If your idea of the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich involves Kraft singles, Wonder Bread, and a Foreman grill, it’s time to step your game up. To help you properly upgrade the humble snack into a gourmet meal, chef Amy Stonionis of Murray’s Cheese Bar in NYC breaks down the golden rules of grilled cheese perfection, and gives you five tried-and-true combos that take it to the next level.


The Golden Rules of Grilled Cheese

1. Stack yo’ cheese(s): “Cheese is the star, bread is just the vehicle,” says Stonionis. Use a base cheese (like cheddar), a super-melty cheese (like fontina or Gruyère), and a flavor kick cheese (like a young Gouda).

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2. Get that bread: “If it’s a complex 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,” says Stonionis. Whatever bread you use, slice it 1½ inches thick.

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3. Strictly butter, babyMelt butter, then brush it onto the bread before you begin (this creates even browning).paint


4. Go for golden: When the grilled cheese is in the pan, press down on the top of it with another skillet. This technique will get the exterior evenly browned and help compress the sandwich.press


5. Make it ooze: “You want the cheese to start oozing down the side a little bit,” says Stonionis. If you want your cheese to melt a little more, stick the pan under the broiler for a few minutes.

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How to Pimp Your Grilled Cheese

Now that you’ve mastered the fundamentals of grilled-cheese making, you can add your own swag. To get you started, Stonionis hit us off with five tried-and-true combos that are sure to induce the itis.


Grilled cheeses pictured, from top to bottom:

  1. fontina, cheddar, Gouda
  2. chèvre, kale salad, roasted sweet potatoes, avocado
  3. NY state cheddar, bacon
  4. pepper jack, Peppadew peppers
  5. mac and cheese, pulled pork, caramelized onions (recipe below)
  6. smoked Gouda, roasted turkey, Peppadew peppers, spinach, chipotle mayo

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Did somebody say mac-and-cheese grilled cheese? Check out the full recipe for this indulgent melt below.


Mac-and-Cheese-and-Pulled-Pork Melt

Makes 1 grilled cheese sandwich

Ingredients:

3 oz Murray’s mac and cheese (see recipe below)
1 oz pulled pork (see recipe below)
2 slices NY state cheddar
2 slices bread
1 tablespoon butter, melted

*Optional additions: caramelized onions, bacon, roasted tomatoes, pimento cheese

Procedure:

Butter both sides of the bread. In a sauté pan, warm the pulled pork and mac and cheese. Place one slice of cheddar on each slice of bread. Add the warmed pulled pork and macaroni to the bottom side of bread. Place the other slice on top. Warm a saute pan over medium heat and add the melt. Use another saute pan to apply pressure and act as a press. When one side is golden brown, flip it to the other side. Check to make sure the cheese is melted; if it isn’t completely melted, and the bread is getting dark, then place the sandwich in a broiler to finish. Slice and serve.


Murray’s classic macaroni and cheese

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
8 oz Irish cheddar, grated
8 oz Spring Brook Redding, grated
6 oz Comte
2 oz Cabot cheddar, finely grated
8 tablespoons butter
½ cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 half onion, skin removed
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
½ clove grated garlic


Procedure:

Grate all cheeses and combine. Cut a slit into the halved onion and place a bay leaf in the slit. Stick the 2 cloves into the onion. Place the milk in a sauce pan over medium low heat and add the onion. In a separate saucepan melt the butter and add ½ clove grated garlic. Slowly add the flour to the butter, whisking to combine, and cook for 2 minutes. Ladle in the warm milk (while whisking constantly) until the mixture is combined and smooth. Whisk in the nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Add 5 oz Irish Cheddar, 5 oz Spring Brook Redding, and 3 oz Comte and whisk until well combined.

In a separate pan bring water to a boil and add salt. Add the macaroni and cook until tender. Strain the macaroni and place in a bowl and add the remaining grated cheeses. Toss to combine. Pour the cheese-butter-and-milk sauce over the macaroni and toss to combine. In a small sauté pan melt 3 tablespoons butter and add the panko breadcrumbs, thyme, and lemon zest. Place the combined macaroni and cheese into a shallow baking dish and top with the breadcrumbs. Place in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes and serve.


Beer-and-mustard–braised pulled pork

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients:

One 4-pound pork butt, bone in
2 onions, roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
24 oz beer
16 oz water
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil


Procedure:

Chop onions and smash garlic with the dull side of a knife. Combine spices and season the pork butt on all sides. Place canola oil in a wide, shallow pot and heat over medium high heat. Add the pork butt and sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove from the pot. Cook the onions and garlic in the same pan and place in a Dutch oven with the pork. Rub the pork with the whole-grain mustard. Pour the beer over the pork and add the water. Cover and place in a 275°F oven for 4.5 hours until the pork is tender. Pull the pork apart and season with salt and pepper.

This article appeared originally in the October/November issue of Complex Magazine.