The Secret To Making Grilled Cheese Like A Pro

Photo: Courtesy of Food52.
By Kristin Miglore

A grilled cheese sandwich is a perfect union of bread, butter, and melty cheese — so why would you ever want to turn your back on one of its key ingredients? Especially if that ingredient is butter? 

Lots of reasons, as I learned from Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune. Even diehard lovers of the buttery version (I am one) will find something new and valuable when they smear their bread with mayo instead of the standard butter. As she says in this CHOW video, "This is the greatest cooking medium of all time for a grilled cheese sandwich."

Mayo won't burn as easily as butter does, which solves the biggest challenge of perfecting grilled cheese: how to get the insides to heat through before the outside blackens.

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Photo: Courtesy of Food52.
With a standard, buttered grilled cheese, you have to cook it low and slow, keep the pan covered to capture the heat, and peek compulsively to make sure it's not starting to smoke. Not so with mayonnaise.

You can also have grilled cheese sooner. You don't have to wait for butter to soften, or tear or smush your bread in haste — even downy slices of brioche or Pullman won't be damaged when you slip over them with a knifeful of mayo.

But, these are matters of convenience and reliability; what's most important are the results, which are not like any grilled cheese that butter could make. The oil and egg in mayonnaise brown and crisp more evenly and lavishly than butter, creating a glossy crunch from edge to edge.

Hamilton's recipe, like so much of the honest, happy food she serves at her restaurant, is a comforting balance of high and low: extra-sharp cheddar spilling out of good bread, plus mayo from a jar. It makes enough to serve a hungry group, but you can cut it down depending on how many people you need to feed.

Photo: Courtesy of Food52.
Ingredients
20 (1/2-inch-thick) slices rustic bread (from about 1 1/2 loaves)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 lb shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Instructions

1. Heat the oven to 300°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

2. Place half of the bread slices on a work surface, and spread with half of the mayonnaise. Flip the bread slices over and evenly divide the cheese among the slices.

3. Spread the remaining bread slices with the remaining mayonnaise and place them mayonnaise-side up over the cheese to form 10 sandwiches.

4. Heat a large nonstick frying pan or griddle over medium-low heat until hot, about 4 to 5 minutes. Place 2 to 3 of the sandwiches in the pan and cook until the bottoms are golden brown and the cheese is starting to melt, about 5 minutes. Flip the sandwiches and cook until the second sides are golden brown and the cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes more. 

5. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches.

6. When all the sandwiches are cooked, remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a wire rack. Let cool 1 to 2 minutes before cutting each sandwich in half.      

More From Food52:
This Is How You Store Cheese
What To Know About Cooking With Cheese
Throw A Dinner Party With Grilled Cheese Sandwiches      
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