Who says you can’t entertain with your favorite childhood comfort foods? There’s a reason the grilled cheese sandwich became an all-American classic, with a buttery, toasted crust and deliciously gooey filling. This kind of perfection is more than just nostalgia.
Bring it back this month—April is National Grilled Cheese Month, after all!—with a build-your-own grilled cheese party. Pick a weekend, invite all your friends and family, and set out a variety of all the major components, like bread, cheese and add-ins, and offer a side of soup and salad for good measure. Let everyone assemble their ideal sandwich and grill it to order. Read on for ingredient suggestions and flavor inspiration. The possibilities are endless.
Offer both sourdough and whole grain breads, cut into thick slices. Other varieties that work well are rye, ciabatta (halved) and brioche.
Choose cheeses with a range of flavor profiles, but be sure they’ll all melt into the warm, gooey, stringy texture you love. Fontina, cheddar, manchego, gruyere and mozzarella are all good choices, but feel free to experiment with your favorites.
The ingredients in between the bread and cheese are what take it to the next level, so pick add-ins that pack plenty of flavor. One option is to go after a traditional flavor pairings: For instance, offer caramelized onions with gruyere, or pair fresh tomato with mozzarella.
If you’d rather let your guests be creative, simply cover the major categories of sandwich ingredients and let guests mix and match as they please.
- Herbs: parsley, cilantro, sage and chives add distinctive (and elevated) flavors.
- Fruit: sliced apples and pears provide a crunchy contrast to melted cheese. Figs are another lovely sweet pairing.
- Pickles & relishes: pickled jalapeños are great for adding spice, and regular bread and butter varieties give a nice crunch.
- Vegetables: slice peppers, tomatoes and avocado, or cook mushrooms and onions to add to the mix. Don’t forget fresh greens, such as spinach and arugula, too.
- Meats & seafood: cured meats are delicious in grilled cheese sandwiches—think bacon, prosciutto or even pepperoni for a pizza-like twist. Cooked chicken or oil-packed tuna will also give guests something unexpected.
- Preserves & condiments: fruit jams and preserves make a wonderful complement to many cheeses, as does a spicy Dijon mustard.
On the Side
What goes better with a grilled cheese than a steaming bowl of soup? You can’t go wrong with the classic grilled cheese pairing of tomato soup. For a seasonal springtime twist, try a vibrantly-colored pea soup, and use fresh peas. Looking to offer something with a bit of a modern twist on the classic? This lentil and bacon soup is a great stand-in for traditional tomato. Oh, and alongside all that cheese, guests will appreciate a big fresh, green salad, too.
One to two days ahead: Buy all of your ingredients and prep the ones you can — chop vegetables and store in the fridge. (Don’t prep apples or pears ahead; they’ll turn brown.) Make your soup and chill it, covered, overnight.
Day of: Finish prepping fruits and vegetables. Reheat soup. Set all your ingredients out on display, buffet-style!
For serving: Heat up a large griddle so you can make more than one sandwich at once. Get guests involved — let everyone take a turn at the stove! Fill a small bowl with olive oil for brushing on the outside of the sandwich before cooking.
This kind of casual party is perfect for small-space entertaining, because it doesn’t have to involve a seated dinner. Let people mix and mingle as they please, since the sandwiches will be ready at different times. Identify a few “zones” where people can sit and chat, on a sofa or around a table.
Place plates and napkins on the buffet so people can grab them while building their sandwiches. Fill a glass, mug or jar with utensils. If you’re short on serving utensils for all of the cheeses and add-ins, use toothpicks where possible.
Simple cutting boards or woven trays lined with napkins are perfect for displaying the ingredients. Use a mix of your favorite mugs and jars for things like condiments. If you’re offering a lot of options, you may want to use labels so people know which cheese is which.
For beverages, serve beer or a crisp sparkling wine, which will provide a cleansing, refreshing counterpoint to rich grilled cheese. Place glasses on the buffet or set up a separate bar area so everyone can help themselves—that gives them yet another place to mingle.