How to make a grilled cheese sandwich
When we were growing up, Mom fed us a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. A LOT of grilled cheese sandwiches. On Sundays, after church, if we asked what was for lunch, the answer was invariably “a surprise!” And the surprise was invariably a grilled cheese sandwich.
I hated them.
So for years, I’ve avoided anything resembling a grilled cheese sandwich. I’ll take PBJ, please. Or, really, I’m not that hungry. I know, I haven’t eaten anything all day, but I’m full. No need to make me a grilled cheese.
Anyway, a few years Mom asked if I could make her a Reuben sandwich. After looking up some info on them, I bought some corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, and made us all Reubens for supper. They were good, and joined our regular meal rotation.
My guy and I go to Myrtle Beach every year, and Bridgette and her family often join us. I’m not sure how we ended up there, but we found a little hole in a strip mall restaurant, called The Grilled Cheese and Crab Cake Company.
They have amazingly good food, with crab cakes that are more crab than cake, and sweet potato fries with apple butter, and my favorite, the grilled cheese brisket special. It’s Texas toast, at least 2 slices of cheddar, a couple of onion rings, and a pile of bbq brisket. It is huge, and delish. It’s also $15, just for the sandwich.
So, it slowly seeped into my brain that a grilled cheese is not just 2 slices of cheap bread, and a slice of the cheapest American “cheese” you can buy. In fact, the Reubens that I make and love are grilled cheese.
Now I make grilled cheese all the time. It’s the lunch I most frequently make myself. But it always has lots of good cheese, and it almost always has something else in it too. Just cheese by itself gets boring.
So I have perfected my grilled cheese skills, and I’d like to share them with you.
Low and Slow is the most important thing to remember. You might get tired of waiting for it, and turn the heat up just a little bit – and wham, it’s burnt.
Use a cast iron skillet. The heat retention of these things is perfect for grilled cheese. Put it on LOW. On my stove, I have found slightly less than #2 to be about perfect. But if I’m cooking more than one sandwich, it’ll be better on #1. (Because of that heat retention.) It might take you a few tries to find the best temp for you, but start low. After 5 minutes if it isn’t nicely brown then turn it up – but just a little! Go ahead and turn it on so it can heat up while you get everything else ready. It’s low enough that it will take some time to come to temp.
Use real butter, duh. Butter your bread, not the skillet. Butter doesn’t go bad at room temperature, so leave it out. Spread some of that soft, room temperature butter on your favorite bread. (I must admit, my favorite bread is cheap white bread.)
Put both slices, butter down, in the skillet. I put them with the bottoms of the bread next to each other, so when it’s time to flip, you just flop one slice on top of the other. And put a slice of good cheese on each piece of bread. I usually do cheddar, but there are so many good options – muenster, colby, pepper jack, havarti… Mix and match!
Now add any thing you want inside. A tomato, enchilada sauce, left over bbq, leftover chicken, the only limit is your imagination. If you put something big in there you might need to heat it up separately first. But you really only need a little bit of something to make a grilled cheese special, and it usually heats up just fine while the sandwich is cooking.
Now put a lid over it, and ignore it. Walk away. It could take 5 minutes. Take some time to get yourself a drink, or check your email.
Occasionally, peek under the lid to see if the cheese looks melty. If it does, then flip one half of the sandwich on top of the other half. Then pull it out, slice it in half, and enjoy the ooey goodness of a proper grilled cheese.