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6 Grilled Cheese Mistakes You Never Want to Make

A plate of grilled cheese sandwiches, sliced in halves.
George Dolgikh/Shutterstock

Anyone who can heat up a skillet can make grilled cheese, but that doesn’t mean this childhood classic is foolproof. If you avoid these easy-to-make mistakes, you can serve up grilled cheese perfection, every time.

We’d argue there’s not a lactose tolerant adult who can deny the magic of a good grilled cheese. When done right, you get a perfectly crusty outside with a gooey melted center. One bite gives you all the feels! The joy that comes from biting into that crunchy, toasted bread, and the gratifying mouthfeel that only melted cheese can provide are priceless.

We don’t mean to exaggerate here—it doesn’t take a college degree to make the perfect grilled cheese. However, some common mistakes can instantly downgrade your sandwich from melted masterpiece to burnt toast.

That’s why we’ve put together the following list of typical grilled cheese blunders, and how you can avoid them. So, read on, grilled cheese apprentice. Mastering the art of melted sandwiches is well within your reach!

Skimping on the Fat

The first mistake novice grilled cheese makers commit is using too little fat. We’re not talking about inside the sandwich, though; we’re talking about the outside. The best grilled cheese isn’t just stuffed with dairy-loaded fat molecules, they’re coated in them, too.

Whether you use mayonnaise, butter, oil, or a blend of all three, the outside of the sandwich must be completely covered in fat. This is what turns your sandwich that gorgeous golden-brown as it toasts. It also helps you get a perfect crunch without burning the bread.

Most importantly, fat adds flavor. Using butter or mayo on the outside of the bread might sound strange, but the result is a richer, more flavorful grilled cheese.

You can spread the fat on the outside of the sandwich before you put it in the pan. Alternatively, you can melt the fat in the pan first, and then add the sandwich. Mayonnaise is easier to spread on the outside of the sandwich, while oil is easier to put directly in the frying pan.

Regardless of which method you choose, make sure the bread is completely coated to ensure a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Using Too Much Cheese

We know this sandwich is named after it, but there is such a thing as too much cheese. If you’re using a presliced cheese, one slice should do it, even though this might sound too light-handed. Of course, the type of cheese and bread you’re using both matter, but the pros seem to agree that one slice is plenty for grilled cheese perfection.

The problem with more than one slice is how long it takes for the cheese to melt. Adding a second or third slice will leave you either with overdone bread, or a less-than-melty center to your sandwich.

If you’re dying to use more cheese than the standard 1 oz. slice, shred your own cheese, and then add it. While a few lost shreds might make a minor mess in your frying pan, shredded cheese melts faster, overall, so you can have more of it on your sandwich, without burning the bread.

Using the Wrong Cheese

We’ve talked about adding the right amount of cheese, but it’s also crucial to add the right type of cheese. Different cheeses melt at different rates and temperatures. For a good grilled cheese, you want to use dairy that melts quickly. Soft cheeses are best; the harder ones, like parmesan, cause problems.

Easy-to-melt, soft, and mild cheeses, like Monterey Jack, Colby, or Muenster, are some excellent, although, slightly elevated options. If you want something with a bit more bite, Swiss and blue also melt well.

Many people swear by their American cheese singles. These are more of a processed cheese product than actual cheese, but, they’ll still do the job.

Less traditional options, like goat or ricotta, work for more gourmet approaches, but they create something far from the typical grilled cheese sandwich. Crumbly cheeses, like feta, and harder, aged cheeses, like pecorino, don’t melt well.

Cooking at High Heat

A grilled cheese sandwich in a cast iron skillet.

Patience is a virtue, and that’s especially true when it comes to grilled cheese. We know it’s hard to watch that cheesy goodness languidly melt over medium to medium-high heat. Still, avoid the temptation to crank up the heat in hopes of receiving your grilled cheese reward that much faster. If you do so, you’re likely to end up with a blackened, rather than golden-brown, sandwich.

This has a lot to do with the type of fat you use, as well. Butter and mayonnaise both contain solid fats that will burn at high temperatures. This not only blackens the bread, but also produces a bitter, rank flavor.

This is why it’s essential to keep the heat down around medium. It might take a little more patience to melt the cheese, but the delicious end result is more than worth the wait.

Using the Wrong Bread

Artisan breads are popular at the moment, and for good reason—they’re delicious. Unfortunately, they’re one of the worst options for grilled cheese. This is because an excellent grilled cheese sandwich strikes a delicate balance between good and not-so-good.

If you use a high-quality, extra yeasty artisan loaf, you’ll find that, while it tastes incredible, it’s a horrible vessel for melted cheese.

Because artisan bread relies on a large amount of yeast to get a gorgeous rise, this is often done without the structure of a loaf pan. More rise means larger gas bubbles, and larger gas bubbles mean your final bread will have some hefty holes in it. While those holes add beautiful texture and depth to many a baker’s Instagram page, they don’t do much for holding in cheese.

For a good grilled cheese, you just need a classic sandwich bread that’s made with less yeast and rising time. It should be decent in terms of flavor, but it doesn’t have to be a handcrafted loaf.

Best of all, this also means it won’t come with a handcrafted price tag. A typical, presliced loaf of bread from the grocery store shelf will work beautifully.

Indiscriminate Fillings

A grilled cheese, in essence, is just bread, fat, and cheese. However, many people add other things in an attempt to take their sandwich to the next level. Unfortunately, without some careful thought, adding another filling will most likely just turn your sandwich into mush, rather than placing it in the grilled cheese Hall of Fame.

If you’re determined to try this, though, pay attention to moisture content. Things with high moisture content, like tomatoes, are the worst culprits, but really, any vegetable will have an effect. Extra liquid leads to a soggy sandwich.

To combat this, take precautions when getting creative with your grilled cheese sandwich fillings. Jarred and pickled vegetables should be drained and dried before you add them to your sandwich.

When appropriate, seed and drain liquid-loaded produce in advance. This works well with juicy fillings, like tomatoes. Simply use a paring knife to remove the tomato seeds and most of the insides. Sprinkle a bit of salt over them, and then allow them to drain in a colander over the sink for about five minutes before you use them in your sandwich.

Creating the perfect grilled cheese every time takes a bit of forethought, at first. However, once you know what to avoid, mastery is well within reach. So, grab some mayo, heat up that skillet, and invite some friends over. It’s time to serve up some grilled cheesy goodness!

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »
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