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Modern vs. Traditional Grilled Cheese — Which One Reigns Supreme?

Out of all the unique food-centric holidays, National Grilled Cheese Day is one that speaks dearly to me as a sandwich lover. My childhood love for a gooey, crispy grilled cheese “sammy” has spilled over into adulthood, and that’s what led me to the idea of a taste test.

I decided to try making two versions of my favorite treat: a traditional grilled recipe versus an upgraded one. Let’s see which one is the cheesy winner!

Classic Grilled Cheese

Let’s get back to basics and take a dive into this classic grilled cheese recipe by self-proclaimed “Sandwich King” Jeff Mauro.

The recipe oozes nostalgia (as well as some serious cheese) and is as simple as it gets. You only need two types of American cheese, country white bread, and salted butter to enter into grilled cheese heaven. 

When I tried this out, I smeared the bread with mayo instead of butter to get that golden brown crust and avoid burning the sandwich in the pan.

To recreate Mauro’s recipe, follow the steps below.

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices white American cheese  
  • 8 slices country white bread  
  • 4 slices yellow American cheese  
  • 4 tablespoon salted butter, softened (or mayo)

Directions:

  1. Preheat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat.
  2. Assemble the sandwiches with 1 slice of white cheese on 4 pieces of bread and 1 slice of yellow cheese on the other 4 slices of bread. Close the sandwiches and spread enough butter or mayo on both sides of the bread to completely cover them.
  3. Place the sandwiches onto the skillet or griddle. Cover with a metal bowl or lid and let the sandwiches get a nice golden brown color, which should take around 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Flip the sandwiches, cover them again, and cook until the cheese is melted and the sandwiches are toasted for another 2 to 3 minutes. Enjoy! Makes 4 sandwiches.

Modern Grilled Cheese

The traditional grilled cheese recipe has a solid foundation. But if you’re looking to build upon it, then it’s worth upgrading some of the ingredients.

Lifestyle content creator Ethan Glenn shared his go-to modern grilled cheese recipe on TikTok (@ethantglenn). Yet, some people debated in the comments whether it’s still grilled cheese if the sandwich contains ham.

@ethantglenn♬ original sound – Ethan Glenn

This food technicality had me a little stumped at first. Thankfully, Laura Werlin (author of two cookbooks on grilled cheese) cleared up any confusion.

“Ham is great [in a grilled cheese], but it should be thinly sliced,” Werlin told Insider. “You’re adding that smokey flavor.”

With this in mind, I proceeded to whip up Glenn’s recipe — which only makes one sandwich. You can, however, double or triple the measurements as needed to make multiple grilled cheeses.

Ingredients:

  • 2 thick slices sourdough bread
  • 1/4 Granny Smith apple, skin-on and thinly sliced
  • 3 to 4 ounces white cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
  • 2 slices smoked ham
  • 2 heaped tablespoons mayo

Directions:

  1. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
  2. Layer the apple, ham, and cheddar cheese between the 2 slices of bread. Spread 1 tablespoon of mayo on each side of the sandwich.
  3. Place the sandwich onto the heated pan and cover with a lid. Allow the sandwich to cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on one side before flipping and cooking for an additional 3 minutes.
  4. Once the grilled cheese is golden brown and crispy, remove it from the pan and cool for 1 minute before eating. Makes 1 sandwich.
Modern Grilled Cheese

The Moment of Cheesy Truth

I would be the first person to tell you that nothing beats tradition. However, I actually enjoyed the modern grilled cheese more than the classic recipe.

Hear me out: Mauro’s recipe for grilled cheese had a milky, salty flavor and a nice gooeyness from the American cheese. Not to mention the sandwich had a crunchy texture as well from the toasted bread. But that was it.

If I were whipping up the traditional grilled cheese, I would definitely eat it alongside a bowl of soup or a salad to make it a complete meal.

In contrast, Glenn’s grilled cheese recipe had a variety of flavors. The smokiness from the ham, sharpness of the white cheddar and the slight sweetness of the apple all worked perfectly in this sandwich. 

The modern grilled cheese recipe was also more filling to eat than the traditional one. It really stands on its own as a solid lunch option. All in all, the upgraded grilled cheese recipe is the clear winner for me! 

Looking for other National Grilled Cheese Day-inspired sandwiches that are worth melting over? Try these recipes for “monster tot” bacon grilled cheesegrilled cheese using cream cheese, and grilled cheese with Bûcherondin goat cheese, chicken, and spinach!

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