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Grilled Cheese Primer: Butter vs. Mayo


National Grilled Cheese Day

We’ll admit it. Here at culture, we spend a lot of time experimenting with grilled cheese. We’ve stuffed it with lobsterroasted poblanos and curried brown butter, and yes, even ice cream. Indeed, grilled cheese is compatible with a whole slew of flavorful ingredients. But before you go ahead tossing in everything but the kitchen sink (you’ll need that to wash the grease from your fingers), you’ll want to master a few tricks that will allow your grilled cheese to live up to everything it can be.

We’ve already thought through a few grilled cheese hacks, like amping up the cheese factor by grating hard, aged cheese onto the outside of the bread before grilling, but we recently stumbled across a new idea from Chef Gabrielle Hamilton. She recommends priming your bread with mayonnaise instead of butter, claiming the former does a better job holding its own against a hot grill without burning. 

We’re all about trying new things, but eschewing butter? That’s gonna take some convincing. Before we start badmouthing our beloved, fatty spread, let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Butter

PROS

  • Rich taste
  • Lends itself to creative flavorings (compound butters)
  • Accentuates fattiness of the cheese

CONS

  • Burns easily, requiring vigilant stove-side attention

Serious Eats recommends getting the most out of your grilled cheese by buttering both sides of the bread:

Grill two slices of bread in butter, flip ’em over so that the browned sides are facing up, add your cheese, and close your sandwich so that the cheese is sandwiched between the browned surfaces. Not only will this get you better tasting bread infused with more butter, but it’ll also give your cheese a head start on getting extra-melty.

Mayo

PROS

  • Higher smoke point (doesn’t burn as quickly)
  • Coats bread evenly without needing to soften
  • Produces the desirable “grilled” bread texture.

CONS

  • Concept may upset the grilled cheese traditionalist

As Food52 explains about the superiority of mayo over butter,

The oil and egg in mayonnaise brown and crisp more evenly and lavishly than butter, creating a glossy crunch from edge to edge.

The conclusion? While you can certainly make delicious grilled cheese with butter, it may take more attention. If you’re in a rush, or are simply curious, we advise you to try the mayo route. Experiment with the security of knowing that you’ll probably end up with something delicious. And if you’re really daring, why not try both at the same time? It is grilled cheese, after all.

Feature Photo Credit: Ronald Sumners | Shutterstock

Amanda Minoff

Amanda recently graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine with a degree in English Literature and Art History. She is a reader and writer of fiction and loves cheese that tells a good story.