This classic grilled cheese sandwich, just like what mom made or you got at the corner diner, is just as cheesy and comforting as it was when you were six years old. Nothing but gooey melted cheese between slices of buttery toasted bread.
Yes, you do need a recipe for a classic grilled cheese sandwich. Because when you’re going for comfort, you need the amount of butter on bread to be just right so you achieve crisp perfection rather than a soggy mess. And you need the heat to be just so or else you’ll end up with those blackened crusts that your mom tried to hide by scraping them off with a knife over the sink. (Who was she trying to fool?! Sigh.) Try our method for achieving grilled cheese perfection. It’s pretty simple while also being pretty specific. What results is the same ooey, gooey goodness that brought you tremendous comfort as a six year old, which sometimes still works when you’re a 46 year old. Although when you do want to feel a little more adult, we have options for that, too, so see the Variations below.–David Leite
How to make this classic grilled cheese sandwich more adult
There are endless variations on the classic grilled cheese sandwich. You can indulge your curiosity, your craving, or whatever you happen to have on hand by playing with different types of bread and cheese, of course. Or take it beyond that. Some things to slip into your sandwich include a smear of mayonnaise, a couple tomato slices, thinly shaved turkey or ham, even leftover pulled pork or tuna salad. Less common but no less worthy additions include a squirt of Sriracha, pickles, perfectly cooked bacon, sliced avocado, caramelized onions, sliced apple, shaved truffle, shredded short ribs, and, well, we could go on. Got things to add to the list? Sometimes the more outlandish the idea, the more sigh-inducing the resulting sandwich.
Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- 2 slices sandwich bread
- 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 ounces very thinly sliced or grated cheese (Cheddar is the most traditional choice, but any good cheese, such as Comté, Cantal or Emmental, will work well)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons (1/2 to 1 ounce) unsalted butter softened
- Heat a skillet over medium–low heat. Generously smear half the butter on 1 side of 1 slice of bread. Place the slice, buttered side down, in the skillet. Place the sliced cheese on top of the bread. Smear the remaining butter on one side of the second slice of bread and place on top of the cheese, buttered side up.
- After a couple of minutes, when the bottom slice is nicely browned, slide a wide spatula underneath and, gently holding the sandwich together with your free hand, turn it over. Continue cooking until the second side is golden brown and the cheese starts oozing out the sides. (If your bread is looking browned before the cheese starts to ooze, the heat is too high. Turn it down a little) This ought to take 5 to 7 minutes total.
- Transfer the grilled cheese to a cutting board and let it cool just a few moments, enough so that you don't have to yank your fingers away and puff on them when you go to hold the sandwich. Slice it in half, on a diagonal if desired. Then make it disappear.
☞TESTER TIP: If you're making more than a single grilled cheese sandwich, you'll probably need to nudge down the heat a touch for the second and third and fourth ones as the longer the skillet rests on the burner, the more residual heat builds up and the more likely it will be that the bread will easily get a little too blackened.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This recipe makes an excellent classic grilled cheese sandwich. I used Italian semolina sandwich bread and grated Cheddar cheese. I like to grate the cheese when I make a grilled cheese sandwich. It seems easier to distribute in between the bread slices and it seems to melt faster and more evenly than cheese slices.
The one adjustment I would make is to use a little less butter. Two tablespoons per sandwich is a lot of butter. The advantage of that much butter is that it gives the bread a wonderful buttery flavor and the bread will definitely not stick to the pan. And although the bread will nicely absorb much of the butter, I found quite of bit of butter pooled the pan after I removed the sandwich.
I added some sliced tomatoes which are a nice addition and help to balance the richness of the cheese and the butter. It’s important to keep the heat to medium-low so that the bread will brown nicely and not burn while the cheese has a chance to melt.
Not to gloat, but my sandwich was much prettier than the one in the photo. My golden brown was both browner and more evenly browned and the little bit of ooze on my sandwich after I cut it in half was also more yummy looking than the one pictured. Let this serve as encouragement to proceed with this recipe!
The cheese looked like a good proportion with the bread, but it looked at first like a lot of butter. I love butter and I went ahead and used 2 tablespoons which did in fact allow me to very generously butter the bread. Even with a sturdy bread, having softened butter prevents tearing or otherwise damaging the bread from the get-go. After my sandwich was assembled in the a cast-iron skillet, it took 4 minutes for the first side to be nicely browned, and then 2 minutes for the second side, for a total cooking time of 6 minutes.
For my first variation, I used a lovely 4-Year Wisconsin Cheddar with an Italian bread plentifully studded with sesame seeds. It would have been lovely with a nice ripe slice of tomato inside. My second sandwich was Emmental (Emmentaler on my label, a member of the Swiss family) on rye, and my third was the French Comté, on wheat. All of mine were unadorned—just cheese and bread.
I recently had a Havarti grilled with a sparing smear of fig jam that was quite marvelous. The possibilities of cheese + bread + additional adornments are endless, but the plain Jane version is always full of the happiness of comfort food, and, like peanut butter and jelly, the simplest version is sometimes also the best.
Note also that while this recipe makes just one sandwich, it is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or more. Soup is a nice accompaniment, whether hot in cooler weather (cream of tomato is the classic combo) or cold in warmer weather (I’m thinking about a hearty gazpacho).
One last note! While it is always terrific to have excellent high quality ingredients, there is some leeway here—even a mediocre cheese and so-so bread will be improved with this method: butter plus toasting will magically transform these ingredients upwards regardless of their initial quality!
Sometimes you do need a recipe for something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich. If anything else, it’s a good reminder to grill it low and slow, so the cheese gets oozy while the bread toasts to a perfect, crisp golden brown.
I went classic with this one—white sandwich bread with slices of Cheddar cheese. I used 2 ounces sliced Cheddar and 1/2 tablespoon butter per sandwich (for me, spreading each slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of butter is just too much—and too greasy) and took an entire 11 minutes to cook it. I cooked each side for 5 minutes and flipped it back over to cook on the first side for an additional minute to reheat. For me, the key is to let the sandwich sit just a bit before slicing in half on a diagonal (you must slice a grilled cheese on a diagonal!) to account for maximum cheese oozage. Plus, if you let the sandwich sit for a bit, it’s easier to slice it in croutons to float in your tomato soup.
This classic grilled cheese sandwich is definitely a winner. Why? Because it is the way I have been making grilled cheese sandwiches since forever—first for 2 daughters and their friends and now for 2 granddaughters and their friends.
It only takes 5 minutes to get one ready to start sizzling in the cast iron skillet and another 5 to get that blackly toasty crust on the bread. (We like ours a lot darker than the sandwich pictured.) Now, first things first, I used squishy white bread. There. I said it out loud. But for us, there is no substitute that ends up with a “real” grilled cheese sandwich. I used deli Cheddar but you can use good old American cheese as well. It was perfect. However, since one of said granddaughters will be a freshman at university this year, I added my favorite “dorm” recipe for this—prepare the sandwich by buttering the bread slices, carefully arranging the cheese slices on the unbuttered side of one slice and topping with the other so that both buttered sides are to the outside. Now, grab some foil and wrap that sandwich up. Run down the hall to the room with the ironing board and iron. Get the iron screaming hot and place it on top of one side of your packet. Count to 50. Turn the packet over (use a pinch-style clothespin to pick it up!) and smash the iron on top again. Count to 100 this time. Turn off the iron and slowly open the packet, using that clothespin again or a dress hanger. Jump back before opening as it will be steaming. Smile big, take a bite, and saunter back to your room. Boom! Grilled cheese sandwich!
Who doesn’t love a classic grilled cheese sandwich?! And it’s one of those great culinary creations where you most likely have everything you need in the fridge already. With the right quality bread and cheese, a grilled cheese is instantly elevated from simple to extraordinary.
I had a nice loaf of sliced artisan whole wheat bread in the fridge and a nice truffled fontina cheese as well. Decadent and ready in no time! The key is to pay attention to the temperature on the stove so that you don’t burn the bread that is buttered. (Because we have honestly all done that before…) After you flip the sandwich, it only took about 1 minute for my cheese to start oozing, so I took the sandwich off the heat and it was perfectly cooked. Lightly browned on both sides and all of the cheese perfectly melted. Yum yum. The only thing missing before I served the sandwich was a dill pickle spear on the side!
Grilled cheese is complete comfort food for me, and I love eating it. My bread of choice was sour dough and my cheese was grated Dubliner.
I find that it’s easier to make it using grated cheese. I also found that 1 whole tablespoon butter was too much to put on each side bread. That was not at all necessary. After adding Dijon mustard to the slices of bread before putting the cheese on, I followed the directions as to how to cook the sandwiches.
I used a cast iron pan and watched the sandwiches closely. I flipped them to get each side golden brown. After 5 minutes, the sandwich was golden and the cheese was melted and oozing beautifully.
Originally published February 18, 2021
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This is a tried-and-true classic grilled cheese sandwich that everyone should have in their repertoire. The recipe spells out the steps exactly.
I’ve learned from my kids that you have to use a sufficient amount of butter to make a delicious grilled cheese. The 1 tablespoon per side is perfect and allows the bread to turn out crisp and evenly browned. We like to use provolone cheese that is thinly sliced to ensure even melting before the bread gets too brown.
When making multiple batches of sandwiches, I find that the longer the pan is heating the lower the heat needs to be to keep from over-browning the bread before melting the cheese. Timing was accurate for later batches but my first sandwich took about 7 minutes to cook. Subsequent sandwiches cooked more quickly once the pan was evenly heated. The cheese definitely oozed by the end. Yummy! We made several sandwiches at home then several on our boat, all turned out equally well. (The only difference I noted was with my induction stove at home, the bread only browns well on the part of the pan that is in contact with the magnetic part of the stove. A bigger pan doesn’t work well in this case because it leaves unbrowned sections if the sandwiches aren’t rotated.)
Perfect in the summer with watermelon and in the winter with tomato soup!