Secrets to the Best Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwich
Whether you have it with tomato soup, dip it in ketchup, or just eat it by itself, it's a sandwich that makes you feel like a kid: pure delight and magic.
What goes into the perfect grilled cheese sandwich? Put aside tricked-out versions and consider the classic grilled cheese. For many Americans, it conjures fundamental memories. This is a simple sandwich yes, but one whose enjoyment lies in the indulgence and luxury of simple ingredients and their execution to deliver what you could argue satisfies more than a meal at the country's best (and most expensive) restaurants. So it's not strange that the grilled cheese sandwich has become the theme of food trucks and restaurants across America, but it is bizarre (and sad) that it has made its way to frozen food aisles (seriously?) and that often, when you do order it, it's not made properly. It's a simple sandwich for crying out loud. Make it make it the right way, and if you’re making it at home don’t make it from a box. Make it yourself. It and you deserve no less.
An amazing grilled cheese sandwich is simple, and yet in that simplicity, so rife with potential disaster. There are few things as sacrilegious as a failed grilled cheese sandwich. There’s nothing worse than biting into a grilled cheese sandwich and finding that the bread isn’t properly caramelized and crunchy and that, for the love of all things cheesy, the cheese isn’t melted all the way through. Are you kidding? Seriously?
To avoid failure and to achieve grilled cheese perfection you have only to keep five things in mind: a sufficiently but not overly grilled exterior, correct cheese-to-bread type, correct cheese to bread ratio, use of butter, and cheese that is melted all the way through.
That's it! That's all! But then you need to serve the sandwich immediately. My grilled cheese training goes back to countless afternoons after school and between dinner. I’d stand there peering over the counter and into the toaster, watching the coils turn bright red in hushed wonder, slathering butter on the outside of the bread, layering different cheeses, testing their meltability and combination, their integration with tomatoes, trying to get the most cheesy, gooey interior and the most beautiful light golden yellow and black speckled bread. And while I think the sauté pan is always the way to the perfect grilled cheese, many of the principles experimented with in the toaster as a kid still hold true. High heat, fully melted cheese, lots of butter — the grilled cheese should be the first thing any warm-blooded American kid learns to do after school.
For those who don’t get what the big deal is or the art form that this simple sandwich employs, take heart... it's really super easy.
What are the keys?
Cook with Butter Need this be explained? Always better with butter.
Melt and Brush on Your Butter Melting the butter beforehand gives you even distribution of the bread exterior for better flavor and texture.
Sliced vs. Non-Sliced and Room Temperature If you're using sliced cheese, bring them to room temperature, and if you're not, slice your cheese thin if you can and bring it to room temperature. If you can't slice it thin, at least bring it to room temperatures. Bringing cheese to room temperature ensures a better chance of melting it all the way through without going too dark on the bread.
Number of Slices I’m a four-slice man. If you’re going with slices, go with at least four. Two just isn’t enough cheese unless your bread is super thin. Make it cheesy.
Consider Par-Melting If you par-melt two slices of cheese in the microwave you get an even better gooey situation inside the bread. Just 15 seconds on a piece on a piece of plastic, enough to make it gooey but not burn or turn into a gloppy mess. Turn it over on the bread slice, put together and then you can go high heat on the bread in the pan and be certain the cheese is melted.
Use High Heat and Cover Get that pan hot and bring some great color to the exterior. Cover it as it cooks (using a lid that presses the sandwich down a bit is even better).
When Not Using the Pan… If you're not using the pan or the griddle, consider using even more butter on the exterior of the bread when toasting or grilling.