A Precise Guide to Making Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Get ready for your cheese pull close-up.

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April 12, 2022

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

Grilled cheese is one of life’s simplest pleasures and ultimate comfort foods. Plus, it lends itself to endless riffing, so you can create your own favorite combination of bread, cheese and fillings. Although grilled cheese is a simple dish, there are a few tricks to nailing that perfect contrast of golden-crisp exterior to gooey, melty interior. Here are our top tips for making a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

How to Make a Grilled Cheese

For the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, you will need:

  • 2 ounces of sliced melting cheese

  • 2 slices of bread

  • 1 tablespoon fat

Here are our top tips and preferred methods, including how to pick the best grilled cheese bread, what cheese to use for grilled cheese, and whether you should use butter or mayo for grilled cheese.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Best Grilled Cheese Bread

Sliced white bread is a go-to, but subbing in different breads can lend your grilled cheese more flavor and texture. Try a sturdy sourdough, multi-grain loaf, fluffy potato bread or brioche, or dabble in sweet-savory territory by employing a sweet bread, such as challah or cinnamon-raisin. Avoid airy breads like hole-y sourdough or focaccia, or else your cheese will seep through the bread and possibly burn in the pan.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

What Cheese for Grilled Cheese

One of the key elements to great grilled cheese? That coveted stretchy cheese pull. So it makes sense to use good melting cheeses. Classic grilled cheese options include American, sharp cheddar and Swiss, but it’s fun to play around with melting cheeses with bold flavors and textures, too, such as spicy Pepper Jack, creamy Provolone or nutty Gruyere. Save hard or aged cheeses such as Parmesan and Manchego for your next cheese board, and reserve feta and goat cheese for finishing salads or pasta.

Should You Slice or Grate the Cheese?

We're big fans of sliced cheese, which yields even coverage and optimal meltiness, as long as you start with slices of uniform thickness. But shredding has its advantages, too. It tends to melt faster than sliced cheese, which ensures that all the cheese melts before the bread finishes toasting. Be sure to sprinkle shredded cheese in an even layer and corral any stray pieces sticking out of the sides (unless you like crispy bits). You can also opt to add a bit of softened butter to bind the grated cheese and make a spread, all the better to contain the cheese between the bread.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Choose Your Fat

Like all grilled foods, a slick of fat on the outside of the sandwich ensures a crisp, golden finish. Butter is a fail-safe option, but we’re big fans of using mayonnaise too, which adds a touch of tanginess. Mayo has a higher smoke point than butter, which guarantees that the bread gets golden-brown and crisp without burning. Mayo will also produce a sandwich that’s a bit darker and crispier than one made with butter. Different spreads can add flavor boosts, too, such as a smooth, grassy olive oil or spicy chili oil. Our perfect ratio: 1 tablespoon fat total for each sandwich, spread or brushed on the outside of each slice .

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Choose a Cooking Method

When it comes to cooking your grilled cheese, you have three options.

  • Stovetop: A standard skillet is the most straightforward and convenient method. Preheat a skillet over medium-low heat, then cook the assembled sandwich uncovered, flipping halfway through, until both sides are golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Don’t cover the pan with a lid, as this will produce a soggy, slightly steamed sandwich.)
  • Oven: Making grilled cheese for a crowd? Save yourself time and effort and simply cook sandwiches on a rimmed baking sheet in a 450-degree F oven. Cook, flipping halfway through, until the cheese is melty and the bread golden, about 10 minutes total.
  • Panini Press: For a maximum crispy sear with minimal effort, try cooking grilled cheese in a panini press. Preheat a panini press to medium heat, place sandwich in press, close the top and cook until lightly browned and the cheese is melted, about 5 to 6 minutes.

How to Make Grilled Cheese In an Air Fryer

Sating your grilled cheese craving just got even easier. Skip the stovetop and use your air fryer to make a a fuss-free, delicious golden grilled cheese.

  1. Build your grilled cheese. Reach for your choice of bread, cheese and fat (such as butter or mayo), remembering the ideal ingredient ratio: 2 ounces of sliced melting cheese, 2 slices of bread, and 1 tablespoon fat.
  2. Air fry until golden brown. Place your grilled cheese in the air fryer basket and cook at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the sandwich is golden brown. (Cook sandwiches one at a time, unless your air fryer basket is large enough to accommodate multiple sandwiches in a single layer.)

Grilled Cheese Recipes

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Consider this recipe your go-to formula: 2 ounces of sliced melting cheese plus 2 slices of bread plus 1 tablespoon fat equals grilled cheese perfection. The recipe instructions helpfully outline all three tried-and-true methods for cooking grilled cheese: in a skillet, panini press or oven.

Making grilled cheese for a crowd? Assemble sandwiches on a foil-lined tray and bake in the oven for fuss-free, consistent results. The genius of this recipe lies in the assembly technique, in which crispy bacon and fresh scallions are sandwiched between two layers of cheddar slices, all stacked between slices of buttered potato bread.

Melissa d'Arabian's Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich On Food Network's Ten Dollar Dinners

Melissa d'Arabian's Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich On Food Network's Ten Dollar Dinners

Photo by: Tara Donne ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Tara Donne, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Using mayo on the outside of the bread slices ensures that the sandwich toasts up golden-crisp without burning, giving the sharp cheddar ample time to melt into chopped kimchi. It all adds up to a tangy, crunchy, gooey mouthful.

Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm
Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

FN_Cover_May2010 134881.tif

Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

Make your own custom creation by experimenting with different types of bread, cheese and fillings. We love the combination of textures and flavors here, with creamy, funky Tallegio, thinly sliced deli ham, and crisp, sweet-tart green apple slices, all sandwiched between griddled slices of white bread slicked with olive oil.

Ina Garten makes the case for grilled cheese as scene-stealing garnish with her grilled cheese croutons set adrift in a bowl of homemade tomato soup. Grated Gruyere, one of our favorite melting cheeses, is sandwiched between sturdy slices of country white bread slathered with unsalted butter and cooked on a panini grill until nicely browned. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?”

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