Few meals on this planet are as soul-satisfying as a great grilled cheese sandwich. To call it "comfort food" isn't quite adoring enough. A great grilled cheese sandwich is grounding. It is restorative. It is food bliss.
Yet too many grilled cheese sandwiches that could turn out great often just end up ... good. Instead of a perfectly crispy golden-brown crust, you're often forced to bite through bread that's either soggy or a tinge too overcooked. Instead of the gooey lusciousness of melted cheese, you're often presented with some semi-softened sadness.
It's time to stop settling for good grilled cheese sandwiches.
Because you deserve greatness.
Here are seven steps to achieve that greatness.
Step 1: Pick Whatever the Hell Bread You Want.
I understand that this betrays "the one right way concept," but, honestly, the bread you choose isn't going to matter as much as how you're going to eventually cook it.
Sourdough is my favorite, but if you use white bread or wheat bread or seeded rye or something regal like brioche or homemade pullman's loaf, you can make a great grilled cheese sandwich. Except maybe if you use cinnamon raisin bread, although who knows.
Whichever bread you choose, just make sure you're working with a slice that is less than 1/2-inch thick, max. Anything thicker and you're creating an impenetrable heat shield for the cheese you're about to encase, and ultimately need to melt, but can't.
Step 2: Pick Whatever the Hell Cheese You Want.
Fancy schmancy food magazines like to do this thing where they honor the "lowbrow" glory of Kraft Singles American Cheese. They fawn over this cheese product to make them appear accessible and relatable, as if the rest of us are somehow unfamiliar with the floppy squares of salty goodness.
Kraft Singles are great on a grilled cheese, but no more amazing than Cheddar, pepper jack, Monterey Jack, colby, and cooper sharp. If you want, you could even go with fresh mozzarella, raclette, gruyere, gouda, brie, or manchego.
I've made grilled cheese sandwiches with all of these cheeses and they taste amazing as long as I've followed the next steps to come.
Whichever cheese you choose, just make sure you're working with a slice that is less than 1/2-inch thick, max. (Same goes if you're using shredded cheese. Make sure that the pile meets height restrictions.) Anything thicker and you're basically creating an mass of cheese that will take too long to melt under the heat required to penetrate the bread. Ultimately you end up with half-melted cheese on burnt toast.
Step 3: Use a Large Pan.
Swiss Diamond Nonstick Fry Pan - 12.5
Small pans are, basically, useless. Unless you're scrambling up a few eggs or making a simple sauce, large pans are the way to go. I know this because I literally wrote the book on cooking with a pan.
If you use a small pan to make grilled cheese, you're going to have less room to wiggle your spatula beneath the sandwich for a proper flip and also less room to actually flip the sandwich.
Step 4. Use Lower Heat.
I understand that you are hungry. I understand the the rationale behind turning up the heat to medium or, worse yet, medium-high: you not being hungry faster. But you must resist.
Set your large pan over medium-low heat. This is the best temperature for coaxing your bread to crispy perfection while easing the cheese to gooey glory.
Step 5. Use Butter and Mayo.
MY GOD MAN I'M TRYING TO HAVE LUNCH NOT A HEART ATTACK, you say.
Easy now. Fat helps food taste amazing and, in the case of grilled cheese, two kinds of fat ensure a super-crispy crust. Plus, we're talking one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of mayo, which is hardly anything.
Take half of the butter and swirl it in the large pan over medium-low heat to coat the surface of the pan. Now slather one side of one piece of whatever the hell bread you want with mayo. Pop that mayo-slathered sucker mayo-side-down into the pan, add whatever the hell cheese you want, close with the other piece of bread slathered with mayo, mayo-side up.
Step 6. Check, and Flip With a Fish Spatula.
If you use a dinky rubber spatula to flip your grilled cheese, you run the risk of tragedy.
If you flip that great-grilled-cheese-sandwich-in-the-making with a tool that isn't suited for the task, the sandwich will flop over into the pan, spill forth its cheese, and although your meal won't be ruined, it'll likely only be a good grilled cheese.
Maine Man Fish Spatula with Slotted Angled Blade, 18/8 Stainless Steel, 11.25-inch
A fish spatula, accommodating and angled, provides precision for checking to see if the bread is toasting to perfection and, when it has reached such a state, the real estate for flipping with ease.
When it's time to flip, just slide the length of the spatula beneath the entirety of the sandwich, lift the sandwich from the pan, add the remaining butter, swirl to coat, and, in one quick and true motion, overturn it.
Then repeat with the whole patience thing, pressing down with the fish spatula occasionally to help the cheese melt, until golden brown and so on.
Step 7. Always Serve With Tomato Soup. Always.
Cut it diagonally. Cut it horizontally. Don't cut it at all. All that slicing stuff is your preference.
What is definite, however, is that great grilled cheese sandwiches never taste quite as great on their own as they do when paired with tomato soup.