The secret to the perfect grilled cheese, revealed

In 5 minutes flat, you'll be enjoying the best sandwich of your life

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 20, 2022 5:30PM (EDT)

Grilled Cheese (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Grilled Cheese (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

You don’t need an expensive new piece of equipment, or an obscure ingredient you have to hunt for. You just need a fresh way of preparing an old favorite. In "One Way," we’ll revisit classic ingredients and dishes, giving them a new twist with an easy technique you haven’t tried before.

Grilled cheese is one of those seemingly simple dishes that can be tricky to master. Getting that optimal level of crisply toasted bread and oozy filling is a delicate art. My grandmother used to broil hers, and my childhood grilled cheeses were always well melted but a little dry.

In adulthood, I latched on to Gabrielle Hamilton's winning method of slathering the bread in mayo and making the sandwich in a skillet — a flavorful upgrade that has never failed me. When my college-aged daughter recently shared how she had been making grilled cheeses at school, however, I was shocked by the technique.  

RELATED: The crunchiest, cheesiest macaroni and cheese bakes on a sheet pan

"You add water to the pan," she explained, as I looked at her like she was out of her mind.

"Is this what my tuition money is paying for you to learn here?" I asked. "To defile bread?"

Though Google produced surprisingly little validation for this approach, there was a fairly recent post by Alpha Foodie for cheese toasties whose instructions called for adding a tablespoon of water to the pan and covering it to steam the sandwich.

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The real game changer, though, was a 2015 recipe from Barefeet in the Kitchen. It stuck to my preferred strategy of lavishly lubricating the bread — not the skillet. I was soon rewarded with what can only described as the platonic ideal of a grilled cheese. It was the perfect ratio of buttery to crunchy to melty — and not remotely soggy. The water trick just plain works.

You can endlessly riff on this recipe by experimenting with the cheese and add-ins, but there are a few non-negotiables. Don't use bread that is too thick; do be generous with the butter and a little restrained with the filling. If the heat can't reach the center, you won't get the proper melt. No matter what journey you choose, in 5 minutes flat, you'll be enjoying the best sandwich of your life.


Recipe: The Very Best Grilled Cheese
Inspired by Alpha Foodie and Barefeet in the Kitchen

1 serving
Prep Time
 5 minutes
Cook Time
5 minutes


  • 2 thinly cut slices of your favorite bread
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon water




  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.

  2. Generously butter the slices of bread. Lightly toast them, buttered side down, in the pan for 1 or 2 minutes to just golden.

  3. Add the cheese to the first slice of bread, then top with the second slice. To adhere the cheese to the bread, give the sandwich a good smush with a spatula.

  4. Move the sandwich to one side of the skillet and sprinkle in the water on the other side. Cover everything with a large lid or bowl and toast for another minute.

  5. Remove the lid and check on the bottom of the sandwich. Flip it over and toast for another minute or so. It should look golden and browned, and the cheese should be sticking if you try to open it. If you're not there yet, give it another minute.

  6. Plate and serve immediately.

Cook's Notes

Cheddar, of course, is the classic cheese here. Add more cheese if your bread slices are larger. 


More sandwich recipes we love: 

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bread Cheese Food Grilled Cheese How-to One Way Recipe Sandwiches