Geoffrey Zakarian's Tips For The Perfect Grilled Cheese - Exclusive

Grilled cheese does not deserve the relegation to the children's menu it so often gets. Its mass appeal is likely what gets the sandwich there, but if that is all a grilled cheese could be, celebrated chef Geoffry Zakarian would not give it the time of day. Instead, Zakarian is known for his incredible grilled cheese game. While making a grilled cheese can seem basic — all it requires is bread and cheese after all — if done correctly this simple snack can be as delicious as the fanciest of meals. 

No matter if it is a simple grilled cheese for a quick bite or one with gourmet flavor, a grilled cheese sandwich should have two main characteristics: a perfectly crispy golden brown outside and soft and gooey cheese inside that is completely melted. Unfortunately, getting it just right can be challenging. This is why when we got the chance to speak with Zakarian in an exclusive interview, we knew we had to find out just how to make the perfect grilled cheese, and he did not disappoint.

It is whats on the outside

As it turns out, the key to grilled cheese has more to do with what goes on the sandwich than what goes in it. Obviously, some kind of fat is needed to prevent sticking to the pan and help crisp the bread, but Zakarian stays away from using traditional butter. 

He says, "Mayo on the outside of the bread will undoubtedly give you a perfectly crisp grilled cheese." 

In fact, mayonnaise has a higher smoking point, at around 450 degrees, compared to butter, which begins to smoke at 350 degrees. This mayonnaise allows you more room for error with the pan temperature. Where butter will burn and turn black quickly, mayonnaise will moderate and stay golden longer.

Additionally, in our own tests comparing the two, Tasting Table found the mayonnaise to be easier to spread, required less prep work, and was generally cheaper than butter. So we can see why Zakarian feels so passionately about this spread.

Zakarian's other word of advice was to remember the outside of your grilled cheese should be flavorful too. He says, "You should also season the outside of the bread with salt." 

Salt acts as a flavor enhancer. Adding it to the outside of the bread will help the sandwich create and build layers of flavor. Light salting after the mayonnaise has been spread on will help it stick to the bread.

Making your grilled cheese melty and creamy

Finally, it is not always possible to get a perfectly melted grilled cheese in the time that it takes to crisp the outside. Instead of sacrificing a golden brown crust in an attempt to cook it further, Zakarian has another suggestion. He says, "Once the bread is crisp and golden, I put the skillet in a 350-degree oven to melt the cheese completely." 

This will be particularly helpful for thick grilled cheese sandwiches or those that have cheese with a higher melting temperature. Turning your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit should be high enough to melt the cheese without burning your sandwich. Zakarian says he puts his skillet right in the oven. However, not all skillets are oven safe, so make sure to use a stainless steel or cast iron pan. If this is not an option, transfer your sandwich to an oven-safe baking sheet.

Once your cheese is perfectly melted, pop that sandwich onto a plate and pair it with some tomato soup for a truly heavenly meal.