There are two rules when making grilled cheese:
- Slow and steady
That’s it. If you remember that a perfect grilled cheese sandwich is not hastily put together nor arrived at quickly, everything will turn out lovely. And, butter… lots and lots of butter. Follow these steps:
Choose a bread that is not too think and not too thin. The butter on the outside and the cheese on the inside should not overwhelm the bread. Grocery store sandwich bread in a plastic bag is usually the right thickness. I like wheat because it turns a happy brown color upon cooking.
Now, for the innards. You only need enough cheese to cover the bread (so, one slice, maybe one and a half if your bread is long). If you are making a grilled ham and cheese, you should build your sandwich thusly: one layer of cheese, a slice or two of thinly sliced deli ham, and then another single slice of cheese. Don’t go crazy with mile-high insides. You want the heat to warm up all that goodness. If you have a panini press, then you can go a bit thicker, but these instructions are for stove-top grilling only.
On to the butter fun. Take a couple of tablespoons of butter and melt over high heat in a frying pan. Take your sandwich and put butter pats on top (so, the side that is not going to touch the pan). Once the butter has melted, put your sandwich in the pan and (this is the really important part) turn the heat down to low. The low temperature makes the cheese melt in a consistent, gooey way.
After about 5 minutes (stoves and pans differ so check often when you make it for the first time), you’ll want to check your sandwich; look for a nice, golden brown color. The bread should be uniform—so, no dark brown bits and very pale bits. If you have achieved this, then flip it over. The butter pats that you laid on top will now melt and make the other side of your sandwich. Another 5 minutes, and you should be done.
If, at any time during this process, your pan gets a bit dry, feel free to add more butter. Just make sure you don’t get soggy bread. Again, low burner for a slow and steady race to the finish line.
Bonus: Tuna Melt
If you want to make your grilled cheese sandwich into the perfect tuna melt, follow the same instructions for low heat and plenty of butter. Instead of closing up the sandwich, take each slice of bread and lay a slice of cheese on top. Then, put both slices of bread, cheese up, in your buttery pan. Once the cheese starts to melt, add a thin layer of tuna salad to one side. (The tuna should be a bit on the dry side so it doesn’t get squidgy with the cheese.) A few more minutes and close up that sandwich—flipping once to make sure the browning is even.
Many thanks to my mother for teaching me how to make the grilled cheese sandwich. And, thanks to Josephine, my manager from my days as a short order cook in the rec room of a country club, for the tuna melt instructions.