If you were to make a list of Essential Life Skills, it would begin something like this:
Remember to breathe
Avoid recording conflicts on your DVR (especially on Sunday nights)
Know how to make grilled cheese
One of these things is a lot harder than it sounds. (Spoiler: it’s the third one.) True, grilled cheese, like pizza, can be pretty good even when it’s bad. But no one should have to spend their life eating mediocre sandwiches.
So, inspired by our Taste of Groupon campaign, we consulted chefs from across North America for their best grilled-cheese secrets. Read on to up your cooking game (and your appetite).
It all starts with the bread.
1. Make a toasted cheese. Literally. “First, I always lightly toast my bread … while heating up [the] pan,” said Andrew Manning, co-owner of Atlanta’s Mardi Gras Cafe. “The key is you can’t take it too far.”
2. Less is more. David Fhima, executive chef of Faces Mears Park in Saint Paul, has one crucial suggestion: “Do not cut the bread too thick.” (In our experience, it just makes it harder for the cheese to melt.)
3. Pass on processed white bread. The melty cheese may be the most delicious part of a grilled cheese, but maybe that’s only because you’re not using better bread. Sous Chef Patricio of Austin’s Ale House in Queens, NY, prefers using a hearty potato bread, whereas Ryan Primo Nuqui, the chef de cuisine at Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, always reaches for brioche.
4. Go global. “Pita is great for a light and crunchy alternative,” recommended Kristina Walgenbach, the kitchen manager at Vancouver, BC’s DeaFined Restaurant.
Butter it up.
5. Not any old butter will do. This is a decision as consequential as whether or not to wear shoes today. “Use salted butter. Also, butter the bread, not the pan!” urged Ali Omar, chef-owner of Ceedo’s Eatery near Cleveland.
Chef Nuqui suggested clarified butter, which has a higher smoke point than regular butter, thus minimizing your chances of burning the dang thing. (You know you’ve done it.)
6. Or throw caution to the wind. Chef Patricio couldn’t disagree more with Chef Omar. He urged people to use “butter, butter, and more butter in the pan.” We’ll leave this decision up to your personal taste (pun intended).
Say cheese. A few times.
7. Don’t be afraid to experiment with multiple cheeses. Chef Fhima likes using three: one soft, one hard, and one pungent. Chef Omar also suggested pairing cheeses but making sure to choose ones with great melting points, such as cheddar, provolone, and american.
James Beard Award semifinalist Horacio Rivadero, the chef at Tantalize Miami, opts for a more international blend: american, provolone, and gruyère. Mmmmm.
Kristin Beringson, from City Winery in Nashville, also loves her cheese(s). “The more cheese, the better. The nicer the cheese, the tastier. Try a combination of spreadable cheese and harder cheese.”
Throw in some extra ingredients.
8. Butter isn’t the only spread on the block. “Add mayonnaise to the inside [of the] slices,” suggested Chef Omar. “It adds an extra element of creaminess.”
Kevin Savoy, executive chef of Max’s Wine Dive in Denver, is also on the mayo train. “The mayo adds a creamy texture and helps the cheese get hot and bubbly.” But he doesn’t stop there. “[Pimento] peppers add deep, rich flavor.”
9. Think outside the (bread) box. “Grilled cheese leaves the door open to endless possibilities and combinations,” said Elizabeth Vibostak, executive chef of Level 20 near Pittsburgh. “Some of my favorites are crispy pancetta and an egg cooked into the top slice of bread. As well as caprese grilled cheese.”
Sami Mousattat, the general manager of Dark Table in Vancouver, BC, also loves a caprese twist, citing a go-to combination of “sweet basil, heirloom tomato, fresh mozzarella, and brie.”
10. Pig out. Chef Patricio’s ingredient suggestion is also just Great Life Advice: “Add bacon.”
Technique is crucial.
11. Forget about flipping. “I put [both slices] in a pan and place a piece of cheese on both. The two pieces of cheese give you the extra cheesiness you need to make a delicious sandwich,” Chef Manning said.
12. Think about the cheese first, the bread second. “Sear the grilled cheese, covered, at low heat, so as not to burn [the] bread but to melt [the] cheese,” said Chef Fhima. “Uncover a couple of minutes before it is finished to dry up [any] moisture and create a crusty finish.”
13. Use a great pan. Just because it’s a low-maintenance meal doesn’t mean it deserves a low-quality pan. “It is always better to use a non-stick Teflon frying pan, so when the cheese starts to melt it does not stick to the surface,” said Chef Rivadero.
Illustration by Kelly MacDowell, Groupon
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