7 Tips for a Next-Level Grilled Cheese

Amp up the classic sandwich with these simple and innovative tips.

In honor of National Grilled Cheese Day, Food & Wine Culinary Director Justin Chapple and our New York City Test Kitchen Manager Kelsey Youngman dedicated today's episode of Mad Genius Live to upgrading everyone's favorite sandwich.

Although it's pretty much impossible to go wrong when it comes to bread and cheese, some grilled cheeses are plain better than others. To demonstrate the spectrum of deliciously cheesy options and pairings, Chapple and Youngman made two sandwiches: a traditional American grilled cheese (with a twist!), as well as cheese expert Laura Werlin's New American Grilled Cheese.

Here's how to give a commonplace grilled cheese a little bit of wow factor:

Slather with mayo.

Before anything else, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the outside of both pieces of bread. Why? Youngman says that the mayo helps create a crunchy outer layer. "When [the bread] hits the pan, it's going to get crispy, golden, and perfectly delicious. You're not gonna have half-melted cheese and dry bread."

Top with parm.

To take the crispiness up another level, sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of the mayo. The cheese will stick to the mayo and both ingredients will caramelize in the pan, creating what Chapple calls "almost like a cheese cracker on the outside of your grilled cheese." At Better Luck Tomorrow in Houston, which is one of Food & Wine's 2018 Restaurants of the Year, Chef Justin Yu serves a dish called the Party Melt. Aside from being a mash-up made in heaven, this patty-melt-grilled-cheese hybrid deploys the same parmesan-crusting technique.

Sprinkle nutritional yeast.

For a third layer of crunch, opt for some nutritional yeast. This savory ingredient is flaky in texture, has a nutty taste, and smells like cheese. In addition to being a great topping for popcorn, nutritional yeast creates a different kind of crispness in the pan. For the best of both worlds, do like Chapple and top one slice of mayo-laden bread with parm and the other with nutritional yeast. For a vegan approach to grilled cheese, nutritional yeast is a great substitute for the parmesan and goes well with vegan mayo.

Build the sandwich in the pan.

To prevent the parm and the yeast from falling off of the bread, quickly transfer the bread right from your cutting board to the pan — mayo side down. At that point, place the cheese on the bottom slice and top with the other piece of bread, making sure that the mayo side is face-up.

Get creative and make grilled cheese croutons.

Nothing goes better with grilled cheese than tomato soup. Though it's always fun to serve the sandwich on the side so that it can be dipped and dunked, crank the presentation up a notch with grilled cheese croutons. Cut the sandwich into small squares and voila! "The cheese kind of melts into the soup," Youngman says, "so you get gooey cheese and perfect, sweet, acidic tomatoes. It's the best bite."

Between dijon mustard, cornichons, and andouille sausage, wow factor is pretty much built into the New American Grilled Cheese. Here are Chapple and Youngman's tips for making the recipe really pop:

Go for yellow cheddar.

The key to this sandwich is the cheddar butter that coats the outside of the bread. "For this, you are not looking for a fancy white cheddar cheese," Chapple says. "You are going for yellow cheddar. I know it's not as elegant, but that is not what this is about." The cheddar butter will caramelize in the pan, creating something like a frico, or cheese chip, as an outer crust.

Use a cast-iron griddle.

Although Chapple and Youngman used a skillet to cook the grilled cheeses during Mad Genius Live, when at home, Chapple likes to use a big cast-iron griddle. He turns the griddle onto its flat side because the even plane helps avoid sandwich-flipping disasters.

Whether elevated classic or new and fancy, these tips are a surefire way to upgrade any and every grilled cheese.

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