How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese
Sometimes called a toastie, my Open-Faced Hot Honey and Ham Grilled Cheese has Dijon, ham, arugula, apples, pepper, and a hot honey drizzle.
By: Bree Hester
April is National Grilled Cheese Month and I appreciate an entire month devoted to my love of crispy bread and melted cheese. Is there anything better than a grilled cheese sandwich? I really don’t think there is.
The thing about grilled cheese is that it’s so simple and yet so divine, but to make an EPIC grilled cheese, you can’t just throw a cheese sandwich in a pan and call it good. There are thoughts and techniques that go into creating that angelic cheese icon.
Follow these rules for making the most EPIC and delicious grilled cheese sandwich and you will have your mind blown by just how good the grilled cheese can be.
(With such simple ingredients, make sure to use the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on. I splurge on bakery-fresh artisan bread, Irish or French butter, and lots of Roth Cheese.)
01. Use really good bread. Go to the bakery and get a loaf of crusty, hearty bread. You can add some flavor here too. An olive bread, a sweet bread with fruit (I’m not a fan of raisins, but a fruit and nut bread is actually a really delicious base for grilled cheese), baguette, ciabatta, whole wheat – whatever looks good to you. Have the bakery slice it for you and save yourself the terror of cutting off a finger with a serrated knife. (Just me? This hasn’t happened to you?)
02. Use super soft butter. You want butter on every surface of your bread. (Both sides!!) There is nothing more frustrating than trying to spread too cold butter and tearing your beautiful bread. Make sure that it is softer than room temperature, you want spreadable butter. Some people swear by mayonnaise for grilled cheese. If you’ve been here for a while, you know I’m phobic about it, so it’s not something I
keep allow in my house, but it’s really good for this job because it spreads well and has enough oil to crisp up your bread.
03. Use a variety of cheeses. Is one kind of cheese good? Absolutely. Are two or three varieties mixed together even more incredible? You betcha. All cheese tastes good, there is no debate about that. But some cheeses have incredible melting qualities. Some have unique flavor profiles. Pair up cheeses that melt really well with ones that have unique flavors. Like Havarti and Gouda, for example, in my Open-Faced Hot Honey and Ham Grilled Cheese. Both are delicious on their own, but Havarti is an excellent melting cheese and Gouda is a flavor explosion. Together they are a dynamic duo.
04. Shred your cheese. Slices are fine, but I really like to shred my cheese and mix them together in a bowl before putting them on my sandwich. I think that this is the best way to get a good mix. I also really love how the cheese melts when you put shredded on a sandwich instead of hand-cut cheese. I just don’t cut my slices as thinly or evenly as my sandwich deserves.
05. Shapes and sizes. Sometimes a regular old sandwich cut in half is what you are after. But if I am eating one with soup, I want it cut into fingers. If I am feeling really fancy, I want an open-faced toastie and want to knife and fork it. My kids like it cut into quarters without crust. I like how when you think outside of the box a little, it changes the grilled cheese experience entirely.
06. Flavor and texture. I think that the perfect bite has all or most of the flavor elements — sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami. We also can’t forget about texture — creamy, crunchy, smooth, crispy. When you are looking in your fridge for grilled cheese ingredients, anything goes. But I like to think about the perfect bite. Is there a fresh element? Is there going to be some crunch? Am I feeling spicy?
07. Resist the urge to turn up the heat on the pan. You’re hungry and want a sandwich NOW, I get it. It has taken me years to break this habit with my husband. He used to think that the only way to cook pancakes was on high heat. The outside would burn and the inside would be raw. Medium-low and slow is actually the ideal heat setting for pancakes AND grilled cheese. The bread will crisp and turn a luscious golden brown and the cheese and toppings inside will be hot and melty.
08. Shop your pantry. I really like to put mustards, jams, fruit butter, honeys, chutneys, pickled jalapenos, pestos, tapenades, and relishes in my grilled cheese. It’s a great way to add sweetness or a huge pop of flavor or spice. My favorite combination is salty and sweet, so I love adding a thin layer of jam to my bread before adding the cheese. It’s incredible!
09. Shop your fridge. I think that a fresh element is always good in something that is, well, super rich. I like to add fresh herbs (thyme, basil, even the humble parsley), arugula, a few tomato slices, anything that will cut some of the fattiness in the grilled cheese. Fresh ingredients add bite and an entirely different element to the sandwich.
10. Change the cooking vessel. You probably are cooking your grilled cheese in a nonstick skillet. That’s fine, but if you have a cast-iron skillet use that. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, get one. They are super cheap and will last forever. They conduct heat better than anything else and can go in the oven. I cook everything I can in one of those. My next favorite cooking vessel for grilled cheese is, wait for it… a waffle iron. There is a place that used to be on Cape that had the best grilled cheese and it was made with good bread, cheddar, and cooked in a waffle iron. It makes for the BEST crevices and crunchy bits. Don’t sleep on trying to cook your grilled cheese in a waffle iron.
Best Melting Cheeses For Grilled Cheese //
Roth Grand CruⓇ is an alpine-style cheese similar in style to Gruyère. It melts like a dream and is slightly sweet and nutty. It is an American-made cheese that is a delicious all-around cheese for eating, melting, and flavor.
Roth Original Havarti is super creamy and mild. It’s perfect for grilled cheese and also a perfect one to pair with a stronger-flavored cheese. You can also make killer combinations when you use flavored Havartis like Dill Havarti, Chipotle Havarti, or my personal favorite — Horseradish Havarti.
Best Cheeses for Adding a Punch of Flavor to Grilled Cheese //
Roth Gouda is a great melting cheese as well, but also has a distinct flavor that can only be found in a Gouda cheese. Punch it up even more and use a Smoked Gouda. I love this with thin slices of apple and Dijon mustard.
Buttermilk BlueⓇ is creamy, tangy, and mellow. I love the unexpected punch of blue cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich. It is too much for me on its own in a sandwich but paired with Havarti, there is plenty of blue cheese kick that is mellowed out by the creamy cheese. For this sandwich, I like a thin layer of fig jam and some prosciutto slices on a fruited bread with some finely chopped rosemary inside.
Chèvre might not be the first cheese you think of in a grilled cheese, but believe me when I tell you, it works. This goat’s milk cheese is tangy, but also mild. (Truth be told I don’t love goat cheese, but I really do like this one.) This is particularly delicious on an open-faced grilled cheese. I like to melt Gouda on the bottom, spread Chèvre on top of that, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and a handful of arugula. It’s a knife and fork-er, but a perfect brunch sammie.
Delicious Accompaniments to Add To Your Grilled Cheese Repertoire //
Otherwise known as: shop your pantry and fridge for things to put inside your grilled cheese. Just about anything is fair game, but get creative with your ingredients.
Jams and jellies
Fruit butters: apple, pumpkin, pear
Fresh fruit slices
Flavored butter: garlic herb butter, truffle butter, chipotle butter
Meats: bacon, prosciutto, sopressata,
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Once you start to play with ingredients, the possibilities are endless.
Ingredients for Open-Faced Hot Ham and Cheese //
This Open-Faced Hot Honey and Ham Grilled Cheese is my current go-to combination.
Hot Honey: I cannot get enough hot honey. Nothing is safe, I put it on and in everything. It is very easy to make at home, but I usually buy it. If you’d like to make your own, simply mix together 1 cup honey and 2 tablespoons hot sauce. Heat on the stove for a few minutes and then transfer to an airtight container.
Gouda and Havarti cheeses: I love this combination of cheeses. Roth Gouda is my favorite cheese and I love mixing it with Roth Havarti for its melting qualities.
Baby arugula: I love the bite and freshness it adds to a hot ham and cheese sandwich.
Dijon mustard: Because you can’t have a ham and cheese without mustard.
Apples: The thinly-sliced apples add the perfect amount of sweetness and a little crunch.
How to Make Grilled Cheese in the Oven //
I used a crusty white bread that I got at a local bakery. I buttered one side and toasted it, then took it out and spread a light layer of Dijon mustard on the opposite side of bread. Then I topped it with shredded Gouda and Havarti, a few thin slices of ham and apple. Add a little more cheese to help it all stick together. Put it back in the oven and toast until the cheese is melted and gooey. Take it out and add a grind of pepper, a handful of baby arugula, and a generous drizzle of hot honey.
This sandwich hits all the notes that make me happy. Crispy, crunchy, salty, sweet, creamy, spicy. It’s absolute perfection. I hope you love it as much as I do.