Mistakes You're Making With Your Grilled Cheese

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Grilled cheese sandwiches can come in many forms — from the inexpensive option at the diner, made of white bread and American cheese, to more elevated forms with fancy upscale cheeses and accents like truffles or caviar between brioche bread. 

And while both cheap and fancy grilled cheese can be delicious and both have a place at our table, there's a lot of ways to make grilled cheese not delicious. From cheese that's just not melty — or too much or too little cheese — to bread that's either burnt or not toasted enough, grilled cheeses can get depressingly disappointing rather quickly!

But if you choose a great bread and a perfect cheese, you just may discover your dream grilled cheese ratio in no time. The secret to success is following some expert advice about mistakes to avoid and using the tips  below on your path to gooey, cheesy, perfection. Now, let's see what the pros have to say.

Choose the right bread for making grilled cheese sandwiches

Bread is more important for making a great grilled cheese than you might think. 

"The best bread, in my opinion, is going to be rich white bread like [pullman loaf] or brioche bread," Devan Cameron, chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, told Mashed. Cameron also doesn't look for any whole-wheat varieties here, because they take away from the texture of grilled cheese. "I want soft, buttery and golden brown edges on my bread," he said.

"I have yet to meet anyone who does not like grilled cheese sandwiches," Jessica Randhawa, chef and writer behind The Forked Spoon, told Mashed. As such, when making grilled cheese sandwiches for kids, Randhawa has different advice. The chef said that it's a common mistake to pick a generic white bread over a healthier whole-grain bread: "White bread contains very little nutritional value, such as fiber, which is essential for a healthy diet. White bread even has a higher glycemic index value than pure honey..."

Considering the popularity of grilled cheese sandwiches, it's an easy switch. "Since it's grilled with yummy cheese, the kids probably won't even notice the difference in bread," Randhawa said.

Whatever you choose, go for both flavor and presentation. "Our favorite bread is brioche because of its high butter and egg content that helps when browning the outside of the grilled cheese and complements the decadence of the dish," Chef Tommy Stribling of The Caviar Company in San Francisco told Mashed.

How temperature and cooking method can affect your grilled cheese

The right temperature and cooking process both go a long way in making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. 

"Put your pan over a medium-low flame and allow it to pre-heat for at least three to five minutes," Chef Quirino Silva of Automat Kitchen in Jersey City told Mashed. "You don't want to add the ingredients before it's hot, but not scorching hot." 

A common mistake when grilling the sandwich is either having the pan set too cold, which results in soggy bread, or having it set too hot and burning the bread. "Put your sandwich into the skillet and don't move it for at least two minutes," advised Silva. 

Don't touch it or shake it either. "If you start to move it around the heat can't do its job of toasting the starches in the bread," Silva added. 

If it's turned light golden brown on the stove, it's time to flip the sandwich over — the cheese should be melted enough to act as a glue keeping the bread slices together, and if not, be gentle when turning the sandwich over. "Once flipped, again allow it to sit untouched for a couple of minutes," said Silva. "After four to five minutes you can keep flipping until the bread reaches a perfect golden brown and the cheese begins to ooze out of the sides." 

Once you have reached this grilled cheese nirvana, you can remove your sandwich from the skillet.

Not using enough fat is a grilled cheese mistake

There is a time and a place for mayo in sandwiches, but it's definitely not when making a grilled cheese. Use butter — but good butter, and use a lot. "You're making a grilled cheese sandwich, not a fruit bowl. We want butter and we want a rich, high-quality bright yellow butter that's going to add flavor to the very simple sandwich," Devan Cameron, chef and owner of culinary website Braised & Deglazedtold Mashed.

And make sure that the butter you use is the real stuff — no dieting allowed here. "One mistake I've seen people make is using margarine or butter that is low or reduced-fat...they often contain water," Christine Pittman, founder of COOKtheSTORY and author of The Grilled Cheese Handbook: A Complete Guide to Making Homemade Grilled Cheese, told Mashed. Using lower-fat butter replacements is going to make your grilled cheese bread turn soggy, instead of crisping up like you'd like it to. 

"I would say the first mistake is trying to 'health-ify' or go 'wellness' on a grilled cheese," Tracy Wilk, chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, told Mashed.

 A grilled cheese is meant to be a delicious indulgence, reminiscent of childhood. So if you're making a grilled cheese sandwich, make a grilled cheese sandwich. And for that, you'll need full-fat margarine, full-fat butter, or even olive oil to make sure that your bread will be crispy and give you that classic crunch you've always enjoyed.

Make your grilled cheese sandwich open-faced for a twist

Another mistake that people make is not cooking their grilled cheese sandwich open faced. "You want to do two pieces of bread side by side with cheese on both, buttered side down," Christine Pittman, founder of COOKtheSTORY and author of The Grilled Cheese Handbook: A Complete Guide to Making Homemade Grilled Cheese, told Mashed.

When you use an open-faced technique, be sure to also put a lid down over the top of the pan after placing the bread and cheese — this part is critical. "This will make the cheese melt simultaneously while the bread is toasting, which is needed for the perfect grilled cheese," Pittman advised.

You don't want your bread to be perfectly toasted and still have a solid slice of cheese, and making your grilled cheese sandwich open-faced helps to get you to that gooey cheese texture you know and love, according to Pittman.

Choose your grilled cheese sandwich cheese(s) wisely

While there's really no wrong cheeses for a grilled cheese sandwich, our experts do have some tips and favorites.

One way is layering flavor by varying up the cheese styles to create contrast in melting points and flavor. "While I don't usually put out a pepper jack on my cheese boards — I'm a purist snob, I know – I do love the subtle spice in a sandwich," Wisconsin Foodie host Luke Zahm, who is also a James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Wisconsin-based Driftless Cafe, told Mashed.

But if you're going to choose just one cheese, do make it a great one. "We use a local Toma cheese from Point Reyes Cheese Company, [because] Toma is a traditional Italian style cheese that is excellent for melting," Chef Tommy Stribling of San Francisco-based The Caviar Company told Mashed. This cheese is known for its creamy and buttery flavor, along with its tangy and bright finish.

Stribling chooses to melt only one cheese in his grilled cheese sandwiches, as opposed to a blend, so there are no tasting nuances competing with each other. But the chef doesn't always follow this rule: "...We do add a Truffle Carpaccio from Truffle Shuffle that adds a unique earthy umami flavor different from the umami found in dairy products," Stribling said.

Here's how to get the perfect bread-to-cheese ratio for grilled cheese

The ideal grilled cheese sandwich will consist of cheese — or a blend of cheeses — that melt really well together, for a result that is rich, and of course, delicious. Once you get your choice of cheese or that blend of cheeses all settled, it's important to monitor your cheese-to-bread ratio. 

While the point of grilled cheese is for the cheese to be the star, and you do, of course, want to make sure to have enough cheese, it is actually possible to have too much cheese!

According to The Kitchn, when there's too much cheese in a grilled cheese, that will result in "unevenly cooked cheese spilling out the sides of the bread in greasy gobs." That doesn't sound appealing at all, does it? The right amount of cheese, according to the same article, is "1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of cheese." Stick to that amount, and you'll likely have grilled cheese perfection.

Don't be afraid to add flavor accents to your grilled cheese

With all that rich deliciousness, you might need something sharp to balance out the taste of your grilled cheese. "There's nothing quite as satisfying as a hot grilled cheese sandwich dipped in cold ketchup," Devan Cameron, chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, a food-focused website, told Mashed.

You can also use jam to accent the richness of flavor of cheese and bread. "Have you ever tried a grilled cheese sandwich with your favorite jam or jelly spread on top of the toasted bread? Have you ever gotten funky with it and used jalapeño jelly, apple butter, or even sliced grapes on your sandwich? It's the bomb," Luke Zahm, James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Driftless Cafe who also hosts Wisconsin Foodie, told Mashed. "It allows for some of the complexity of the cheese to shine through by counterpointing with acid and sugar,

Feel free to also go wild with the dips. "Barbecue sauce is a great option or even better is what they have here in Germany and the Netherlands — curried ketchup," said Cameron. "I've been a ketchup guy my whole life but I've recently been converted to curried ketchup as it's that good." 

According to Cameron, curried ketchup is like ketchup on steroids, with extra spices that all go so well with a good grilled cheese. But getting fancier than kethup is fully acceptable, too. "Our Classic White Sturgeon Caviar, which accents the richness of the sandwich altogether, adds a much-needed salinity and brininess to the dish," Chef Tommy Stribling of San Francisco-based The Caviar Co told Mashed.

Let your grilled cheese sandwich rest

Wait, you're not done yet! No matter how enticing it may appear, you don't want to eat that freshly prepared grilled cheese the second it comes out of the pan. Firstly, that's a great way to burn your mouth — and that'll be painful — but also, you'll enjoy your sandwich a lot more after it cools for a few minutes. 

And yes, this is another test of patience, considering that once it's on a plate, you'll have to give the grilled cheese about five minutes rest. "This allows it to cool down enough to not destroy the roof of your mouth when you take a bite," Chef Quirino Silva of Automat Kitchen in Jersey City told Mashed.

It also helps the cheese come to a lower temp that doesn't just pour out of the bread when you take that first bite. "After a few minutes, you can cut it – diagonally, always! – and enjoy a perfect grilled cheese," said Silva.