The Ultimate Grilled Cheese: Beyond American and White Bread

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a comfort food staple that have been enjoyed by generations. This simple yet satisfying dish involves melting cheese between two slices of bread, which is then grilled to golden perfection. While many people think of grilled cheese as just American cheese between slices of white bread, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Let’s explore how you can elevate this classic to the ultimate grilled cheese experience using a variety of ingredients and techniques.

Choosing the Best Cheeses

The heart of any grilled cheese is, of course, the cheese. American cheese is popular due to its excellent melting qualities, but there’s a whole world of cheeses out there to explore.


Cheddar cheese is a classic choice for those who want a sharper taste than American cheese. For the best melting, opt for a medium cheddar; aged cheddar tends to be crumbly and may not melt as easily.


Gruyère is a Swiss cheese that’s known for its nutty, slightly sweet flavor. It melts beautifully, making it a superb option for grilled cheese.


Havarti is a Danish cheese that offers a buttery, creamy taste with a hint of tanginess. It also has a nice stretch to it, akin to mozzarella, which adds a lovely texture to your sandwich.


Fontina, from Italy, is both creamy and robust, with a little bit of a nutty flavor. It’s another cheese that melts wonderfully, so you can expect a gooey, indulgent sandwich.

Goat Cheese

For those who enjoy a tangy kick, goat cheese (chèvre) can be a delicious addition to your grilled cheese. While it doesn’t melt into a puddle like some of the aforementioned cheeses, it gets soft and can be paired with a melty cheese for texture.

Combining Cheeses

One of the secrets to an ultimate grilled cheese is combining different cheeses. You can mix a creamy, mild cheese with a sharper, flavorful one to create a complex flavor profile.

Selecting the Right Bread

Moving beyond white bread opens up a dimension of flavors and textures. Bread is not just a vehicle for the cheese but a star in its own right.


Sourdough’s tangy flavor adds depth to your grilled cheese sandwich. Plus, its sturdy texture means it can hold up to a generous amount of cheese without falling apart.

Whole Wheat or Multigrain

Whole wheat or multigrain bread can offer a nutty taste and a hearty texture. They also provide more fiber and nutrients than white bread.


Rye bread, with its distinctive flavor—particularly when seeded—is excellent for adding a contrasting taste to the milder cheeses, like Havarti or Muenster.

English Muffin Bread

English muffin bread toasts up very crisply, giving a different mouthfeel. The nooks and crannies are also perfect for catching melty cheese.


Brioche is a rich, buttery bread that can make your grilled cheese taste more decadent. Just bear in mind that it’s also sweeter than other bread types.

Beyond Butter: Spreading the Love

While butter is standard for grilling, other spreads can add unique flavors and may even cook differently, creating new textures.


Spreading the outside of your bread with mayonnaise before grilling it is a trick many swear by. It’s easy to spread and creates a beautifully crispy exterior.

Olive Oil

Brushing your bread with olive oil can impart a more nuanced flavor and is a good option for those who prefer a less rich spread than butter.

Compound Butters

By mixing butter with ingredients like garlic, herbs, or even a touch of honey, you can create compound butters that bring an added layer of flavor to the crust of your grilled cheese.

Flavor Enhancements: The Add-Ons

The ultimate grilled cheese need not be cheese and bread alone. Add-ons can take your sandwich to a new level.

Bacon or Pancetta

The saltiness and crispness of cooked bacon or pancetta are a natural fit for the creaminess of melted cheese. Make sure they’re cooked before added to your grilled cheese.

Caramelized Onions

The sweetness of caramelized onions pairs beautifully with the savoriness of cheese. Their texture also adds a pleasant chewiness.


Adding a few slices of fresh tomato can provide a hint of acidity that cuts through the richness of the cheese. For a more intense flavor, you can use sun-dried tomatoes.


A smear of pesto on the inside of the bread gives a burst of herby flavor. Pesto is particularly good with mozzarella and fontina cheeses.

Apple Slices

For a touch of sweetness, thin slices of apple complement many cheeses, especially sharp ones like cheddar. Their crisp texture also adds interest.

Spices and Seasonings

Don’t forget the power of spices. A sprinkle of black pepper, paprika, or even a dash of cayenne can enhance the flavor profile greatly.

Creating Balance

When adding extra ingredients, aim for balance so that the flavors harmonize rather than compete. Think about contrasting flavors and textures – salty with sweet, creamy with crunchy.

Grilling Techniques

How you cook your grilled cheese can also influence its ultimate deliciousness. There’s more than one way to grill to perfection.

Stovetop Skillet

The traditional method is using a skillet over medium-low heat, allowing the cheese to melt thoroughly without burning the bread. Covering the skillet with a lid can trap heat and melt the cheese even better.


A flat griddle offers an even cooking surface and a lot of room, which is excellent if you’re making multiple sandwiches at once. Keep the heat consistent for an even golden crust.

Oven or Toaster Oven

You can bake your grilled cheese sandwich in the oven, especially if you’re making a large quantity. This can result in a uniformly crispy texture on both sides.

Panini Press or George Foreman Grill

A panini press or a similar grill can give your grilled cheese those characteristic grill lines and press the sandwich, making for a denser, toasted result.

Finishing Thoughts

Elevating the classic grilled cheese sandwich into the ultimate grilled cheese experience doesn’t require gourmet skills, just a willingness to experiment with different ingredients and techniques. By choosing the right combination of cheeses, selecting a bread that complements the cheese’s flavor, and adding a few creative ingredients, you can transform this humble dish into a culinary delight. Remember to balance flavors and textures, and don’t be afraid to try new grilling methods to achieve the perfect amount of crunch and melt. Enjoy the delicious journey of finding your personal ultimate grilled cheese sandwich!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some cheeses I can use beyond American cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich?

Apart from American cheese, you can elevate your grilled cheese by using cheeses like sharp cheddar for a tangy punch, Gruyère for a nutty flavor, Havarti for a creamy texture, or Pepper Jack for a spicy kick. Mix and match cheeses like Brie, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or Fontina for a complex flavor profile.

What types of bread can I use for a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich?

While white bread is a classic, options such as sourdough, rye, whole wheat, ciabatta, and focaccia can add depth to your sandwich. Artisanal breads with a hearty crust and aerated interior create a wonderful texture contrast when grilled.

Can I add other ingredients to my grilled cheese sandwich?

Definitely! Bacon, tomatoes, onions, or pickles can add a nice crunch and flavor. Avocado or spinach can bring a fresh element to the sandwich. Spreading condiments like pesto, tapenade, or a fig jam can introduce new dimensions. Even adding a fried egg or leftover roast meat can transform it into a more substantial meal.

Is butter the best option for grilling the bread, or are there alternatives?

Butter is traditional for providing rich flavor and golden crust, but you can also use mayonnaise for a tangy taste and possibly a crispier texture. Olive oil is another alternative, offering a lighter flavor profile and can be brushed on the bread for a more health-conscious option.

What is the best temperature to cook a grilled cheese sandwich?

Cook your grilled cheese over medium-low heat. This allows the bread to achieve a golden, crispy texture without burning, while also melting the cheese thoroughly. If the heat is too high, the bread might toast too quickly while leaving the cheese unmelted.

How can I ensure the cheese is melted properly?

To melt the cheese evenly, cover the pan with a lid to create a steamy environment that helps melt the cheese without overcooking the bread. You can also pre-melt the cheese in a microwave or oven briefly before adding it to the sandwich for a head start.

Can I make a grilled cheese sandwich in advance?

Grilled cheese sandwiches are best enjoyed freshly cooked. However, you can prepare all ingredients in advance by grating or slicing the cheese and having your additional fillings ready. If necessary, you can reheat a made grilled cheese in a toaster oven or back in the skillet to restore some crispness.

What are some side dishes that pair well with grilled cheese sandwiches?

A classic tomato soup is the perfect companion for a grilled cheese. Other great options include a green salad, coleslaw, pickles, or a hearty chili. For a more indulgent pairing, try dipping the sandwich in sauces like marinara or ranch dressing, or serve it with a side of sweet potato fries.

How can I make my grilled cheese more health-conscious?

To make a healthier grilled cheese, choose whole grain or sourdough bread, opt for lower-fat cheese options, and include vegetables like spinach or tomatoes. Using a light spread of olive oil instead of butter can also reduce the calorie count without sacrificing too much flavor.

Are there any vegetarian or vegan options for grilled cheese sandwiches?

Yes, there are various plant-based cheese alternatives that you can use to create a vegan or vegetarian grilled cheese sandwich. Look for vegan cheese slices that melt well, or homemade cashew or almond-based cheeses. For vegetarians, ensure that the cheese used is rennet-free.