Photography by Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay). GIFs by Amy Chen.
No matter if you’re a kid, college student, or grown-ass human being, grilled cheese should be an essential part of your cooking repertoire.
But there’s a huge divide between ho-hum grilled cheese and a truly great grilled cheese sandwich. We asked chef Amy Stonionis of Murray’s Cheese Bar and Murray’s Melts in NYC to reveal her secrets. She explains, “It’s all about the cheese you use—you want a high-quality cheese with great meltability. Cheese is the star; bread is just the vehicle.” Some hard and dry cheeses, like Manchego or Parmigiano-Reggiano, will turn too oily when you melt them, she says. Additionally, you don’t want to use a very high-moisture cheese like chèvre.
The chef uses a blend of three cheeses to achieve the perfect balance of gooeyness and flavor:
- A “base” cheese (like cheddar) to give the sandwich that nostalgic taste
- A “super-melty” cheese (like Fontina, Gruyère, or Comté) to bring ooziness to the sandwich
- A “flavor kick” cheese (like a young gouda or pepperjack) to take it to the next level
The chef employs a nifty trick to compress the sandwich and get the exterior evenly browned: Once the grilled cheese is in the pan, she presses down on the top of it with another skillet.
Let’s not forget about the bread. Stonionis explains that if it’s a complex, multi-ingredient sandwich, you want a simple bread, like sourdough. A less complex sandwich—say, one with just cheese and bacon—works fine with a crusty or grainy bread, too. Slice the bread thick, otherwise the cheese will totally overwhelm the sandwich.
Stonionis warns that grilled-cheese making—if you’re doing it right—takes a longer than you think it would, so be patient. Believe us, it will pay off.
How to Make The Perfect Grilled Cheese (à la Murray’s Cheese Bar)
* 1 loaf sourdough bread, sliced 1½-inch thick
* 1 slice cheddar (about 1 oz.)
* 1 slice fontina (about 1 oz.)
* 1 slice gouda (about 1 oz.)
* Butter, melted
1. Melt the butter before you begin. This allows for a more even application of butter over the bread.
2. Take two slices of bread. Brush the melted butter across the surface of one side of the bread. You want an even layer of butter that covers the whole slice.
2. Put the buttered side of one slice of the bread face down. Lay your cheddar, gouda, and fontina onto the bread. Top with the second slice of bread (with the buttered side facing up).
3. Set a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. After a couple minutes, check that the pan is hot either with your fingertips (if you’re a pro like Stonionis), or by throwing water into the pan and seeing if it quickly evaporates. Don’t get the pan too hot, though, otherwise you’ll burn your bread before the cheese is melted.
4. Place the assembled sandwich onto the dry pan.
5. After one minute, take a second pan and place it on top of the sandwich. Press down forcefully. This will compress the sandwich and ensure that the bread browns evenly.
6. The first side should take 4 or 5 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is. Don’t hesitate to momentarily lift the sandwich off the pan and take a sneak peak at the bottom of the sandwich to check where it’s at in terms of color.
6. When the bread is an even golden-brown and the cheese is beginning to melt, flip the sandwich using a spatula.
7. Once again, press the sandwich down with the pan. Keep checking the bottom side of the sandwich to see the color of the bread—you don’t want it to burn, but you want it to be golden-brown.
8. Keep flipping and pressing until both sides of the bread are evenly browned and the cheese has completely melted.
This may take longer than you think it will. “The worst is when you slice into it, and the cheese isn’t completely melted in the middle,” says Stonionis.
9. If you want your cheese to melt a little more, but don’t want your bread to get too brown, set your oven on broil and stick the pan into the oven.
10. Slice your perfect grilled cheese in half crosswise. “There should be a crunch when you cut into it,” says the chef.
11. The side that went down in the pan first is always going to be the presentation side. All that’s left to do is to plate your perfectly-browned, oozy grilled cheese.
NOTE: Use these techniques, then feel free to get creative with additions. A few of Stonionis’ favorites include bacon, caramelized onions, kimchi, peppers, avocado, figs, and bacon jam.