A Very Important Grilled Cheese Question

What’s the big deal about clarified butter? I’m told it’s the best way to use butter on the bread for appropriate grilled cheese sandwiches. Why? And while we are thinking about gooey yummy grilled cheese sandwiches, what’s the best bread to get a crunch but not too thick, and which cheese gives the most satisfying melt?

WOW talk about a fun question. As a lover of grilled cheese, I am shocked and embarrassed to admit that I have never even thought about using clarified butter, also known as ghee, on my grilled cheese! For the uninitiated, clarified butter is butter that has been cooked, removing the milk solids. If you’ve ever melted butter and seen the whiteish grainy parts separate from the yellow oily part, you’ve basically made clarified butter - you just drain off the oil by running it through a coffee filter or cheese cloth. You can also just buy jars of it at lots of grocery stores, often in the international section (it is commonly used in Indian cooking).

Clarified butter can be cooked at a higher temperature than regular butter without burning, which is why it makes sense that it would be great for a grilled cheese. As a southerner, I always grew up using mayonnaise on the outside of my grilled cheeses, because it’s easier to spread and theoretically browns more evenly.

There’s only one way to truly find out the answer! We must do a test! What a difficult life I lead.

from left to right: ghee, butter, mayonnaise.

from left to right: ghee, butter, mayonnaise.

Also from left to right, ghee, butter, mayonnaise.

Also from left to right, ghee, butter, mayonnaise.

from top to bottom, ghee, butter, mayonnaise

from top to bottom, ghee, butter, mayonnaise

For fairness sake, I did a test with ghee, butter and mayonnaise. Frankly, I would basically never consider using butter for a grilled cheese because I don’t have a fancy French butter keeper (despite asking for one every year for Christmas/my birthday/my birthday is this Friday JUST SAYING). This means that my butter is kept in the refrigerator like the American trash that I am, and it is alway too cold to easily spread. So. Butter. Whatever.

Ghee is semi-solid at room temperature. You can see it’s kind of grainy, but it spreads quite nicely. Mayonnaise (Duke’s) is obviously smooth and very spreadable. I tested them by toasting them the way I make grilled cheese when I’m making more than two grilled cheeses - on a baking sheet in the oven. I preheated to 350°F, placed the slices butter/mayo/ghee side down on the sheet, then put another baking sheet on top with a small skillet on that to press down. I baked them for 10 minutes that way and then pulled them out and they were golden brown.

I assume you can see from the above photo that they all look..basically the same, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it is essential that you use one or the other of these spreadable fats. What I will say is that the ghee had a nice buttery flavor that mayo does not impart. But you can also get that from softened or melted butter, so it’s not an essential ingredient here. However, I will probably use it for grilling cheeses going forward, so do with that information what you will.

click for the recipe for this sweet potato and caramelized onion grilled cheese I made a few years ago.

click for the recipe for this sweet potato and caramelized onion grilled cheese I made a few years ago.

In terms of types of cheese, I really feel like the world is your oyster. In the post for the grilled cheese above, which you can find here, I made the argument that we should elevate grilled cheese from it’s status of emergency/impromptu dinner.

Honestly, when I read that, I realize how young and naive I was. The beauty of grilled cheese is it’s ability to be made without planning and still be deeply satisfying and luxurious. That is a perfect thing and should not be undervalued. BUT I will say that this weekend I made grilled cheese for 10 and I grated a mixture of fontina (very melty), parmesan, and cheddar and not one single person was mad about it (and I specifically purchased those cheeses for those GCs). I’m also never mad at a lil bit of goat cheese.