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Photography by James River Media

Super Sandwiches Grilled to Perfection

Grilled cheese sandwiches are so simple to make that it’s often the first thing many of us learn to cook. The ultimate comfort food, they round out a bowl of soup for a meal or can stand alone as a perfect snack. Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, grilled cheeses create endless debates as to how to best achieve the desired result of perfectly toasted bread and melted cheesy interior: sliced versus grated cheese, butter versus mayonnaise on the outside of the bread, exactly what type of bread is best and that’s not even getting into the best cheese debates.

You can get lost in the details, but the basic elements are sliced bread, cheese that melts easily and a well-greased surface. Cook it over medium to low heat, so that the outside cooking process takes as long as the inside and voilà! The perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

There are any number of variations out there that can elevate the sandwich to higher levels. Adding jams, mustards, sautéed or roasted vegetables, meats, sliced fruit as well as experimenting with different cheeses make for a whole new take on grilled cheese. Make them with waffle irons or feed a crowd with sheet pan grilled cheeses, made en masse in the oven.

From basic to next level, here are a few recipes to get your creative grilled-cheese wheels spinning.

Diner-Style Grilled Cheese
Restaurants, particularly diners, always have the best grilled cheese sandwiches. Their secret? Lots of fat on the bread, cooked over a low heat on a griddle, with a good melting cheese like American. If using mayonnaise on the exterior, coat it very thinly and smoothly. This is a time when you’ll want to use real mayonnaise; the low-fat versions or Miracle Whip will not produce the same results.

  • 2 slices of bread
  • 2-3 slices American cheese, white or yellow
  • Butter, softened, or mayonnaise

Heat pan or griddle over medium-low heat. Thinly spread one side of each slice of bread with butter (or mayonnaise). Place one slice buttered (or mayo’d) side down onto heated pan, and top with cheese. Place remaining slice, buttered side up, on top. Cook for about 3 minutes or until bread is toasty and brown. Turn sandwich over, and cook the other side until brown and toasty. Serve. Yield: 1 serving

Waffle Iron Ham & Cheese
For a grilled cheese that’s perfect every time, try using your waffle iron. Think of it as a panini press, but slightly more versatile. The extra nooks and crannies created by the waffle press are great for dipping in soups. This recipe adds ham and arugula to make it a full meal by itself.

  • 2 slices of bread
  • 2 slices of Swiss cheese
  • 1-2 thin slices of ham
  • Arugula
  • Mustard
  • Butter

Preheat your waffle iron. Thinly spread one side of each slice of bread with butter. On the unbuttered side of one slice of bread, thinly spread with mustard. Top with one slice of cheese, then ham, arugula and remaining cheese. Place remaining slice of bread, unbuttered side down, on cheese. Place entire sandwich in waffle iron. It won’t close all the way, but don’t press down. (The waffle iron will slowly press the sandwich on its own as it cooks.) Cook for about 3-5 minutes or until bread is brown and toasty, and the cheese is melted. Yield: 1 serving

Oven-Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Fig Jam
Sheet pan grilled cheeses make feeding a crowd fast work. Prosciutto or ham can substitute for the bacon here.

  • 8 slices of bread
  • 8 slices of cooked bacon
  • Fig jam
  • 8 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese
  • Butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread one side of bread with butter. Put four slices, buttered side down, on a cookie sheet. Thinly spread fig jam on bread, then add 2-3 slices of cheese. (Alternatively, you can use grated cheese here — a handful of grated cheese is about an ounce.) Add two slices of bacon and remaining slice of cheese to each piece of bread. Cover each sandwich with remaining slice of bread, butter side up. Bake until bottom bread is golden brown, about 10 minutes, then flip. Continue to bake until cheese is fully melted, and other side is toasted and brown, about 8-10 minutes. Yield: 4 servings

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