Kitchen Lab: (Grilled) CHEEEEEEESE, Gromit!

I love cheese. Cheese, cheese, cheese. And honestly, even with the greasy-fingers aspect, grilled cheese is probably one of the greatest comfort foods ever. It was one of those things I had to have, I needed to be able to make, so I kinda just figured it out on my own. And no, not with an iron (a la ‘Benny and Joon‘), although I understand that it is possible to do it that way. In a pinch. In a hotel room. When you’re starving. And you’ve somehow gone to the store for cheese, butter, bread, and tinfoil, but not to purchase actual hotel-friendly food.


Grilled cheese sammiches have been around since mass-production of food for the masses became a thing, when American cheese and inexpensive sliced bread started showing up in grocery stores. Now we have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off in the freezer. You’ve come a long way, baby.

While I think frozen PB&J is patently ridiculous, I will admit that I’m one of those people who, when I’m feeling particularly lazy, will go out of my way to avoid dirtying more dishes than absolutely necessary. On some occasions, I have been known to either spread the butter for a grilled cheese onto the bread with a spatula (awkward, I cannot recommend it), or try to flip my grilling sandwich with a butter knife. If I eat off a paper towel or napkin (which I’ve also used to prepare my ingredients, natch), then I’ve only dirtied the pan used for grilling and one utensil.

I will also use said utensil to cut the grilled cheese diagonally into triangles. Because that’s how you cut grilled cheese.

A loaf of bread, a package of deli cheese, and a tub of spreadable butter
Yes, three ingredients. (Not pictured: MUSTARD.)

Returning to the simple life, with limited ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, here’s what you need to make a basic grilled cheese sammich:

Bread, cheese, butter. BOOM, done. Sure, you can get all fancy with artisinal breads and exotic cheeses, but some of those cheeses just don’t melt right and half the point of grilled cheese is the “hongreee… eh, what the hell, here’s some Kraft singles and bread” adaptability.

a slice of buttered bread on a plate
Easy there, tiger.

The first step of my super-lazy low-mess grilled cheese is to just butter one slice of bread. You can warm up your pan while you’re doing this if you like, but I’d keep the heat pretty low. You want low-ish heat for a long-ish time to make sure the heat gets all the way up into the cheese to make it all nice and melty. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

open half of a grilled cheese sandwich in a pan
Tragically un-melty. YET.

Whilst buttering, keep in mind that you’re not schmearing a bagel, you’re giving the bread a nice, even, thin layer of butter. Get it all the way to the edges, and you should still be able to see the bread texture through the butter. And you don’t need to grease the pan in any way, the butter on the bread has taken care of that for you. Put your buttered bread in the pan (buttered side down of course!) and add as much cheese as you’d like in your sandwich.

Well, sheesh, don’t add a block of cheese. That won’t work any better than trying to campfire-roast an entire bag of marshmallows on one stick would, and you won’t eat it all as a sandwich anyway. Be reasonable… I usually use two or three slices. I also usually squeeze on some regular ol’ yellow mustard, but I really have no idea where I picked that up. It’s pretty good with your basic American slices or cheddar, though.

grilled cheese sandwich grilling in a pan
This corner is too cold!

Okay, yes. Add your cheese and other accoutrements, and immediately butter the other slice of bread. Because that first slice is already grilling, so move it! Put the second slice of bread on top to complete your sandwich, butter-side up.

Now you wait.

If your sammich starts smoking, you waited too long.

If your smoke alarm goes off, you waited WAY too long.

I am usually impatient and always picking up the edges of my sammich with a spatula to check for that perfect degree of crispy golden brown-ness. You really don’t want to walk away and let it kinda take care of itself; many a time I’ve been disappointed when I thought I could go grab something in the other room really quick and then come back to a blackened hunk of sad. And sad comfort food is extra-sad.

When the first side is that perfect-for-Goldilocks juuuuuuuust right, flip it over and let the other side do the same. It’ll probably take a bit less time for this side to cook, since the pan and the sandwich are already heated up.

Look, sammich! Om nom nom.

grilled cheese sandwich on a plate
Get your blankie and go watch cartoons.

Other things you can try:
Grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich (very messy, but good)
Grilled Nutella sandwich (GLORY HALLELUJAH)
Grilled ham/turkey/bacon and cheese
Add tomato, pickle, relish, lunchmeat, herb-y things, you name it…
Attend the Grilled Cheese Academy (warning: auto-play welcome message)
Join in the Grilled Cheese Social
Shake up a Grilled cheese and tomato soup martini (What is this, the Wonka factory?)
And, when you get really good at grilled cheese, you can enter the Grilled Cheese Invitational!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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One Comment

  1. I prefer to use a pancake griddle when making grilled cheese. The surface is more flat than a pan and I can make more at one time. I also butter all the bread ahead a time before constructing it on the griddle so as not to feel rushed to prepare the second bread. I prefer to dip my sandwich into tomato soup, but would like to try your idea of putting mustard on it. Grilled Cheese Sandwich = Perfect blend of fat and sugar 🙂

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