Grilled cheese, is it ever really the wrong choice? No, it is not. Is your version the best it can be? Are you sure? A swipe of mayonnaise is a surefire way to up your grilled cheese game.
What? Yes. I learned this trick by watching the Gabrielle Hamilton season of Mind of a Chef. If the food-bro musings of earlier seasons turned you off the show, please reconsider watching hers. Hamilton, the owner and chef of Prune in Manhattan and author of Blood, Bones & Butter, obviously thinks deeply about food. She’s smart, funny, and talks about cooking in a way that connects it to some of the deepest themes of life—love, loss, adventure, identity. And she uses mayo, not butter, to toast a grilled cheese sandwich to golden perfection.
“This is the greatest cooking medium of all time for a grilled cheese sandwich,” she says at 3:15 in the video above while swiping mayo onto bread for her traditional Christmas pairing of grilled cheese and champagne. “It gives you a longer cooking time, so you don’t burn, and it doesn’t stick to the pan.”
I reached out to Hamilton to ask her about the technique, but she was, as her assistant Emma Blecker put it, “totally off the grid working on her new book.” Blecker did, however, relay a few key points to me via email, explaining that about 20 years ago, Hamilton and Pamela Anderson, the former editor of Cook’s Illustrated, were testing grilled cheese methods and found that they liked the mayo approach the best—both for the longer cooking time before it starts to burn and for the added richness.
I’d add that there’s always mayo in my fridge, but there is not always softened butter on my counter—and it’s so much easier to spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the outside of two pieces of bread than it is to scrape cold butter across them. That’s the recipe, by the way, just add cheese.
For one grilled cheese sandwich, heat a pan over medium. Take two slices of bread and spread the outsides with a thin layer of your favorite mayo. I like Duke’s (paywall) but it’s something I bring home from trips south, since it’s not available at my local grocery store. Grate cheddar, about a good handful and spread evenly on one slice, then top with the second slice. Grill on medium heat for 10 minutes or until the outsides are toasty golden and the cheese is melted.
You can add bacon, jalapeños, pickles, mustard, or whatever else you like inside with the cheese. Just make sure to reach for the mayo, not the butter, for the outside.