13 Ways To Upgrade Your Grilled Cheese

If you thought classic grilled cheese sandwiches couldn't get any better, we're about to unleash a world of flavor for you. You don't have to be a gourmet chef or super creative to whip up an amazing grilled cheese; you just need a couple of extra ingredients. While a trip to the store may be helpful, we bet you have ingredients in your cupboard or fridge right now that can help transform an understated sandwich into something that is Instagram-brag-worthy.

Bread, cheese, and butter are only the beginning when it comes to making one of these sandwiches. We have compiled a list of add-ins that can help get the gears turning in your head about all the choices you have. So, say goodbye to the ordinary and get ready to embrace some delectable options next time you find yourself with a spatula in your hand ready to make a melty grilled cheese.

1. Add fruit or jam

Adding fruit or jam is a fantastic way to make your grilled cheese more complex and interesting. This simple twist can take a beloved comfort food to a different level by marrying savory and sweet flavors together.

If you've ever snacked on apples and cheddar cheese at the same time, you know that this is a delightful flavor combination. So, apple grilled cheese is the flavor combo you'll likely want to try first. Carmelizing the apples with maple syrup will make it that much better. Some other flavors that pair well are roasted grapes and smashed blackberries. If you don't have fresh fruit, jelly, jam, or preserves can all work well, too. Whatever jelly or jam you have is fine, whether it's grape jelly or something fancier like fig jam. And if you have lots of cranberry sauce leftover from a holiday meal, that's another great contender.

We also like the idea of treating your grilled cheese like you would baked brie — especially if you use brie as your cheese. You can try something simple like pear and brie, or you can go all out. Add some nuts to your brie and fruit or try combinations of ingredients like caramelized onions, fig jam, and apples.

2. Add condiments

Just like with other sandwiches, condiments make grilled cheeses taste even better. Not only do they enhance the flavor, but they can give an ordinary sandwich a unique flavor twist. The key to adding condiments is balance since you want them to accompany the cheese rather than overshadow it. For ones with stronger flavors (like mustard), we suggest starting out with just a little and then experimenting until you get it right.

Some of the most obvious choices are the condiments you like on other sandwiches. Try garlic aioli, Dijon mustard, or BBQ sauce. Salad dressings are also fun choices. Try ranch dressing, bleu cheese dressing, or green goddess dressing. Marinara is an instant flavor upgrade. Worcestershire sauce is also an option.

Then, there are thicker, more robust condiments. Kimchi gives grilled cheese a flavorful kick. Pesto and tapenade are also obvious upgrades. You might even try adding some fresh tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes with pesto as well.

3. Step up your bread game

With bread being such a big part of your grilled cheese, you owe it to yourself to try using something other than plain white bread when making it. Not only does it contribute to the overall flavor of the dish, but it helps determine the overall texture of the sandwich. There's no bread that you can't use to make a grilled cheese. Anything from sourdough to seed-covered bread works great. Even focaccia, English muffins, and bagels are contenders, so don't let the fact that it doesn't necessarily look like a normal slice of bread prevent you from experimenting with it.

With sweet and savory flavors playing well with grilled cheese, you can experiment with sweet bread as well. For example, you can try using French toast or raisin bread instead of regular bread.

Yet another thing you can play with is the texture of the bread. Dipping the bread in an egg wash and then panko bread crumbs can turn your grilled cheese into something more like a crumby mozzarella stick. If you're a fan of cheese crisps, try sprinkling the pan with shredded cheese before toasting your sandwich so that you get lovely crispy pieces of cheese attached to it.

4. Add veggies

Adding veggies to your grilled cheese can add both flavor and extra nutrition. To keep the sandwich firmly in grilled cheese territory with the cheese holding everything together like glue, you'll want to layer the veggies between the cheese slices. If you prefer your veggies cooked, you'll need to cook them ahead of time since the amount of time the sandwich stays in your pan won't be enough time to cook the veggies. You'll also want to remove any moisture leaking from your veggies (like oils from sauteeing or tomato liquid) so that you don't end up with a soggy mess — drain your veggies well before putting them on your sandwich.

Strong flavors work well with a grilled cheese sandwich. When you add cooked mushrooms, the sandwich will instantly become more robust and filling. Caramelized onions are another rich filling that can help improve your sandwich experience. Broccoli and cheese have always been friends, so it also makes sense to combine them in a sandwich as well.

The next best thing to avocado toast is avocado grilled cheese. Another option we think you'll love is roasted red pepper grilled cheese. You don't have to stop at just one veggie variety though. Why not go all out by adding several veggies, like grilled onions, grilled zucchini, grilled red peppers, fresh green onions, and fresh spinach?

5. Add meat

Okay, we hear you over there saying that adding meat just turns a grilled cheese into a panini, but hear us out. Cheese can still be the star even if you add meat. Like with veggies, the trick is to layer the slices of meat so that the cheese is both next to the bread and in between the meat so that it can help hold everything together. Then, you still get the melty, creamy experience you crave.

Thinly sliced Italian cured meats are an excellent choice. Think meats like salami, prosciutto, and pepperoni. Ham and pickles are also a winning combination. Add some mustard to that combo and you basically have a grilled Cuban sandwich. Of course, you can't discuss pork options without thinking of making a bacon grilled cheese — the meat can be added in strips, crumbled throughout, or even wrapped around the sandwich. Spam is also a viable option; it comes in a lot of different flavors, allowing you to match your sandwich to your mood.

Another direction to go is with shredded meat like smokey pulled pork or chicken, which you can add by itself or with BBQ sauce. You can even learn a trick or two from seafood-loving East Coasters by adding crab dip and Old Bay seasoning.

6. Go international

Adding international flair is another way to change up a classic grilled cheese sandwich. You can experiment with a wide range of ingredients, sauces, and seasonings to create a fusion dish you'll love. The number of extra ingredients you add is up to you.

Some ingredients that can help you go in a Mediterranean direction include feta cheese, red onion slices, tomato slices, pesto, roasted red pepper, spinach, fresh herbs, and olives. An Italian grilled cheese begs for ingredients like Italian meats, fresh or dried basil and oregano, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and olives. There are a couple of ways you can go Mexican. One is by adding shredded birria meat, cilantro, and chopped onions and pairing it with a birria broth for dipping. Another is including fajita veggies and/or meat.

Dijon mustard, ham, gruyere cheese, and bechamel sauce can add a French twist and turn your grilled cheese into a croque monsieur. You can turn it Korean with gochujang and sesame oil. You can even make it Indian with the inclusion of a chutney or two and some Indian spices — and perhaps grilling the sandwich in ghee instead of butter.

7. Season it

Seasoning your grilled cheese can greatly enhance the flavor and make it more enjoyable. Whether you're simply adding salt and pepper or experimenting with other herbs and spices, a well-chosen seasoning can upgrade it immediately.

The most obvious seasoning is garlic, which makes the sandwich a hybrid between grilled cheese and garlic bread. In fact, an easy grilled cheese hack is to start with premade Texas Toast garlic bread, which is full of flavor and already includes butter and garlic so that you don't have to add extra. Another way to do it is to add a mixture of garlic powder and softened butter to the outside of normal bread. Some even add shredded cheese to the garlic spread, too.

Raid your spice cabinet or herb garden for other options. Any fresh herb in your garden can work. You can also try paprika, cayenne pepper, chili flakes, chili powder, sumac, or everything bagel seasoning. You can even go with sweet spices like nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, or cinnamon and sugar — especially if you're using ingredients like fruit to head in a sweet direction with your grilled sandwich. Citrus zest can work, too. Experimentation is the key.

8. Use mayo instead of butter

Yes, we know it's controversial, but we'd be remiss not to mention that many people use mayo instead of butter to make grilled cheese. It's not that odd when you remember that one of the main ingredients used to make mayo in the first place is oil. Mayo makes the bread extremely crispy and adds extra flavor to the crust. You'll want to use your most flavorful mayonnaise when trying it — Duke's mayonnaise is a great choice here since it has a tangy kick. Savory Japanese mayo would be great as well.

The method for making a mayo grilled cheese is to spread a layer of mayo on the outside of both slices of bread, just as you would apply soft butter. Then, grill the sandwich as usual. Just be sure you're using real mayo since it behaves differently when heated than sandwich spreads like Miracle Whip. However, aioli or flavored mayonnaise will work just fine instead of plain mayo. After all, both mayo and aioli have an oil base.

9. Add extra crunch

Grilled cheese sandwiches are all about texture. From the gooey melty cheese to the crispness of the outer crust, the variety of textures all add to the experience. To add even more textural layers, we suggest finding ways to add extra crunch. Your first step is to raid your cupboards for crunchy snacks and toppings. Then, decide if they might belong in your sandwich.

Some of the most obvious ideas are potato chips, which people add to sandwiches of all sorts. Different flavored ones can contribute to the overall flavor of the sandwich — BBQ potato chips or pickle chips are two great options. Tortilla chips work, too — especially the flavored variety like Doritos. If you're feeling creative, some toppings that you might experiment with include French fried onions, crisp chow mein noodles, and even croutons. A sprinkling of nuts or seeds can also add flavor and texture.

We've mentioned it before, but extra crispy bacon is also a good option for adding crunch. So are crisp fruits or vegetables like apples or raw bell peppers.

10. Make it spicy

Everything is better spicy. At least, we think so. In fact, grilled cheese can taste downright bland if you aren't adding extra heat. Anything that you would use to add heat to any other dish is a good candidate for grilled cheese. You can combine heat-adding ingredients with other ingredients to create a sandwich that's banging.

Jalapeños are a big yes, as are any jarred peppers. You can add a splash of hot sauce inside or drizzle on the outside after the sandwich is done. Hot spices like cayenne pepper, chili flakes, or Cajun seasoning can work, too. Another idea is to use spicy sauces like harissa, sriracha mayo, or gochujang.

If you want to really heat things up, layer several spicy ingredients together. For example, you could use pepper jack cheese and add other hot ingredients like japapeño peppers, habañero peppers, and crushed jalapeño-flavored potato chips.

11. Add canned and jarred ingredients

Just like canned and jarred ingredients can upgrade a pizza, they can also upgrade a grilled cheese. You likely have something in your cupboard right now you could add to turn your grilled sandwich into a heartier meal. Just be sure that you dry the ingredients first, since they've been sitting in brine or vinegar and can make the bread salty and soggy if added straight from the can or jar without draining first.

Pickled ingredients can add an interesting twist to your sandwich. The sharpness of the vinegar contributes another layer of flavor. Try pickled onions, pickled jalapeños, pickled banana peppers, or pickled cucumbers. If you try adding pickled cucumbers, the type you want to try — dill, sweet, or bread and butter — depends on the flavor profile you want to shoot for. There's no reason you couldn't try relish, too. 

There are several other canned items that can work. Canned veggies like artichokes, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms are great. For salty bite and interest, any variety of olives from black to green will do, as will capers. You can even look to other canned products like sloppy Joe mix (plus cooked ground beef), canned chili, or tuna.

12. Get creative with your cheese

Most places that serve grilled cheese sandwiches just use American cheese and call it done. It's the easy choice since it already comes in slices that are perfect for putting between two slices of bread. If you have sliced cheddar, you've likely given that a try, too. However, it's worthwhile to experiment with other types of cheese beyond the classics.

Provolone, gruyère, smoked gouda, fontina, asiago, Swiss, muenster, and havarti are all great choices. You can even use soft cheeses like cream cheese or pimento cheese. When we use multiple cheeses in a sandwich, we like to layer them irregularly so that there are differing flavor bites throughout the sandwich.

If you plan to load your sandwich with other ingredients, it's a good idea to let those ingredients guide which type of cheese you use. For example, you might pair mozzarella with tomato and other Italian flavors, hard cheeses with Italian meats, brie with fruit or jam, pepper jack with Mexican flavors, and bleu cheese with buffalo sauce.

13. Plan to dip it

You can upgrade both plain and fancy grilled cheese sandwiches by dipping them into sauce or soup. If you haven't been dipping your grilled cheese into something, we'd argue that you've been eating grilled cheese the wrong way all along. Not only is it a flavor boost, but it changes the texture for added interest.

A variety of soups pair well with grilled cheese sandwiches. Tomato soup is a standard, but we like to spice it ours up with curry and cilantro. There's probably not a soup that wouldn't work. However, some of the best options include French onion, chili, leek and potato soup, butternut squash soup, and roasted red pepper soup. Other top-notch choices include gazpacho, black bean soup, bisques, chowders, minestrone, or broccoli cheese soup.

There are a variety of savory and sweet sauces that are great for dipping your sandwich. You'll recognize a lot of these as ingredients that are also good inside the sandwich. Some creamy options include ranch dressing, blue cheese dressing, and tzatziki sauce. Spicy sauces like hot sauce work well, too. Some people even dip their grilled cheese in ketchup. If you are looking for a sweeter flavor, try dipping the sandwich in honey, jam, or sweet chutneys like peach or mango chutney. And you can combine sweetness and spiciness with hot honey.