The grilled cheese sandwich is one of the quintessential sandwiches you have to have in your 5-minute lunch arsenal. It’s the ultimate sandwich; ooey-gooey cheesy with a crisp toasted outside. And it’s super easy to make, even 10-year-old me could go into the kitchen and whip one up without burning down the house. However, just recently I discovered that I’ve been making my sandwiches all wrong this past decade and a half, and with it, losing out on countless pristine grilled cheese sandwiches I could have been enjoying.
The secret to making the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich isn’t in the cheese (no judgments on using American cheese slices served in the plastic, it’s a childhood classic) nor is it the type of bread you use. No, the best way to make grilled cheese is substituting mayonnaise for unsalted butter.
The first time I heard the suggestion I was appalled. “You want me to put what on my grilled cheese?!”
But then I tried it.
Oh, did my eyes open on that day. The white bread was a beautiful golden brown and crispy and the cheese was melted more than ever. I could confidently say it was the best grilled cheese I had eaten for a long time. And there’s a science behind it too–even Alton Brown shared that he sears his steaks with mayo and not butter. While it’s not low-fat, cooking with mayonnaise produces a delicious crust and a nicer texture than melted butter.
Like butter, Mayonnaise is an oil emulsion, meaning the fat is interspersed with water (or in the case of mayo, acid and egg yolks). However, unlike butter, mayonnaise is thicker and easier to spread on your favorite bread. Either way, both emulsions work as a browning agent and both are very strange to eat plainly on their own.
To make the perfect grilled cheese at home, grab your favorite cheese and plain white bread. With your skillet preheated over low heat, spread a thin layer of mayo on the bread and place it mayo side down. Add a slice of cheese or two (sharp cheddar is always a good idea), and top with another slice of bread, mayo side up. After a minute or two, check to see if the bread is toasty brown. If so, flip and continue to cook on the other side. Place the best-ever grilled cheese on a plate and cut into triangles for excellent results. Serve with tomato soup if desired and see if it stands up to your taste test.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 1, 2018.