The Best Breads To Use When Making Grilled Cheese

Making grilled cheese is a serious business, and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. When the ingredients are only fresh bread, melty cheese, and butter (or mayonnaise, if that's your golden-crust-forming companion), the final dish had better be swoon-worthy. Like the nuances of perfect scrambled eggs, a great grilled cheese sandwich is all about impeccable timing and the right combo of ingredients. The cheese, of course, is critical, but equally important is the bread that envelops it. 

You may harken back to childhood grilled cheese sandwiches, which tasted delicious and only required soft white bread and cheese slices, and as long as you grill them right, they'll still hit the spot. But chances are they'll not taste as good as you remember because ... nothing tastes as good as nostalgia. Also, depending on the cheese you use, a slice of white bread may not have the structural integrity to support all that exotic fat.

Sourdough and brioche are on opposite ends of the flavor and texture spectrums, but either of them can be used to make the perfect grilled cheese. It comes down to what you want your fromage transported in. Sourdough offers a sturdy, crusty, slightly tangy platform that you can load with abandon without worrying about it falling apart. On the other hand, the French brioche offers a buttery, slightly sweet crumb that's decadent enough to make eating that grilled cheese feel like a special occasion. Of course, there are other bread options to explore, but these two check all the boxes with delicious aplomb.

Sourdough and brioche are best for grilled cheese

Sourdough bread's crusty exterior and spongy interior offer outstanding textural contrast, especially when toasted, though you want to ensure the slices are not too thick as a tough crust can scratch the roof of your mouth during enthusiastic bites. The tangy flavor also pairs well with most cheeses and anything else you want to add. If you're shooting for gourmet and not just fond memories, pass on the Kraft Singles and Velveeta (which isn't technically cheese), and get a bit more serious about what's going between the slices. 

Brioche, made with butter, eggs, and a hint of sugar, takes your grilled cheese in a different but equally glorious direction. It may feel delicate, but brioche contains enough gluten to hold its structure, and you can load it up with swathes of flavorsome soft cheese like brie or camembert. The bread's sweetness also opens it up to "fancier" grilled cheese embellishments like delicious caramelized onions or tangy fruit preserves — generally, most bread with a slightly sweet flavor also pairs well with smoked and even spicy cheeses.

Focaccia and English muffins deserve a special mention for being especially suited to crispy, airy, yet gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. The flat, yeasted Italian focaccia is generally infused with herbs (or roasted vegetables) and pairs well with creamy mozzarella. Flaky English muffins, on the other hand, can be turned into dainty, 2-bite-sized sandwiches filled with sharp aged cheddar.

More grilled cheese breads and tricks

Whole grain and rye bread are denser options that, in addition to the extra fiber and nutrients they provide, have a nutty flavor that can complement sharp cheeses. The slightly sweet pumpernickel bread is also an option, but it is even denser and can overwhelm the gooey cheese filling. Instead of making sandwiches, lightly toasted pieces of sturdy bread should be topped with pungent or "stinky" cheeses in an open sandwich style to enjoy their distinctive flavors best.

While fans of the traditional grilled cheese may be partial to sliced bread, loaves of baguette, ciabatta, and Italian bread can also be used. These breads are crusty on the outside (to varying degrees), with a soft and fluffy crumb, which is excellent for soaking up sauces. However, they also make for a thicker, breadier sandwich, allowing you to add more accompaniments like meats or roasted vegetables to help balance flavors.

Like tricks to upgrade boxed mac and cheese or make deli-level sandwiches at home, your grilled cheese can benefit from pro tips. Irrespective of the bread, you can add a delicious crispy layer of cheese on the outside by grating some cheese straight onto the hot skillet before placing your sandwich on it. Do this with low-moisture cheese like parmesan, and keep a close eye to ensure it doesn't burn. Also, substitute butter with a thin layer of mayonnaise when grilling your sandwich for that perfectly golden and crispy outer layer.