01/18/2012 10:12 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Ruin A Grilled Cheese

By Lawrence Marcus, Senior Digital Editor, Food & Wine

It's hard to imagine a bad grilled cheese, but melty perfection isn't a given. Here, the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author behind this year's Grilled Cheese, Please!, Laura Werlin, reveals five ways to fumble this deceptively simple sandwich.

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1. Go overboard with bread. The ratio of cheese to bread should be 50-50. "Too much bread prevents the sandwich from getting crisp, which is crucial," says Werlin. Too little cheese also yields disappointing results: "If you cut the sandwich open and there's nothing gooey in the middle, why make one? People do that, amazingly."

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2. Slice the cheese. Grated cheese melts more quickly and evenly. If you're using the right amount of cheese and it's sliced, it won't melt before the bread burns—unless you cook it over a low flame for a long time. "Who wants to wait half an hour?" asks Werlin. "Grilled cheese is all about immediate gratification"

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3. Add butter to the pan. "The minute you put your sandwich in the pan, it absorbs the fat, and it doesn't get distributed evenly," explains Werlin. Instead, spread butter on the bread first. Press down on the sandwich with a spatula to achieve ideal crispiness.

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4. Use anything other than a nonstick pan. Cast iron might seem rustic, but the benefits of nonstick are twofold, according to Werlin. "First of all, the sandwich doesn't stick, but neither does the cheese that inevitably comes oozing out," she says. "So then you get to pick up those little extra bits of cheese that get all toasty at the bottom of the pan. You don't want to leave those behind."

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5. Skip condiments. This depends on your audience, since kids might not appreciate chutney, but "myriad ingredients can elevate a grilled cheese sandwich from good to great," notes Werlin. She likes roasted peppers, arugula, olives and herbs, as well as artisanal breads, like those baked with olives, dried cranberries or herbs. Werlin's favorite alternative to traditional bread might be the croissant: "You've already got the butter built in, and it becomes supercrisp because it smashes down so well. Boy is that good."

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