We Asked A Chef: Why Do Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Taste So Much Better At Restaurants?

What specifically chefs are doing to make certain food taste better at restaurants is always a vexing question — and when what you're eating is as simple as a grilled cheese, that question gets downright baffling. It's just two slices of bread and some melted cheese in the middle, so what could you possibly be doing wrong? And it's not some obvious additions that make grilled cheese better, as tasty as those can be. That is when we stop asking what we are doing wrong, and instead ask, "What are chefs doing right?" So Tasting Table reached out to Harris Mayer, the owner and chef of Creamline in New York City and the executive chef at The Tasting Room at Catskill Provisions Distillery, to ask what his kitchen secret is for the best grilled cheese.

Mayer quickly zeroed in on one aspect of homemade grilled cheese a lot of people don't pay attention to: how the sandwich is actually constructed. "I see a lot of home cooks assembling the sandwich before it goes in the pan," Mayer told us, explaining that restaurants will cook each slice of bread on its own first. He notes that "the last thing they do is put the two pieces of the sandwich together," and that the reason this works is because this method "gives maximum time for the bread to brown and for the cheese to melt."

What bread chefs use and how they handle it is the key to a great grilled cheese

While the order of operations was Mayer's most important advice for grilled cheese, he also noted that the bread used makes a big difference. If you make your grilled cheese from springy sandwich bread you might want to reconsider, as Mayer says, "I personally avoid using any bread that is too soft." Instead, something with a good contrast between the interior and exterior is the best bread for grilled cheese, because as Mayer explains with soft bread, "You won't get the crunch, and it's difficult to spread butter or mayo on the bread before griddling."

So how do you put it all together yourself? Mayer told us to cook both slices of bread at the same time, butter side down. The cheese should be on each slice of bread facing you as you brown the bread. The magic happens once you've gotten the bread to a nice golden brown, as Mayer explains "When the two slices are put together, the crispy outsides surround the soft interiors of the bread and the melted cheese." It's a simple change from the way you've probably made grilled cheese in the past, but one that squeezes every last ounce of flavor from the minimal number of ingredients. Once you have your favorite bread and the best, melty cheese for your grilled cheese, you'll be the one getting questions about how your version tastes so much better.