Grill Me A Cheese

ameircan grilled cheese

This is serious

Here we go

The list of ultimate grilled cheese sandwiches

If you read my last post, you already know that I consider this to be level 4 in the school of sandwich making. This is the first of the hot sandwiches, and possibly the first hot item at all that you’re typically allowed to make for yourself when you are just wee. Its when you first discover that heat is an ingredient, for when the heat goes from a grilled cheese, it’s really no longer what it once was. Grilled cheese feels like a meal because it’s hot. You can have it for supper and feel like you did a good job at eating, when really you just ate butter, bread and cheese. It has one other intangible ingredient as well. The best sandwich ingredient that there is in all the world, in fact. Loose parameters. 

You will need bread and you will need cheese. Any kind, and any kind. Can you add other stuff? As long as the cheese gets melted and the bread gets browned, you can add whatever you please. 

History

In the end, its main concept is it’s a contrast between crispy bread and soft melty cheese. How long has it been around?  Well, it’s pretty hard to say really. As long as bread and cheese have existed together, I would imagine someone has thought to heat them up together. The Grilled Cheese in name at least, only really showed up in North America during the mid 1930’s, evolving from sandwich toaster sandwiches, and the depression era “cheese dream” which is a slice of american cheese on a piece of bread, toasted under the broiler.

Older versions of the same concept include the French croque monsieur which includes ham along with the crunchy and the melty, and first appeared on a paris menu in 1910. There’s also the Welsh Rarebit, which is a melted cheese sauce over toast, and has origins as far back as 1725, even before that old cad the Earl of Sandwich was taking credit for the term. Melty cheese on crispy bread predates sandwiches being called sandwiches.

Welsh Rarebit, Croque Monsieur and Cheese Dream

Much like sandwiches themselves, the global concept has been around long before the English names for it, and every country has their own version, as well as different names and methods for assembly.

One of the first pieces of modern culinary apparatus for making an new kind of enclosed metly cheesewhich was invented in the 1920s. The sandwich toaster. This came out even before commercially sliced bread, which was the greatest thing since bagged bread circa 1928. This machine was still very popular in my parent’s and grandparent’s houses in the 80’s and 90’s, and unless I’m mistaken, it is still pretty big down under, and in britain for making toasties, or in australia, jaffles. 

These stupid things from my youth.

For the uninitiated, this horrible machine clamps down, sealing the edges of the bread, toasting the outside, and creating molten hot filling inside. I am not a fan. 

Still, given the timelines and locations of its invention,  it seems as though it was this machine that gave rise to our modern version of the grilled cheese. We’ve just smartened up and done away with those inedible sealed edges. Well, most of us have.

The Modern 

The modern grilled cheese sandwich, the one that exists in our shared cultural vision of what a grilled cheese is in its most basic form, was created by Kraft. White bread, Kraft singles, cut diagonal, and slowly pulled apart as the melted cheese stretches tantalizingly between the slices. It’s inescapable. That is a grilled cheese sandwich. That stretch was what you were to aim for every time in your childhood, but was something you could never quite achieve.

When my oldest daughter was about 4 or 5, we tried to sell this concept to her, to share our heavily processed vision and our aspirations for long melty stretches. However, because she grew up on almost exclusively internet tv  (sans commercials), she resisted, ultimately rejected, and now absolutely abhors processed cheese (even in Kraft Dinner!). In my physical research for this post, I tried again with the little one who is also now 4. I tried hard this time not to over sell it. I showed her the stretchy cheese picture, and casually made her the classic version. White bread, 2 slices (I needed to go big, just in case) of processed cheese, buttered on the outside and fried in the pan. I think I’ve got her!

the money shot

Of course, she still only ate less than half of it, leaving poor old sandwich dad to finish the cold remains. Though it was missing the heat, it had another intangible ingredient. The nostalgia was quite delicious. 

I have eaten a lot of grilled cheeses. My all time favourite lunch growing up was when my mom would make an actual pile of grilled cheeses piled on a plate, family style, for her, my sister and I (I’m not sure you could pay my dad to eat a grilled cheese), always with a big glass of milk and plenty of pickles. Honestly, every grilled cheese should be served with a pickle on the side. 

When I was 19 and travelling abroad, I remember distinctly being made fun of by my British, Israili, and other Canadian friends and companions at various hostels for my habit of literally making and eating a grilled cheese (and some instant ramen) every single day. I’ve searched the internet for years looking for best breads, best techniques, etc. I have tried my best to be living la vida grilled cheese, and still this does not make me an expert, a gourmet or a coinisueir. Mostly I find average restaurant grilled cheeses not worth it and specialty grilled cheese spots way too over the top. I am merely a professional appreciator of the hommade. And while experimenting with a few new versions this week, this professional appreciator of the homemade somehow actually made himself the best grilled cheese I have ever had in my life. 

That’s probably an over sell, but I was genuinely surprised. I made 5 or 6 versions of different grilled cheeses, and I made a few of them a couple times each, using different methods. I’m not going to rank them, but of course I will tell you about each, beginning with the basics. 

American Cheese or Cheddar cheese on white

Have I mentioned that I am not a shill for Loblaw’s?

For this, I had to go buy some American (processed) cheese for the first time in a long time. As I mentioned before, my oldest cannot abide it in the slightest, so we just haven’t kept it around. Now that I have it back again, I may try to trick her back into liking in, but i’m fairly confident she’d catch on pretty, it wouldn’t work, and would probably actually end in tears.

As I mentioned, I did make one for the 4 year year old and she did really love it. I made it the traditional way. I even relinquished some of my own stash of coveted white bread (White bread is only for dad’s blog. The brown bread is for you!) and made it the traditional way. Just 2 slices of the plasticy cheese, butter one side and put that side down in the pan on medium. Butter the top side whilst it’s sitting there in the pan. Flip it onces it’s brown on the bottom.

Now,  I’ve got a nice new non-stick pan with a lid (it’s a Curtis Stone, ooh-la-la!) so I even steamed it to make sure the cheese was extra melty. I highly recommend this technique. Even if you have a shitty old frying pan. Throw a few drops of water in there after the first flip, and cover it with a plate or something. Whatever you’ve got. This works especially well if you’re using way too much cheese and it couldn’t possibly all melt before the bread burns. Anyway, I made it perfectly, showed her the stretch (never as good as the commercials), and served it up.     

Ok this one is on brown, but you get the idea

I made the oldest another version last night. Regular old marble cheese, served with tomato soup. It doesn’t get much more traditional than that. For this one though, because it was meant for dunking (and she’s one of those kids who dips hers in ketchup also) I made it with the other method. The lean, mean, fat grilling machine. The George Foreman grill.

Usually found in a thrift store for 20 bucks or under, if you don’t have one, you should get one. Especially if you’re lazy and/or want hot sandwiches really fast. It squishes the absolute hell out of the bread, will probably burn you at some point, and its fat busting angle drips shit all over the counter once you inevitably lose the drip tray, but its so fast and so easy, and it still makes a halfway decent grilled cheese.  

The squished, rushed dad version.

So these are the basics. Some folk use grated cheese, or big chunky slices. Some use other breads, and some put mayo and or mustard on the inside along with the cheese. Sandwich dad wholeheartedly approves of all these methods. We will delve especially into the mayo and mustard aspect in a minute. 

Next up:

The Triple Decker tomato on rye

We all know that tomato soup (and ketchup if you’re one of those people) pairs with grilled cheese like….well like cheese and tomatoes.

So it should go without saying, even though I’m now saying it twice, that throwing some fresh tomato in the mix is a logical next step for the grilling of cheese. This is one of my favourties. 

I used to work at a hotel in Dawson City YT that made pretty much this exact version. I copied it and still use it fairly often. This is a triple decker, which right away should get your attention. An extra piece of bread means an extra slice of cheese, so already the game is being upped. Making it on Rye, one of the best toasted breads ups it more. Then add tomato and some fresh ground pepper and we have a grilled cheese sandwich that I would actually pay for and order more than once in a restaurant (or copy the idea and tell you about it here).

Normally for this one, I will admit I use the old George Foreman. It’s the easiest for a triple decker. Heat on both sides and melts the cheese quick, and though the middle bread doesn’t get crispy, it still gets warmed and it works. For you today though, I made it properly. 

stages of the triple decker.

Having a nice big pan and a lid or something to cover it with, is pretty essential for this method, but there’s more than one way to grill a cheese. You ‘ll figure something out. 

What I did is a butter one side of 3 pieces of rye bread and place them in the pan. I then put a slice of old cheddar on each, I cut up a tomato (small pieces is better than slices for ease of eating), and place the piece on two of the slices. Then I pepper the tomatoes (please always put pepper on your tomatoes). Then I put a few drops of water in the medium heat pan, and put the lid on. Once the cheese is good an melted and the bottom of the bread is crsipy, start stacking. Put one tomato piece face up on the other, then flip the non tomato piece on top so the crispy side is up. There you go. Triple decker. One of my favourites.  

Death by cheese

Next up is another restaurant favourite. The death by cheese is intense, if not prophetic. After this week of eating only grilled cheeses though, it’s more likely to be death by bowel obstruction, which I hurt is kind of the same? Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. 

This comes from the best breakfast/lunch spot in my hometown (Saskatoon SK), The Park Cafe. It is loaded with swiss and sharp cheddar, battered and then deep fried. Are you dead yet?

Now to ensure that I don’t become the world’s fattest dad, I have been forbidden from owning a deep fryer. I briefly thought of filling the old dutch oven with oil and going for it anyway, but in the end I opted to make a pan fried version, and it definitely worked just as well. I had a man on the inside who used to work at the Park Cafe, and I got some slick intel on how it was done (thanks Greg!). The not-so-secret secret of it: mayo inside, on both sides of the bread. You don’t immediately notice with all the other melty stuff in there, but It makes the sandwich. 

Mayo on both sides, 2 slices of swiss, two of old cheddar
Egg wash and season bread crumbs
Not deep fried like the original, but the job gets done.

Here’s how to do it: 2 pieces of white, Texas sliced (thick) bread. Spread mayo on one side of each slice. Put two slices of swiss cheese on one piece, 2 slices of sharp, old cheddar on the other. Put em together. Next, dip each side of the sandwich in egg wash, then dip each side into seasoned bread crumbs. Toss it in the frying pan with a bit of butter. For this one you definately need to steam it on both sides. Put a bit of water in, and put the lid on. Flip when it’s a good brown on one side, and repeat. In the end, you will have crafted your own demise. By cheese. 

I didn’t steam it long enough and the cheese in the center was only partial melted. still melted enough to stretch like mad.

It really is very good. It’s intense, but good. Better than you’d think it would be. Especially if you’ve not yet tried the mayo on the inside trick before. Also if you consider yourself a cheese lover. You can use whatever cheeses you want, but if you ever need to prove yourself against cheese, you should really probably try this.  

Cookie and Kate version

When I was cruising around looking for ideas for new grilled cheeses for this post, I found this recipe from Cookie and Kate and decided to try it. https://cookieandkate.com/favorite-grilled-cheese-sandwich-recipe/

Without hyperbole, I will tell you this is the best grilled cheese I have ever made, and quite possibly the best that I have ever eaten anywhere. Follow the link and check out how they make it if you like, and i’ll also tell you what I did here. First, this is a grated cheese grilled cheese. I don’t normally approve of grated cheese on cold sandwiches, and I think that has given me a bias against using it on any sandwich. After this, I am now converted when it comes to grilled cheese. It also uses the open face steamed method that I used in the triple decker tomato. In this instance, it’s not a suggestion, it’s absolutely neccecary.

not shown: dijon on one slice of bread. don’t forget that step.

Here’s how to do it. Grate a bunch of cheese into a bowl (don’t use pre grated). Any kind you like but cheddar would be the preferred to start. Then cut up a bunch of scallions (or green onion) and toss them in with the shredded cheese. Butter one side of each piece of bread and put them butter side down in a nonstick (also very important) pan on medium. Spread a bit of dijon mustard on one of the pieces of bread (essential) and then pile the cheese and scallion mixture on each piece, leaving a bit in the bowl for later (or grate some more).

Next you need to steam the cheese. Bit of water and lid on. Once the cheese is fully melted, flip one side onto the other, crunchy side out. Next, take some of the grated cheese you have left and throw it in a pile on the hot pan. Once its mostly melted, flip the sandwich onto the cheese. Repeat for the other side of the bread, crusting both sides in cheese. 

If you have been successful, you have made one of the best sandwiches I have eaten in recent memory. You shan’t regret this.

10/10. wil eat again.

Transcendent Sandwich of Excellence

This last one comes from renowned fast-foodie and writer/showrunner of all the best seasons of The Simpsons (including “Steamed Hams”), Bill Oakley. 

It’s essentially a grilled cheese with pickles and ham, and also employs the mayo and mustard variation. Basically, it’s a masterful combination of everything that goes well with a grilled cheese. Go all the way back to the croque monsieur for the ham. Go back to my childhood with the pickle (pickle also stands in place of tomato for acidity), and then add both mustard and mayo, and then the ultimate instruction: ‘don’t get fancy with the bread”. It’s always best on basic white bread. 

Anyway, Bill Oakley posted this recipe on Twitter a while back, and I’m not sure of the whole origin of how it came about. I do know that a restaurant in Portland where Bill Oakley currently resides was making a version of this for a while. They used the steam technique – because steamed hams! – and they called it the “Bill Oakley Sandwich”. Here is the posted recipie:

The only variation on the recipe made was that instead of the mandatory Coleman’s mustard, I used Keen’s. Coleman’s owns Keen’s, and in Canada (where I live) and Austraila they only sell their prepared product under the Keen’s name. I have heard that the Coleman’s powder is actually quite a bit hotter than the Keen’s version, but in any case, it’s still English style hot mustard, and I did the best I could. 

So, Don’t get fancy with the bread. Wonderbread Texas sliced. Check. Spicy english mustard and mayo on one side of each piece of bread. Butter the other side of each piece of bread. Start assembling in the pan. Deli sliced cheese, a stacker style pickle cut in half, 2 pieces of ham, the other other piece of bread, butter side up. Though it does not say so in the recipe, I used the steam technique because…well… steamed hams. 

Fixins and assembly.
assembly in the pan, with squishing. note. use more mustard than this.

Then, just because, I made another one in the Foreman grill as well.   

 Verdict, It was much better when done the right way. 

The correct way, but could have used more mustard and pickle.
There’s that pickle

This is a very good sandwich. I will probably keep making it until I have it perfect. The Keen’s mustard does make it, but i think i chickened out and didn’t use enough. I’ll use more next time. Also, I think my stackers were just a bit small, and it could have used slightly more pickle. Besides that. I would agree that this is a fairly ultimate expression of a grilled cheese. if you start here and keep tweaking to your taste, you’re going to create something truly transcendent and amazing. It really is excellence. But to a true sandwich appriciator it will be used as a springboard to achieve perfection. 

Update: I tweaked the recipe just now and have achieved my own personal transcendence. Instead of cheddar, I used some of the leftover Swiss cheese slices I had from the death by cheese. I used 2 of them, and 3 slices of ham.  Also. I told you that I believed I hadn’t used enough mustard. I was right. Make sure you use Coleman’s or Keen’s and use a really good amount. It has to be English mustard. Man. That was really good. Competing with the Cookie and Kate good. Holy smokes. 

updated version

Now some of you may be asking “really sandwich dad? I know you know your cheeses and you know your breads. You only went as far upscale as rye and swiss. The rest was basic. Come on! What gives?!”

We have to begin where we begin. In this case we begin with the concept. We must Kraft single and ketchup before we can apple and brie.

….also cheese is expensive and I’m broke as shit. Give me fucking a break!   

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