicious grilled cheese that you can?
Sandwiches may seem simple, but they offer infinite variation for home cooks looking to spice up their lunches. Grilled cheeses are no exception. Here are some tips from Maine’s expert sandwich makers about how to make the most amazing grilled cheese.
Use a simple but flavorful bread
When making a grilled cheese sandwich, you want to use bread that has a good flavor and crunch, but not something that will overwhelm the starring element: the cheese.
Malcolm Bedell, chef and owner of Ancho Honey in Tenants Harbor, said his restaurant uses a simple sourdough that works with almost everything.
“Mild enough that it’s not going to interfere with flavors,” Bedell said. “If you go with a really hardy bread you can end up with a really overwhelming sandwich. You don’t want to feel heavy and sluggish if you use too heavy a bread.”
Spread mayonnaise on both sides of the bread
The experts agree the mayonnaise rather than butter should be spread on the front and back sides of the bread for the best grilling results. Not only is mayonnaise easier to spread, but it has a higher smoke point, which gives the cheese longer to melt.
“You tend to get more even browning,” Bedell said. “Also, if you’re making a bunch of them it doesn’t mess up your pan as much.”
Bedell said that mayonnaise is also “a great vehicle for introducing another flavor element.” You can mix mayonnaise with hot sauce, truffle oil, garlic and herbs or whatever spices you may have sitting in your spice rack and spread that on the inside of your bread before adding the cheese.
“It really can be something as simple as whisking a few elements of your pantry together and creating a new sauce,” Bedell said.
Cheese should be grated or thinly sliced before being added to the bread. The meltability of cheese matters for that perfect grilled cheese, and nothing quite compares to American cheese when it comes to achieving that texture. However, since American cheese has a fairly basic flavor, the best grilled cheeses will also include more complex flavor elements like Parmesan, or even blue cheese.
“On our classic grilled cheese we always use American cheese for melt and texture,” Bedell said. “Since American cheese is basically garbage, you have to put something in there for flavor — sharp white cheddar, or something that is really strong.”
You can even experiment with gourmet cheeses.
“If there is a fancy cheese you want to try, like taleggio or robiola, let it be the main ingredient,” said Christopher Bettera, owner of Po’ Boys and Pickles in Portland. “Keep the bread separated with the cheese on top to get the perfect toast. Always cut the sandwich diagonally so every bite has the right amount of cheese.”
And, of course, don’t be afraid to pile the cheese on.
“Our staff was joking about our grilled cheeses that we do here — it seems simple and light but each one has like six slices of cheese on it,” Bedell laughed. “You would never eat six slices of cheese out of your fridge but for some reason on a sandwich it feels ok.”
Mix textures and temperatures
If you want to expand your grilled cheese beyond its simplest form, the best way to do so is with toppings. If you are experimenting, Bedell said to think of contrasting elements — something crunchy to contrast the gooey cheese, or a cool slaw to pair with the warm sandwich.
“We love texture and temperature contrasts here,” Bedell said. “There’s always something crunchy, there’s alway something acidic or hot and, of course, there’s always a melty cheese element. You can pick one from each column and as long as you have those elements you’re going to have something pretty awesome.”
Bedell cautioned about timing the addition of cool elements in your sandwich.
“Another thing we’re really big fans of here is cooking grilled cheese sandwiches open face and finishing it with a cold slaw,” Bedell said. “If you cook all that stuff in the grilled cheese, it’s going to get wilty and gross. If you put it on at the end, [you get a] cool temperature contrast.”
Consider flavors as well. Ancho Honey, for example, sells a grilled cheese sandwich with brie cheese, bacon and blueberry preserves for that perfect blend of savory, salty and sweet.
“We like to mix sweet with salty, adding some spice whenever we can,” Bettera said. “A layer of mayo, preferably garlic, with a gooey cheese with some stretch, and then a sweet pickled jalapeno is usually our jumping point for specials. You want that first bite to leave tastebuds satisfied, but your mouth watering for more.”
Make a grilled cheese inspired by another dish
Think about the other cheesy dishes that you love, and consider incorporating them into your homemade grilled cheese.
For example, Ancho Honey has grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with macaroni and cheese. Bettera recommended throwing shredded gruyere on the top slice and broiling until the cheese is bubbling and brown for a twist on the classic croque monsieur.
“Canadian bacon and bechamel sauce on the inside, and grill the buttered bread,” Bettera said. “Heat up some tomato soup for dipping and you’ve made a sandwich sure to impress your Zoom lunch date.”