I think most people would say that the best thing about a grilled cheese sandiwch is the melted cheese, but I actually think that the best thing is the crispy bread. I grew up always spreading butter on the outside of my grilled cheeses to create that gloriously caramelized, crunchy contrast, but a few years ago someone told me mayonnaise is actually a better choice. I took them at their word, and switched to using mayo. Then, recently, another friend recommended ghee. To find out which is really best, I put them to the test. Here’s what I found.
To me, the most appealing thing about using mayonnaise is that it’s super spreadable, which allows you to get a really good, even layer all the way across each slice of your bread. Getting fat onto every corner and into every crevice means consistent browning and crispiness. Depending on the brand, mayonnaise can also impart some good flavor, which is actually really nice depending on the type of cheese and bread you’re using.
Butter feels like the most luxurious of the options, maybe because slathering a piece of bread with butter makes it into a food that I would eat all by itself anyway. Adding cheese feels even over the top, since buttered toast is one of the most delicious foods in the world. What I enjoy about this option is that you can taste the butter, but spreading cold butter on cold bread is fsr from enjoyable, and I am not a fan.
Ghee is a slightly more specialty ingredient, but one that I’ve come to use a lot in the last few years, so I’ve always got a jar on hand. If you’ve ever melted butter, you’ve seen the liquid split into the yellow fat and white-ish milk solids, which can burn when overheated, which is why you don’t use butter to deep-fry or cook over super high heat. Ghee, or clarified butter, is the liquid fat separated from the milk solids, which can be heated to a higher temperature. For grilled cheeses, however, I realized that you don’t actually want to use ghee (unless it’s all you have—in which case, sure, go for it), because the milk solids browning is part of what makes the bread so darn appealing after the toasting process.
So, the truth is… it doesn’t seem to matter immensely what fat you use for your grilled cheese. I thought there would be a much larger difference in the level or evenness of browning between the different fat options used, but the real differentiators seem to be more in flavor and ease of use. That said, I think I’ll stick with mayonnaise because it is SO EASY to spread, and I appreciate that. But in a pinch, I’d use what I have on hand. Grilled cheese is easy comfort food and I will never make a grocery run to prep one—and now you can rest easy knowing that you shouldn’t, either.