It’s not always clear who decides these things, but April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Day — and who would argue with that?
Actually, gooey grilled cheese has become such a unanimously craveable comfort food that somewhere along the way, it earned its own month. That’s right. As if we needed a reason to eat more grilled cheese, the whole month of April was declared as annual “National Grilled Cheese Month.”
Ranker, a leading digital media company for opinion-based, crowdsourced rankings, recently conducted a survey of more than 34,000 participants on “The Most Comforting Comfort Food.” Grilled cheese won the coveted top spot, beating out chocolate, pizza, ice cream, french fries, and even cheesy rival, mac and cheese.
Just about anyone can butter bread and slap some cheese in between, but there is actually a fair amount of science and research (read: dozens of enviable taste-testing sessions) that the experts put in, so they can elevate your grilled cheese eating experience.
In honor of this historic holiday, three experts on the topic discuss, in detail, how to craft your most satisfying grilled cheese sandwich ever.
Start with the obvious — the cheese
Not all cheeses are created equal — different cheeses have different melting points — so it’s important to know what you’re working with. For example, Manchego or Roquefort aren’t the best melters, but brie or gouda are perfect for that classic, stringy cheese pull.
“There needs to be some stretch to the cheese. I go for an oozy-gooey cheese like Gruyere,” said Heidi Gibson, co-owner of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, California. “I like to do thin slices of different types of cheese for variations in texture and flavors.”
But before you throw down any old cheese, keep in mind the style you’re going for.
Dave Danhi, owner of The Grilled Cheese Food Truck of Los Angeles, California, said, “When you make a grilled cheese, there’s a personality to each sandwich. Ooey gooey cheddar is different from brie that’s comforting and warm. Jarlesburg and blue are a bit more aggressive. It’s really where you want to go with it.”
Choose carbs with care — the bread
Bread can bring a grilled cheese from good to great. Choose a bread that has some texture and some density.
“A good bread has to have a good crumb to it. Less moisture in the bread means it crisps up better. No Wonderbready types,” said Danhi.
Seth Murphy, co-owner and chef of Wünderbar Coffee & Crepes in Harmony, Pennsylvania says good bread has to be dense enough to hold up to the weight of the cheese but still have some lightness to it — and it has to be fresh.
“I like a pretzel bread because it stays soft on the inside and toasts nicely,” said Murphy.
“Go light on the butter — you need less than you think,” said Gibson, “and look for an evenly toasted crust on your bread before you call it done. No one likes a pale grilled cheese.”
Murphy specifies, that it should be salted butter — on both sides.
But if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, Danhi offers an alternative.
“If you’re doing a grilled cheese that’s a bit thicker, mayonnaise helps to raise the smoking temperature, so you can keep it on the griddle longer. I mix butter and mayo together and it helps create a much crunchier outside.”
The great debate — extras or not
Extras can mean anything from fruits and veggies, to herbs, meats or spices.
Self-described purist Seth Murphy suggests simple basil and tomato, especially with a lighter cheese like Fontina. “I like to have a good cheese, and really let it shine.”
But Gibson and Danhi agree the extras are a great place to inject personality.
Gibson’s menu has sandwiches piled high with pastrami, smoked turkey or wile mushrooms — to name a few. And Dahni’s Grilled Cheese Truck serves creative sandwiches topped with pulled pork, mac and cheese or even Fritos corn chips.
Put a lid on it and other pro tips
And a final word from the expert panel before you go and conquer the fine world of grilled cheese:
Gibson: “Low and slow. Making a grilled cheese is like making love. Take your time. People try to rush it. Watch your heat and put a lid on it to help everything melt.”
Danhi: “You have to put a lot of love into your grilled cheese. If you’re just making one to get through, it’s just going to be satiating. It’s not going to be great.”
Murphy: “Whatever you do, don’t hide the cheese. Let the cheese flavor come through…And definitely get yourself a good bowl of soup to go with it.”