Variations of the grilled cheese sandwich have existed for centuries. But it wasn’t until the 1920s – when inexpensive processed bread and cheese became available – that the sandwich gained popularity in America.1 Today we consider the cheesy novelty an American classic.
A perfect grilled cheese sandwich – with a slightly crunchy, toasted outside and ooey-gooey inside – is a great companion to a bowl of tomato soup during the winter. But the storied sandwich isn’t limited to cold weather. Why not whip up a grilled cheese on the grill?
With “grill” right in the sandwich’s name, you’d think this cooking technique would be foolproof. But making a grilled cheese on the grill can be tricky at first. Without following a few key guidelines, you may have a charred, burned sandwich instead.
Ready to move your grilled cheese making to the great outdoors? We’ve compiled a list of grilling tips specifically for grilled cheese, plus some innovative variations to take your sandwich to the next level.
Tips for Making the Perfect Grilled Cheese
There are three crucial techniques for making the perfect grilled cheese on your outdoor grill: diverse heating zones, the right ingredients, and the “shred and spread” approach to cheese.
Diverse Heating Zones
Set up your charcoal or gas grill for different cook zones. You should have three zones, each with a different amount of heat. One zone should be low heat, another zone should be medium heat, and the last zone should be high heat. The three-zone setup allows you to move the grilled cheese to appropriate heat levels at different stages of the cooking process. To achieve the zones, follow these instructions:
For charcoal grills:
- Low Heat: There should be no charcoal. This zone is the furthest away from the high-heat zone.
- Medium Heat: There should be no charcoal. This zone is between the low-heat and high-heat zones.
- High Heat: This zone houses all of the charcoal. Coals should be ash white when you transfer them from the charcoal chimney to the grill.
For gas grills:
- Low Heat: Use the rack as your low-heat warming space.
- Medium Heat: Set one burner to medium-low heat.
- High Heat: Set one burner to medium heat.
The Right Ingredients
No matter what grilled cheese recipe you make, use the following ingredients:
Thickly sliced bread is essential for a grilled sandwich. Normal, pre-sliced sandwich bread may crumble on the grill grates. Since the bread is thicker than the slices used for a conventional grilled cheese, remember that it will take longer for the cheese to melt. That’s why it’s important to utilize three grilling zones.
Plenty of oil or butter is essential to keep the bread from sticking to the grill grates. Plus, fat helps the grilled cheese stay moist. Though a quick spray of cooking oil will suffice for a stove top grilled cheese, it won’t be enough on the grill. Use approximately ¼ tablespoon per slice of bread.
Shred and Spread Your Cheese
The best way to achieve the perfect bite of cheese and bread every time is to make sure the cheese extends all the way to the corners of the sandwich. Shred the cheese and evenly coat the bottom of each slice of bread.
What You Need:
Fuel charcoal or propane
Panini press (optional)
2 thick slices of bread
1 small block of cheese
Panini press (optional)
1) Prepare your grill: Fill the charcoal chimney half way. Leave it until all of the coals are ash white.
Pro tip: Do not use lighter fluid. Crumple up newspaper into a ball and place in the charcoal chimney. You can find charcoal chimneys in the grill section of the hardware store.
2) Once the coals have turned ash white, dump all the coals on one side of the grill and close your grill lid.
Pro tip: Make sure that you have some additional charcoal in case you need more.
3) Once the internal temperature reaches 250 degrees, brush your grates with olive oil to prevent sticking.
Pro tip: Make sure your grill dome thermometer is accurate: Place a thermometer probe as close to the food as possible and about 1 inch above the grill surface. Some probes may have a clip that grasps a grate rod. Other probes can be clamped in place with metal office clips or clips from the local hardware store. If the thermometer is off, place an additional thermometer right on the grill grates for an accurate read.
4) While the grill heats up, grate the cheese. About 1 cup of shredded cheese should be perfect for one sandwich. Brush the bread with melted butter or olive oil.
5) Place the bread in the medium zone of your grill for approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until the bread is lightly toasted.
6) Evenly distribute the shredded cheese on top of one slice of bread. Position the second slice of bread on top of the cheese. Place the sandwich on the grill over the medium to high heat section for approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble inside the sandwich.
7) With a metal spatula, move the sandwich to the low heat zone for an additional 3 minutes.
8) Remove the grilled cheese from the low heat zone using a metal spatula. Cut the bread diagonally with a sharp knife and serve hot.
Grilled Cheese Combos
While a few squares of American cheese and a couple of slices of white bread can constitute a grilled cheese, there are endless combinations you can try. With different types of oils, bread, proteins, fruits, and vegetables you can make a grilled cheese to suit your food personality. Here are some out-of-the-box ideas to spice up your next grilled cheese sandwich.
The grilled cheese sandwich is simple and straightforward. Consider taking your sandwich out to the grill for a new take on the classic lunch staple. And instead of a typical cookout, host a grilled cheese party. Have a variety of cheeses, spreads, fillings, and breads, and allow guests to choose which ingredients they would like on their grilled cheese. Remember to use three heating zones, thick bread, and plenty of butter or oil for the perfect sandwich. Enjoy!