Dunno why they call it “grilled” cheese ’cause most of the time it is made in a frying pan or a broiler or a toaster oven or a panini press or a George Foreman gizmo or a griddle.
Ever have one made on a grill? Well you’re in for a treat. Do it outdoors and you’ll taste the ne plus ultra grilled cheese with golden bread, dark grill marks, and gooey cheese.
I’m going to give you the concepts and a basic recipe, but there’s plenty of room for you to riff on the theme. After all, the French classic croque-monsieur made with ham and brie is a variant, as is the Reuben, the tuna melt, and even the patty melt.
1) Use quality cheese that melts easily. You can use one cheese or a blend of several when creating this grilled sandwich. The standard is American cheese, but aged cheddar, is also good. Skip the Velveeta. It is probably one boson from floor tiles. If you want to veer from the norm, fontina is a great melting cheese, or try aged gruyere, Swiss, jarlsberg, ementhaler, brie, camembert, gouda, muenster, jack, all work fine. For an accent, try a small amount of tangy hard cheese that you will have to grate such as provalone, Parmigiano-Regianno, Peccorino Romano, Peccorino Toscano, or gjetost. Use 3 ounces/85 g of cheese for a regular size sandwich. Slice it thin or use the large holes on a box grater to shred it. If you grate it, pile it in from the edges so it doesn’t spill out when you flip it. I like a blend of 2 ounces/56.7 g of soft and stringy muenster and 1 ounce/28.4 g sharp asiago.
2) Accent the cheese with one or two add-ins, but don’t go crazy and add too many. Ham, tomato, herbs are especially good. Try prosciutto, capicola, cooked bacon, pulled pork, tomato with fresh basil leaves, pesto, pickles, pickle relish, raw onion, caramelized onion, caviar, sunny side up egg, rosemary or thyme, roasted red pepper, chipotle in adobo sauce, jalapeno or other chiles, Dijon mustard, horseradish, celery salt, black pepper, or sliced apple and pear. I’ve heard tell of folks using Meathead’s Memphis Dust on it. I’m especially fond of capicola and minced jalapeño.
3) Use a thick flavorful bread like Texas toast, sourdough, Italian, rye, pumpernickel, or even marble bread. I like to hand slice fresh Italian bread because it has a nice crust but it does not get too hard. Rye is also a fave.
4) Melt the butter. Butter the bread lightly on the outside only, and make sure the butter goes all the way to the edges. Don’t use too much or it becomes greasy. Melting the butter in a microwave (45-60 seconds on high) is an easy method. Mayo and olive oil work well too. I prefer melted butter.
5) Keep the heat down. Use medium to low heat so you don’t burn the bread.
6) Grill with the cover on. It needs to toast on the bottom, but heat is needed all around to properly melt the cheese. You can cook on the grill in a pan or griddle if you wish. If you use a pan or griddle indoors, put a cover over the sandwich while it cooks. Stand by the grill and peek at the underside every minute. It can burn easily, especially if you have hot spots. I usually use my gasser since it’s quick and easy and temp control is good.
7) Flip with a plate and a spatula. Put a Plate on top and the spatula underneath. Press the two together and flip. This trick goes a long way to keeping the innards from becoming outards.
8) Serve with potato chips, tortilla chips, fries, or tots and soup. Tomato soup is classic, but split pea, tortilla soup and cream soups like cream of broccoli work well. It’s tater tots and tomato soup for me.
Think you’re the big cheese?
Develop your own signature grilled cheese and you can compete in the annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in LA where there are four categories:
The Missionary Position. Standard white bread (no sourdough), orange cheese (Cheddar or American), and standard butter (or margarine).
The Kama Sutra. Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese plus additional ingredients (the interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese). Campanile Restaurant in LA is famous for their creative grilled cheese sandwiches in this category. Try their gorgonzola, spiced walnuts, and honey.
The Honey Pot. Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese (the interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese), and with an overall flavor that is sweet and would best be served as dessert. Try brie and apricot jam
For fun and profit
Here’s an idea. In 2004 the 10-year-old mold free grilled cheese sandwich show above sold at auction on eBay for $28,000 because it had light and dark areas said to resemble the Virgin Mary, although one it looks more like Dorothy Lamour to me.
So the next time you make a grilled cheese sandwich, make a foil cutout of a religious figure and place it on the grill grates, spray it with oil, and place the bread on top. Sell the sandwich on eBay and use the proceeds to go to Switzerland and perfect your grilled Swiss cheese sandwich technique.
Or try this stencil:
Makes:1 helluva sandwich
- 2 slices fresh bread
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 ounces good quality sharp cheddar
- 2 ounces cooked ham, sliced thin (4 slices)
- 2 pinches fresh ground black pepper
These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page
- Prep. Slice or shred your cheese. Melt the butter and if you are going to add in garlic or smoked paprika, do it.
- Fire up. Setup the grill for direct cooking, but keep the temp medium on a gas grill or spread the coals out in one layer so they are not touching on a charcoal grill. You can use a griddle if you wish. In this case, crank it to high.
- Assemble. Distribute the cheese evenly on one slice of bread and lay the ham on top. Don't let things hang over the crust or the cheese will drip off and the ham will burn. Lay the other slice of bread on top and paint a thin layer of melted butter on it with a basting brush all the way to the edges. Make sure the edges are buttered so they don't burn.
- Cook. Clean the hot grill grates on your grill well. Get all the carbon off the surface. Use a good stiff brush, pomace stone, or a scraper. If you haven't got any of these, wad up some aluminum foil and scrub the grates. Put the sandwich on the grill, buttered side down. Press it down lightly. Paint the top side with butter now. Weight it down to make a panini if you wish or cover with a metal bowl or pan and close the grill lid. But don't go far. In about two minutes, sneak a peak at the bottom. Get the bread golden brown or as dark as you like it, but don't burn it. Flip and repeat. If the edges char a bit, scrape off the char with a light touch on a serrated steak knife. As an alternative, put the sandwich in a pie iron and put it over the hot part of the grill.
- Serve. Slice in half so the gooey insides show, and serve.