Grilled Cheese with Onion Jam

These grilled cheese with onion jam, made with sharp Cheddar and a sweet and tangy red onion jam, still have all of the nostalgic comfort of traditional grilled cheese but feel a lot more special.

Two halved grilled cheese with onion jam on a wooden cutting board alongside a dish of onion jam and a butter knife.

Cheddar and chutney is a winning combination, but for best results, be sure to use a really gutsy mature or sharp Cheddar in this grilled cheese with onion jam. The jam, or chutney, needs to have a good balance of sweet and tart to make this work perfectly, so be sure to taste and adjust it before assembling the sandwiches.–Laura Washburn

What exactly does it mean to caramelize onions and is that the same as onion jam?

Let’s be clear about what caramelized onions are and are not, shall we? Properly caramelized onions have been slowly and gently coaxed to soft, sweet submissiveness, a state achieved by patient attentiveness over low heat, which tends to take the better part of an hour. What you do not have in this grilled cheese with onion jam recipe is caramelized onions, nor is that a failing of the recipe. It’s actually an act of brilliance on the part of the recipe creator, who cooks the onions for an eminently weeknight-friendly 20 minutes or so—just enough to soften them—and then she tosses the onions with vinegar and sugar. This creates a sweetly tart compote or chutney or jam or godsend or whatever you care to call this cheater’s version of caramelized onions, which ably cuts the richness of cheese, roast pork, seared duck, and so forth. To be clear, while these onions are really damn good, they’re just not caramelized. And that’s okay.

Grilled Cheese With Onion Jam

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 15 M
  • 40 M
  • Serves 2
5/5 - 1 reviews
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  • For the onion jam
  • For the grilled cheese sandwiches


Make the onion jam

In a skillet or large saucepan over medium heat, combine the onions and oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden brown, about 20 minutes. You’re probably going to want to turn down the heat at some point and start to stir the onions almost constantly so as to not let them burn.

Add the salt, brown sugar, wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar to the onions and simmer until the mixture is sticky but still somewhat liquidy, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar for sweetness or vinegar for tartness as desired.

Make the grilled cheese sandwiches

Butter 1 side of each slice of bread.

Place 2 slices of bread, butter side down, in a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Generously spread some onion jam on each slice bread and then arrange the cheese on the jam in an even layer. Cover each open-faced sandwich with another slice of bread, butter side up.

Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, pressing gently with a spatula every once in a while, until the bread turns a deep golden color.

Carefully flip the sandwiches with the spatula and cook on the second side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until deep golden brown. (If you’re using a grill pan and you’re keen to create a criss-cross pattern as shown in the photo above, rotate the sandwich 90° and cook for another minute or so, then flip the sandwiches over again, making sure they’re rotated 90°, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.)

Transfer the sandwiches to a plate and cut in half. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. (Any leftover onion jam can be kept in a resealable container in the refrigerator for up to several days.) Originally published March 5, 2015.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

Today was a perfect day for a grilled cheese—it was cold and cloudy out, so I needed something super comforting to look forward to! I love the elegant spin that the caramelized red onions gave to an otherwise ordinary grilled cheese sandwich. I loved the combo of balsamic, brown sugar, and red wine vinegar in the onion jam, which gave the onions a lovely sweet-tart flavor that paired nicely with the creamy Cheddar cheese and the buttery bread. (I used a 5-grain wheat bread, not white bread, for the sandwiches.) In terms of the recipe itself, I only cooked the onions for 20 minutes instead of the usual 45 to 50 for actual caramelized onions. After I added the vinegars and sugar, I cooked the onions for an additional 5 minutes over medium heat. I did not add any more sugar or vinegar after the initial addition. I thought it was superb. I cooked the first side of the sandwich for 2 minutes over medium heat, and the second side for an additional 2 minutes, as I didn't want the butter to burn. I will use the rest of the onion jam on a pork tenderloin this week, but it would also be great in a quiche with some crumbled feta cheese.

I don't think I've ever met a grilled cheese I didn't like, and this one with onion jam was a winner for sure! The onion jam added the perfect sweet tang to the sharp Cheddar. The onion jam came together easily enough, and I added an extra tablespoon brown sugar to balance the red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. I softened the onions in the oil for 20 minutes, turned the heat down and cooked them for another 10 minutes. After adding the remaining ingredients, I cooked another 20 minutes to thicken the chutney.

I made the sandwiches with a sturdy Tuscan loaf sliced about 1/2 inch thick. Using plain white bread didn't appeal to me at all. I used a 6-year-old white Cheddar. Toasting the grilled cheese took about 3 minutes on each side. We loved having the extra chutney to spoon on the crisp toast and didn't have any left over. This was a family-approved, sweet and tangy, gooey grilled cheese that I'll definitely make again!


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  1. Grilled cheese is like a doll. You can play with it as is or you can dress it up, and it can become a whole new game, a game filled with surprises and imaginative turns that you didn’t originally see coming. That is what this grilled cheese is—a Barbie doll that’s been given a game-changing new accessory. Originally, I thought that the onion jam was going to be too time-consuming to be worth it for just a grilled cheese sandwich. But was I oh so wrong. The chutney turned out absolutely perfect. The sweetness from the brown sugar and the acidity of the vinegars played well against each other. I added a small pinch of salt at the end. I then started thinking of all the things I could dress up with this chutney and once again became a giddy little girl who just got a new doll.

    My only fear with this recipe was that this amazing onion jam would overpower the sharp Cheddar flavor that I crave in a good grilled cheese. But once again, like most notions you conjure in your imagination, I was wrong. After cooking the sandwiches a little longer than what the directions recommended, the first bite I had was divine. The chutney did not overpower the Cheddar at all. Instead, it complemented it, just as the perfect accessory should. My one issue with this recipe is that there is simply not enough chutney left over. When I make this recipe again, I plan on doubling it so I can not only make more sandwiches, but so I have some left over. used red wine vinegar because that’s what I had on hand.

  2. This jam would be great in all kinds of applications. The pictured sandwiches appear to have been cooked in a waffle iron. Can you share any tips for using this method? Thank you!

    1. Actually, Beth, the criss-cross marks were made in a grill pan. We include instructions on how to achieve this in the recipe instructions, so give it a twirl and let us know how it goes!

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