We’ve discovered the best way to cook grilled cheese

collage of grilled cheese on green background

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Wherever you go, whatever you do, grilled cheese is right there waiting for you.

On the streets of Barcelona, you may find yourself ordering the bikini sandwich. A midday break in Milan could mean a simple panini. In Australia or the U.K., the toastie is the preferred lunchtime treat to beat.

Some of these versions may include a little meat, or sliced tomato or a thrilling blend of cheeses. But the essential components are the same: Toasted bread with comforting melted cheese within.

In the U.S., the grilled cheese is a staple of quick-and-easy dinners and lunches nationwide. When making your own, your choice of cooking fat can make or break the sandwich — depending on your personal goals, of course.

Do you prioritize speed? A perfectly crisp texture? Soft, buttery richness? Cheesy goodness? Or the best of all possible worlds?

For my money, the greatest grilled cheese sandwiches are found at diners. They harmonize all those top requirements, and fast. I set out to test a selection of fats to see if I could recreate the perfect, diner-style grilled cheese sandwich at home.

Hence, the ingredient list: American cheese singles on white, Sara Lee-brand sandwich bread. Each rendition was cooked in a large, enameled cast iron Dutch oven.

Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven

lilac purple Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven

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I experimented by using six readily available cooking fats in the challenge:

  1. Mayonnaise
  2. Butter
  3. Avocado oil
  4. Coconut oil
  5. Bacon grease
  6. Ghee

Only one hit all the high notes. Read on for my findings in this grilled cheese taste test battle.

1. Mayonnaise

Grilled cheese cooked with mayonnaise on a plate
Simplemost/Kathleen St. John

Using mayo to cook a grilled cheese has long been my go-to method. I read somewhere, years ago, that mayo is a preferred fat for diner cooks because of its extreme ease and accessibility. There’s bound to be mayo in your fridge, and it takes just a few swipes to prep the bread.

As you can see, the result is nice, evenly toasted bread, and the cheese melted beautifully. Mayonnaise is the one to beat — but it does have a drawback. You can taste the mayonnaise. This does not bother me at all, but could trouble pickier eaters.

2. Butter

Grilled cheese sandwich cooked with buttered bread
Simplemost/Kathleen St. John

Butter: The all-time classic, the king of all cooking fats. It toasts up like a dream, but it’s the richness of the butter combined with gooey cheese that makes your soul glow. There’s one problem, though, and it’s a big one: Unless you’re in the habit of keeping your butter out on the counter at room temp, the butter will be stiff and hard to spread just when you need it most. (My kitchen is freezing-cold for most of the year, so even keeping butter outside the fridge might not work.)

Slapping together a GC on a whim is part of the fun — pre-planning and prepping your butter deflates the spontaneity. Still, it’s worth it if you have the time. Or use this easy workaround: Opt for a tub of butter rather than a stick, usually marked “soft” or “spreadable.”

3. Avocado oil

Grilled cheese sandwich cooked in avocado oil
Simplemost/Kathleen St. John

I used avocado oil cooking spray, which earns points for supreme ease of use. The resulting sandwich was light and crisp, almost like two slices of bread from the toaster with melted cheese in the center. There was no taste of avocado — it may as well have been traditional vegetable or canola oil. Plus, clean up was lightning-quick!

4. Coconut oil

Grilled cheese sandwich cooked in coconut oil
Simplemost/Kathleen St. John

Similar to the avocado oil spray, coconut oil was essentially flavorless. This was a pleasant surprise, as I’d never used coconut oil for cooking before, and had been a little anxious about a coconut-flavored grilled cheese. Nope, no weird coconut taste here.

The texture is a little tricky for spreading, however. At room temp, in its container, it varies between oily-slick and semi-solid, which can be challenging for keeping bread intact as you apply. It’s not terrible, though, and the fattiness gives it a boost over avocado oil spray. (Note: Coconut oil and avocado oil can also be used to make a vegan grilled cheese if you’re so inclined.)

5. Bacon grease

Grilled cheese sandwich cooked with bacon grease on a plate.
Simplemost/Kathleen St. John

For the truly decadent, the bacon grease technique offers deep satisfaction. The bread grilled up gloriously in the skillet, crisp on the exterior, but warm and delicate inside. The bacon flavor is fairly strong, so if you don’t dig the pig, this isn’t for you.

It’s also a bit more of hassle unless you’re in the habit of reusing (or buying) your bacon grease. I am not, so I had to collect, strain and store the grease from a weekend breakfast.

6. Ghee — THE WINNER

Grilled cheese sandwich cooked with ghee on a plate.
Simplemost/Kathleen St. John

Could we have found the answer to all our grilled-cheese prayers? Look at that beauty up above. Golden-brown toastiness. Crisp crusts. Alluring cheese. Ghee is butter that’s been slow-simmered to remove most of its water and slightly brown the remaining milk solids. It’s a great all-purpose cooking fat, and since it’s shelf-stable, it spreads easily over fresh bread. It handily passes the sudden-sandwich-craving test.

I mean, essentially it’s butter. You can’t go wrong with butter.

Ghee’s main downside is the price. The jar I used for this experiment went for $15 at a reasonably priced natural foods store. But get this: You can make it yourself!

Could this be it? Yeah. This is it. The Holy Grail of grilled cheese is ghee.

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About the Author
Kathleen St. John
Kathleen St. John is a freelance journalist. She lives in Denver with her husband, two kids and a fiercely protective Chihuahua. Visit Scripps News to see more of Kathleen's work.

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