Grilled cheese with bacon

The Humble Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Get the recipe for my favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich here.

Childhood Memories

I dunno about you, but I have a LOT of memories connected to grilled cheese sandwiches.  I imagine many people will scoff at that statement, but allow me to explain.

My first clear and enduring memory related to a grilled cheese sandwich is attached to my cousin, Chris.  Chris is several years older than me and (to this day) one of the nicest people I know.  Years can go by between talking, and we still pick up a conversation right where we left off.  When I was about seven, I was visiting my cousins with my mom.  I couldn’t tell you where my mom and my Aunt Nancy were at the time, but we got hungry.  Being a precocious seven year old, I had yet to get any kitchen experience.  Chris, however, had a few chops.  He showed me how to make a grilled cheese from scratch (something which blew me away at the time).  He also let me make my own – something which I can definitively point to as a life changing experience for me.

Again, I can hear my readers scoffing.  A grilled cheese sandwich changed your life?

Yes.

That grilled cheese sandwich got me excited about cooking.  Granted, it wasn’t a souffle – but it was something I could cook (safely) for myself.  Somewhere, at that moment in time, my parents smiled and had no idea why.

Speaking of whom, my parents will tell you that there were several years where I ate nothing but hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I can neither confirm or deny this assertion.

Now that I am older and wiser (hah!), I still enjoy the simple pleasure of a good grilled cheese.  I am not talking about white bread and american cheese (though you will still catch me eating those on occasion).  The grilled cheese sandwich is another one of those iconic dishes you can make as simple or as complicated as you like.  Sadly, this also means a lot of people muck it up in trying too hard.

The Basics:

At it’s core, a good grilled cheese is based around a few core ingredients.  Bread, cheese, and butter (I know, you can use Mayo – but I personally have not tried this).  Find yourself a nice bread you like and start there.  Get a couple cheeses – try out some of the ones that sound fun from your deli section at the grocery store. Snag some good butter.

Avoid loading the sandwich up with fifteen kinds of cheese.  You want balance between the bread and the cheese.  Don’t go too heavy on the butter (wow, that hurt to write).  You want it to get crisp, but not soggy. Soggy grilled cheeses make kittens cry.

Technique:

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m picky about my grilled cheese sandwiches.  One of the most affirming things I have ever felt was seeing a making of scene from the movie Chef with Jon Favreau.  In it, Favreau is getting advice from a chef about how to act in a scene where the main character is making a grilled cheese.  It’s actually pretty intense (and the clip I think conveys the mindset better than the scene used in the movie)   Aside from the excellent technique employed (specifically – keeping the sandwich moving), I find that scene strikes a chord because someone else gets it.  Silly, I know. But hey, validation!

So, to begin.

From my father (and later Thomas Keller) – butter both sides of your bread.  This way, you get flavor as well as browning.  Again, use good butter.

I like to add potato chips to the inside of my grilled cheese sandwiches (again, from Thomas Keller).  I recommend kettle chips as they hold up better (although oddly, the old standbys do great too).  The chips give you a textural change which is great.  Depending on the cheese you are using, they can also keep things from going over to the gooey side.

Be sure you get your skillet or griddle hot before you start.  And have a spatula handy.  You want to keep the sandwich moving throughout to insure it doesn’t develop soggy spots (too much butter in one location), or have less than golden areas (not enough butter in another spot).  Keeping the sandwich moving helps to even this out and make your sandwich golden all over.

Putting your grilled cheese in the oven after the pan is a game changer.  If you like harder cheeses (gouda for instance), then just doing the sandwich in a skillet won’t result in grilled cheese goodness  – the bread will burn to blackness before the cheese ever gets to wonderful meltiness.  Popping the sandwich in the oven melts the cheese and also gives you a buffer to cook a few more sandwiches for family and friends.

Recommended:

Bacon.  Yes.  Put it in there.

I like to add a few chili flakes to mine, simply because I like the flavor.  In lieu of these, there are some nice pepper cheeses which also work – though I find many of them to be a bit on the overpowering side for my tastes.

Salt and pepper your sandwich just like any other food.  You’ll notice the difference!

Slices of chorizo and pear in the same sandwich linked in my recipe substituted for the bacon and chips would make a fantastic sandwich with some or cheeses.