A grilled cheese sandwich is one of life’s simple pleasures, but these warm, melty delicacies don’t just appear out of thin air. Whether it’s made with artisan cheese or humble block cheddar, that sandwich should be prepared with care—and the right tools.
You need just a few pieces of basic kitchen equipment to get the job done right, but there’s even specialized grilled cheese sandwich gear out there to take your sandwiches to the next level. Here’s what you need to make a great grilled cheese.
If you’re not using pre-sliced bread, you’ll need to cut off a couple of even, not-too-thick slices of your favorite loaf to begin building your grilled cheese sandwich.
A long, serrated knife designed to cut bread is the tool you want. Please don’t use a steak knife, chef’s knife, or paring knife for this specialized task! You’ll just dull your knives and end up with squished bread. Plus, you can use a good bread knife to cut your finished sandwich into two perfect triangles when you’re all done—without mangling the bread or pushing out all the cheesy goodness inside.
Yes, you should be grating, not slicing, the cheese you put in your grilled cheeses. It’ll melt more quickly and evenly than big, thick slices, and that means a quicker, tastier sandwich. But we all know that pre-shredded cheese is full of fillers and anti-caking agents, and we don’t want those in our sandwiches, so we require a good cheese grater.
The large holes on a classic box grater are perfect for this, and there are plenty of different cheese grater models to choose from. Be sure to avoid the sharp, scary-looking rasp side of the grater, as well as microplanes and other graters with small holes, which don’t work as well with most meltable cheeses.
A well-seasoned, heavy-bottomed cast iron is the classic move here, but a good nonstick pan will work just as well—you might just want to monitor the cooking time a little more closely, since aluminum conducts heat more directly than cast iron.
Often, your favorite pan for cooking eggs is also the best for grilled cheese. But as long as you lube up your bread well, you should be just fine with whatever’s on your stovetop.
Turner, flipper, spatula—whatever you call it, a good one is essential for executing a clean 180o when the first side of your grilled cheese is done cooking. That’s especially true if you’re making a gourmet grilled cheese packed with add-ins, like this one with goat cheese, butternut squash, and kale.
Again, you can make do with just about any spatula in a pinch, but the ideal tool has a thin, wide blade to slip easily under the bread, plus a comfortable grip to help you flip (a fish spatula works great for this). If you’re cooking in a nonstick pan, you’ll want to avoid metal tools and reach for plastic or wood to keep from scratching the cooking surface.
Cast Iron Grill Press
If your grilled cheese sandwiches tend to fall apart when you try to flip them, this tool is for you—because with a grill press, there’s no flipping required.
Simply heat the grill press (also called a bacon weight) in the same pan you’re heating up to make your sandwich. When it’s hot enough, remove the weight and place the sandwich in the pan, then apply the weight to the top slice of bread. Your sandwich cooks evenly in half the time with the perfect amount of pressure to keep everything together—and no messy flipping step.
While not strictly necessary to make a great grilled cheese sandwich, some folks prefer to use an electric panini press or sandwich grill.
The nice thing about these gadgets is that nonstick cooking surfaces on the top and bottom mean your sandwich cooks more quickly and evenly, with no need to flip by hand. The pressure exerted by the top griddle also helps keep the cheese and any add-ins neatly contained. The trade-off is counter space for convenience—but if you’ve got the room, go for it.
Contrary to its name, one of the simplest things to make in a pie iron, also called a camp cooker, is a grilled cheese. This cool tool, which consists of two small cast-iron pans with long handles on one side and a hinge that joins them together on the other, is often used to make toasted cheese sandwiches over a bonfire.
Pie irons provide a quick, easy, and filling meal that’s one step above hot dogs and s’mores when you’re adventuring outdoors. Simply grease the pans, line them with slices of bread, add cheese and add-ins, clamp the whole thing shut, and lay the iron over the coals to cook, checking every few minutes. Flip, repeat, and enjoy!
What are your favorite pans, gadgets, and utensils to use when making a grilled cheese sandwich? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!