What Makes A Great Grilled Cheese Sandwich?

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich.  It’s one of those items with a permanent spot on many children’s menus out there.  I’ve never grown out of my love for the toasty buttered bread and the gooey melted cheese.  Some people like to slip in some slices of fresh tomato, maybe a little bacon…some like it with white bread some may like it with wheat.  Maybe you like your grilled cheese with a side of tomato soup.  It’s tasty and easy.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

A grilled cheese sandwich is one of the first things a kid figures out how to make growing up.  As I got older, this simple sandwich became comfort food for me.  I recently stopped by the Boudin Sourdough bakery/cafe at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and had a great grilled cheese sandwich along with some tomato soup.  The right choice of grub for an overcast and drizzly day.  Perfectly toasted sourdough bread, a nice blend of cheeses and a bowl of warm tomato soup.  A very satisfying combination

Grilled Cheese and Tomato SoupSo let’s open this tasty topic to a discussion.  Chances are there are some of you out there with a killer version of your own.  I sadly have not mastered the fine art of grilled cheese sandwich construction but I’m eager to get some of your ideas.  I’m curious to know what the GrubGrade readers think about this simple meal.  Any special cheeses, bread, toaster, griddle???  Maybe share a recipe. So how do you like yours?  What makes a great grilled cheese sandwich?

43 comments on “What Makes A Great Grilled Cheese Sandwich?

  1. What makes a great grilled cheese sandwich for me is one thing: properly buttered bread.

    If the bread aint buttered, it aint worth having.

    I once made a grilled cheese sandwich with 4 slices of thick cut american cheese melted between 2 pieces of frozen texas garlic toast and 2 pieces of bacon. Amazing.

  2. James says:

    A great grill cheese has to have some tomato component, whether it is tomato soup on the side or a slice on the sandwich. Like Greg said the bread has to be well buttered so you get that nice crispy crust as well.

  3. kristin says:

    The butter has to be just right and it can’t be over-grilled on either side. I personally like mine lightly grilled, but if it’s burnt, yuck!

  4. jrdunn says:

    has anyone else had the grilled cheese and fries at hooters…i swear people look at me weird when i say this but it is really good!

  5. Bob says:

    Rye Bread, Sliced Mozzarella , Sliced Tomato, toasted over low heat = Perfection. American on White or Wheat works too. Its all good. The best Grilled cheese however includes corned beef, sauerkraut , Russian Dressing and Swiss cheese between 2 slices of good rye. Oh wait, Thats a rueben 😉

    ^^^Above works with turkey too, I think they call that a rachael.

    But above all, Its gotta be well buttered.

  6. Michael says:

    Real cheddar — no American cheese. American cheese is okay on top of a hamburger, but in a grilled cheese sandwich it’s overwhelmingly artificial and glue-y. And like everyone else has said: butter, lots and lots of butter. The sandwich in that picture looks way too dry. A proper grilled cheese sandwich should be glistening with butter.

  7. chuck in chicago says:

    I think there are three main components to a great grilled cheese sandwich: the bread should be a good-quality white or wheat (no run-of-the-mill squishy sandwich breads); the bread should be well-buttered on both outer sides (preferably with real butter and not margarine) instead of merely melting some fat in the skillet or griddle; and the cheese should be one which you wouldn’t be ashamed of eating plain–this rules out Velveeta–like a sharp cheddar, a good Colby, or even an aged Swiss. (I’ve used American cheese with cheddar and the sandwich turned out well, but I find American cheese by itself to be a bit too salty.) The sandwich should be grilled lightly on each side until the bread is golden brown, and the cheese in the sandwich MUST be completely melted or else it isn’t a grilled cheese sandwich.

  8. MMMM grilled cheese. I’m a wheat and white american girl. I use pam instead of butter, got to make it kinda healthy! 😀

  9. Raiders757 says:

    I have to say that I agree with Chuck. He nailed it for the most part. although I have no problem with a good ol’ slice of American cheese. I’ll also add that this is one of the rare occasions where too much cheese can ruin the end result. I also believe that a grilled cheese sandwich should be left simple and to the point, as it was meant to be. When you start adding tomatoes and other things like bacon, it is no longer a grilled cheese sandwich. It becomes something else. It falls under the same guidelines as a cheesesteak. A cheesesteak is only meat and cheese, and a sub roll, with or without onions. Once you go beyond that, it is no longer a cheesesteak. The grilled cheese is the same way. Put what you want on it, but don’t go calling it a grilled cheese sandwich.

    A great grilled cheese should be left as is, butter, bread, and a simple, not too fancy cheese. It is not meant to be a gourmet sandwich. It should be cooked on a griddle until crispy brown and squished a bit to your liking. It should have a nice combination of salty buttery bread and cheese. Nothing should over power the other. Add a side of tomato soup to dip it in, and you have a winner.

  10. Adam says:

    Grilled cheese? What is this “grilled cheese.” Gimme a nice sun dried tomato loaf with some tomato, mozzerlla, and basil and now we’re talking 🙂

  11. Yum Yucky says:

    oh yes, the buttering must be precise…with tomato. And don’t burn the damn thing because I ain’t eating it. I like mine lightly browned, thank you very much.

  12. Adam Bomb says:

    In a pinch, you can use mayo instead of butter on a grilled cheese! It works quite well when you’re out of butter. I have noticed that it burns quicker when you use mayo, though.

    I like plain old american on white or wheat, but there are endless tasty possibilities. The other day, I grilled some onions to put in my grilled cheese. It was excellent.

  13. I like trying all kinds of cheese and other stuff with it. I made a brie and pesto sandwich the other night. It was awesome.

    It is all about the quality. You can get away with one swipe of something though (pesto, sauce, etc..) and maybe bacon.

    @abomb…mayo and cheese! wow.

  14. ultradave says:

    reading these has now made me incredibly hungry, and so i will be heading off to the store to pick up tomato soup and grilled cheese fixins — sourdough bread, colby cheese, roma tomatoes, a few leaves of fresh basil, and lots and lots of unsalted butter 🙂

  15. Heather says:

    I agree, lots of butter. I butter both sides of my bread and use 2 slices of Kraft American Cheese. I like the bread to get golden brown so that the middle is not soggy. Panera uses Vermont White Cheddar on their breakfast sandwiches, I bet that on sourdough bread would make a mean grilled cheese sandwich. I might have to give that a try. Also, there is nothing like dipping a grilled cheese in tomato soup on a cold winter’s day.

  16. David says:

    Pita bread, slices of tomato, kosher salt, and muenster cheese all pressed in a panini press or foreman grill….yummy.

  17. Adam Bomb says:

    I just made a grilled cheese and onion sammich on my Foreman grill. It worked pretty well.

  18. Keith says:

    I scoff at American cheese and have attempted making grilled cheese with anything but for years. But all efforts were in vain; I have returned to American. It is the only cheese for grilled cheese, it melts perfectly and tastes clean (despite being processed).

    I like to use white bread or sourdough; I like large, thick slices. I heat the slices in the pan FIRST, then place the cheese on the just-heated sides. This promotes even meltage. I cannot even begin to imagine making a grilled cheese without a little spicy brown or honey mustard smeared on the inside. When I’m feeling like something spicy, I squeeze just a bit of Sriracha on it too.

    I grill them in the pan with an over sized lid on top until golden brown. You can’t lose!

  19. Alex says:

    I always combine two different slices of cheese, like cheddar or American and then some really sharp provolone. The provolone provides a nice contrast and some of that stringy goodness.

  20. Adam Bomb says:

    There’s a “sharp” provolone? Wow, I’ve only seen one kind in stores. I must seek this stuff out.

  21. Ryan says:

    I’m liking all the comments. Lots of great ideas. The grilled cheese in the picture above…on close inspection it looked like the sourdough had flecks of cheese in it. I thought that was a great touch. So a grilled cheese sandwich using a cheese-infused sourdough toast…amazing. There wasn’t an overabundance of butter that I noticed as it had already made it’s way into the thick crevaces of the bread.

    I’m thinking about creating a grilled cheese sandwich using a combination of thin slices of cheddar and a spicy PepperJack cheese. That might be a nice twist.

  22. MelMoitzen says:

    Sourdough bread, spread with mustard. Horseradish cheddar. (Turkey) bacon & tomato between the two cheese slices. Lightly buttered.


  23. Linda says:

    Real butter, rye bread, a slice each of swiss and colby & extra crispy bacon (preferably peppered). Serve with cream of tomato soup, please dip the crusts!

  24. Dan B. says:

    I suppose it all depends on how you’re approaching grilled cheese when talking about the best recipe for it. There’s the more “gourmet” style of course, but usually if I am in the mood for grilled cheese, all I want is a quick, easy-to-make snack. Heat up a small skillet, slather some white bread with butter, and melt some individually-wrapped sliced cheese in the middle. Nothing special, nothing labor-intensive like slicing a tomato, etc. It just makes for a very quick but very tasty snack. Now, the one twist I’ll throw into it when doing this quick-and-easy grilled cheese? One slice American, plus one slice of pepperjack cheese. Just enough extra kick to tease your tastebuds without overwhelming all the buttery cheese bread flavor.

    Now, if we’re talking about actually making a higher quality sandwich? I like to still keep it somewhat simple! I am a big fan of taking some honey ham lunch meat and quickly frying it in the pan before tossing the sandwich in there. I’ll also go to the spice rack and grab the garlic powder and the chipotle chili powder and put just a light sprinkling on for a little extra flavor. Basil is also a nice touch. And of course, if you’re putting in a little extra effort, serving it with a nice bowl of tomato soup is basically a requirement.

  25. Adam Bomb says:

    This is the best discussion thread EVER. I’m going to the courthouse later to see if it’s legal to marry a grilled cheese sandwich.

  26. Emery says:

    The best grilled cheese sandwich I ever had was made with lobster. It was a special at the Sunset Grille in Ocean City, MD and invented by an evil genius. Sourdough, melted muenster and cheddar, with these big lobster chunks; there was bacon involved, but I thought it would be gilding the lily too much, so I opted out. It was served with a crock of tomato basil soup. Holy Smokes…

  27. Bill says:

    This is an important discussion.

    No matter what type of bread, cheese, or add-in you like, after years of struggle, I have learned the 3 most important things in making a great grilled cheese:

    1) Use butter, not margarine. (Pam?!)
    2) Heat on medium-low heat, and let the bread brown slowly.
    3) Do not slice into it immediately after you remove it from the heat. Let it sit on the plate a minute or two so the cheese can “set” a bit, and doesn’t gush out of your sandwich. Unless you like that kind of thing.

  28. chuck in chicago says:

    Raiders757 and Bill, you are both true grilled cheese sandwich connoisseurs! In my experience in making grilled cheese sandwiches, I’ve found that the cheese melts better when the skillet is covered after the first side is browned. Bill also makes the very important point of not cutting the sandwich immediately after removing it from the pan–I once burned my fingers when some molten cheese oozed while I was cutting it!

  29. Krystal says:

    I make my grilled cheese sandwiches using sourdough and cheddar cheese. You also have to use butter. No oil or margarine. But unlike some people i really like my bread to get a dark golden brown. I love the taste of almost burnt butter. But i am weird and i love things very crispy. I also find putting the heat on low for the last minute or two really ensures that you get the cheese melted. I hate a grilled cheese sandwich with barely melted lukewarm cheese in the middle. I also have a side of campbells condensed tomato soup. Can’t get used to any other tomato soup with my grilled cheese.

  30. brad says:

    that second picture is torturing me!!

  31. I have a super special place in my heart for grilled cheese sandwiches.
    I kinda make a really killer one too.

  32. Alex says:

    There is sharp provolone, though I admit I’ve only found it in one neighborhood deli. But it’s amazing!

  33. Sarah says:

    I love my grilled cheese sandwiches as follows: sourdough bread, light layer of baconnaise (bacon flavored mayo), hearty slice of extra sharp real cheddar cheese, another layer of baconnaise blanketed by another piece of sourdough. It all has to be accompanied with a mug of tomato soup and a good friend to share it all with.

  34. dopealope says:

    For me, it’s lots of butter, sourdough or shepherd bread, and Boar’s Head yellow american cheese (Boar’s Head is the gold standard for american cheese, IMO). As if the calorie count is not high enough, my favorite soup to accompany this cheesy goodness is Clam Chowder …

  35. Aimee says:

    I just found your site & love it! Hope you don’t mind if I join in.

    I like white bread, lots of butter on the bread and Land O Lakes American cheese; the important part is NOT to turn it until you’re sure it’s at least lightly brown. I used to really jump the gun with that & try to turn them too quickly with too low of a heat. Not good. Patience is key.

    I also like a focaccia roll split in half, filled with basil leaves, fresh sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella slices & a drizzle of olive oil.

    I’ve also done provolone sprinkled with garlic powder on Italian bread, for an Italian grilled cheese. You MUST sprinkle the seasoning on the cheese. I tried to do a crust on the outside of the bread & it didn’t work because the garlic can burn. Parmesan cheese, however, makes a more interesting coating.

    My newest creation is 2 slices of Muenster, seedless rye bread, brown or Dusseldorf mustard, and strawberry jam. Now hear me out! The jam is optional & I thought, at first, disgusting! But it’s got the perfect blend of sweet & salty & creamy & zingy. I think I got that idea from the Ham On The Street guy who used to be on Food Network.

  36. BeanThugLyfe says:

    Muenster is where it’s at. But I’ll use any meltable cheese available except mozz as it’s too bland. I like onions & ‘maters in mine and if I’m feeling fancy, a parm crust on the outside is delicious.

  37. BeanThugLyfe says:

    I forgot to mention that caramelized onions are especially tasty, and a smidge of dijon or honey mustard never hurt a grilled cheese sandwich.

  38. Adam Bomb says:

    @BeanThugLyfe: Caramelized onions, yeah! I put them on my grilled cheese pretty often 🙂

  39. Maria says:

    I think I have the grilled cheese down, and love all the ideas for variations, but how can I replicate the tomato soup you ate at Boudin? I love that soup!! And it goes so well with grilled cheese, you are right about that. Anyone have recipes that approximate that soup???

  40. mels says:

    if i just want the bare essentials, i’m all over processed cheese with tons of butter on grainy bread. if i’m feeling classy, i like to make it with mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil, cooked in olive oil with garlic. they’re equally good, in my opinion.

  41. William says:

    Garlic salt on the buttered bread. Real cheese. Pretty simple.

  42. MP says:

    Buttering the bread is such a waste of time – drop the slabs in the hot pan, pile on the cheese & ingredients and openface cook it at first before putting it together.
    I see all this “butter” & I go “meh”. Cook up your bacon first, then cook the grilled cheese in the bacon grease. I use room temp Land-o-Lakes deli sliced American cheese & freshly grated Hoffman’s super sharp cheddar. There’s no limit to what you can put in it – onions, fresh jalapenos, Pepper Jack cheese, BBQ sauce, pot roast & gravy, onion rings, tomatoes, herbs & spices, mushrooms, hell even a cooked burger. I don’t care. I realize 2009 was a different time but it’s 2015 now.

  43. BigBelly says:

    Start by putting the pan on the stove, turn heat to med high
    Gather ingredients, white bread, deli deluxe American cheese, mayo, and seasoning salt

    Take out two slices of cheese and let them “unchill” on a plate while working, spread a very thin layer of mayo on the bread without indenting it. Test your pan with a water drop, or corner of the bread and wait for the sizzle, then place one slice of bread mayo side down, drop one cheese slice on top, it should take about 90 seconds to brown up. Remove with spatula and set on rim of plate, or toaster oven rack, so it doesn’t sog up, drop other slice of bread and place cheese on top. After about a minute, top with first slice of bread, and let them fuse together during the last minute or so of cooking. Finish with a lite sprinkle of seasoning salt, cut after a set has taken, and enjoy with tomato soup.

    I pretty much like them basic like that, if the bread is thin, I might only use one slice of cheese. Sometimes I make them with Yancey’s Fancy processed cheddar’s, they have a habenero & jalapeno, and a steakhouse onion flavor that both make a good grilled cheese, and melt fantastically. Cotswold cheese also makes for a pretty good one, once in a while.

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