Grilled cheese melted cheddar

The classic ingredients for a grilled cheese are simple: bread, cheese, and butter or oil to grease the pan and turn the bread perfectly golden brown. The technique of melting cheese with bread is as old as bread and cheese themselves, but the American sandwich version we commonly refer to as a "grilled cheese" was popularized in the 1960s after both sliced white bread and Kraft Singles cheese slices became easily available to consumers in supermarkets.

While grilled cheese purists may argue that white bread and Kraft Singles are the only true way to go, grilled cheese consists of extremely versatile ingredients that invite a multitude of delicious flavor combinations. Experimenting with different types of cheese and bread can create a more elevated eating experience, as can adding additional fillings to the classic toasted sandwich.

Whether you’re looking to bring more crunch, creaminess, tartness, or spice to your grilled cheese, there are plenty of options for cheese pairings and additions to America’s favorite toasted sandwich.

Bacon

Crispy bacon black plate

It’s salty, it’s crunchy, and it’s delicious: There are a million reasons why bacon is always a crowd-pleaser. According to data collected by National Today, 2 billion pounds of bacon are produced in the U.S. each year, and the average American consumes 18 pounds of bacon a year. It’s no surprise that this well-loved salted and smoked cut of pork belly is the perfect companion to another tasty American staple, the grilled cheese.

The salt, fat, and crunch of bacon make it the perfect addition to the gooey and rich inside of a perfectly melted grilled cheese. Crispy, salty pork is especially delicious alongside classic grilled cheese ingredients like white bread and cheddar or American cheese. If you’re aiming for the most traditional version possible, Kraft Singles should be used. The combination makes for a perfect all-American meal. For the best contrast between textures, make sure you cook bacon in the oven for an extra crisp.

Pesto

Pesto jar white background

Sometimes elevating your sandwich is as simple as adding a unique condiment, and a grilled cheese sandwich is no exception. Spreading some pesto will bring your grilled cheese a fun element of freshness and brightness that is not traditionally associated with the sandwich. Pesto is an Italian sauce traditionally used on pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and more, that originated in Liguria, specifically in Genoa. Typically, it’s made of basil, extra-virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, pecorino cheese, pine nuts, garlic, and salt. However, if you make it yourself, you can add other herbs to the mix, like with this cilantro pesto recipe. Pesto is also traditionally prepared at home by being ground in a ceramic or marble mortar; although, it can now often be found premade in jars on American grocery store shelves.

Because pesto is usually made with some parmesan and pecorino cheese as part of the recipe, more parmesan, and pecorino, as well as another Italian cheese like mozzarella, would be a perfect pairing inside your grilled cheese.

Pulled pork

Pulled pork pile with forks

While associated with the southern United States, pulled pork has a long, debated history dating back to early interactions between Spanish explorers and Native Americans. The Spanish brought a spoil of colonization and barbacoa northward from Mexico, and Native Americans added their traditions and ingredients to it. Over time, the cooking technique transformed into modern-day Southern barbeque (and highly regional BBQ styles) in the United States.

One of the ingredients that became a staple in southern American barbeque was the cheap and readily available pork. As the name implies, the meat is a shredded consistency and is ideal for making a sandwich with other toppings, such as coleslaw. The sweet, tangy, salty flavors of pulled pork make it a great compliment to a grilled cheese. It’s also an easy way to use leftovers from pulled pork sandwiches: Add some provolone cheese to your pork and bread before cooking for a balanced bite.

Caramelized onions

Caramelized onions skillet

Onions and gruyère are a perfect match in French onion soup, so why not try the combination in your grilled cheese sandwich? Because there are many different types of onions, choosing the right type to caramelize is an important decision. This will impact the overall flavor profile. Both white onions and sweet onions can make for an ideal starting point for any caramelized onion recipe. While yellow onions start with a strong flavor, during the cooking process, they become softer and sweeter the longer they are exposed to heat, making them perfect for caramelizing at low temperatures for an extended period.

Sweet onions, as the name implies, already have a natural sweetness, which lends nicely to caramelizing. However, they will still need to cook low and slow to get that signature soft caramelization. Soft, sweet onions are the perfect match for a cheese like gruyère. Try the pairing on fresh baguette bread for a perfect combination of French flavors.

Cranberry sauce

Jar cranberry sauce

While some may relegate cranberry sauce to the holiday table, anyone who loves a good Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich would point out that cranberry sauce can make an excellent addition to a sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches are certainly no exception. The tartness and sweetness of cranberry sauce make it a stand-out ingredient that is sure to get your attention and spreadability makes this sauce an easy addition to your sandwich bread when assembling.

The perfect cheese to balance the punchy cranberry flavor is none other than the creamy, buttery French cheese brie. Bringing the classic brie and cranberry flavor combination to a grilled cheese will elevate it further since heating the sandwich will make the brie even creamier than at room temperature.

So, whether you’re looking to use up holiday leftovers or want to level up your grilled cheese game, a cranberry sauce and brie grilled cheese combo is sure to be the perfect pairing for any day.

Buffalo chicken

Buffalo chicken dip skillet

These days, Buffalo chicken wings may be a staple at sports bars and big game parties across the U.S., but this hasn’t always been the case. According to local lore, in 1964, in Buffalo, New York, the Bellissimo family stumbled upon greatness when Dominic asked his parents for something to eat at their family bar. His mother, Teressa, improvised. She mixed hot sauce, margarine, and chicken wings in a bowl. She then served the wings with blue cheese dressing and celery, and the classic game day food was born. Its popularity spread throughout New York and the United States, and now, many Americans can’t imagine watching a sports game without them.

Part of the reason the dish gained such popularity is because of its perfect balance of piquant spice from the hot sauce and the creamy dairy fat of blue cheese dressing, which cools things off. This perfectly balanced flavor combination can also be replicated in a grilled cheese using buffalo chicken and crumbled blue cheese between two slices of bread. In this case, however, shredded chicken with buffalo sauce (or even leftovers from a buffalo chicken dip recipe) will make for the best texture to hold your grilled cheese together.

Honey

Honey jar drizzle

Cheese and honey are a classic and well-loved salty and sweet food pairing. If honey can make a great addition to your favorite cheese board, why not elevate your next grilled cheese with honey? There are many different types of honey that each bring their own flavor notes to the table. The most commonly used type of honey is clover honey, which has a mild aromatic flavor and is the typical honey variety found in most grocery stores and restaurants.

Another popular type of honey is wildflower honey, which naturally has floral notes that can change depending on which flowers the bees created it from. Another interesting type of honey is buckwheat honey, which (as the name implies) comes from buckwheat blossoms. This type of honey is much darker and more molasses-like than more well-known honey types like clover. There are also various types of honey flavored with human-made additions rather than through the natural process of their creation, like hot honey, which is made by infusing honey with chili peppers.

Whichever type of honey you choose will bring a unique flavor boost to your grilled cheese sandwich. From goat cheese to Brie to parmesan, the pairing possibilities for honey and cheese are endless, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Pepperoni

Pepperoni slices on board

Pepperoni and cheese: From pizzas to deli sandwiches, you can find this combination in countless delicious dishes. Now, you can bring it to your next grilled cheese sandwich. As Pizzeria Locale explains, because of its popularity in Italian-American recipes, people often assume that pepperoni originated in Italy; however, it was actually created by Italian immigrants in New York City who were essentially making a spicier version of salami piccante, a type of sausage that does originally come from Italy. Pepperoni emerged in the early 1900s and was mostly found in New York delis until the middle of the century when it gained popularity as a pizza topping along the Eastern Coast of the United States, says Pizzaria Locale. From there, the pepperoni pizza craze spread across the United States, and it is now considered a standard topping in pizza shops across the country.

Since pepperoni and cheese is a classic combination found in Italian-American cuisine, pepperoni is best paired with Italian cheeses like mozzarella and parmesan. To really bring out the classic flavors of pepperoni pizza, pair your pepperoni grilled cheese with some tasty tomato soup for dipping.

Jalapeños

JalapeƱos filled with cream cheese

If you’re looking to add a spicy kick to your next grilled cheese, look no further than jalapeños. If you love jalapeño poppers, then this is the perfect sandwich for you. Jalapeño poppers are a classic and simple appetizer made by hollowing out jalapeño peppers, filling them with a cream cheese filling, breading them, and then deep frying them. The result is a crispy, spicy, and creamy snack that is commonly served in sports bars, casual restaurants, and parties throughout the United States.

Your next grilled cheese can incorporate all of the elements of this beloved snack in sandwich form. To recreate this classic flavor combination, you will want to add sliced jalapeños, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese to the inside of your sandwich. The bread of the sandwich replaces the breading of the jalapeño poppers, and together these ingredients take the flavor of your favorite snack and transform it into a satisfying lunch.

Garlic bread

Garlic bread slices basket

While there are many great additions that you can make to the inside of your grilled cheese, don’t make the mistake of neglecting the outside. The type of bread you use can make a big difference in the flavor profile of your grilled cheese. In addition to trying different types of bread like white, whole wheat, or sourdough, a grilled cheese sandwich is also a great place to add flavorful herbs and spices to your bread. One delicious way to do this is by adding the classic garlic bread mixture of butter, minced garlic, and parsley on the outside of your bread slices. You can even use this as a way to use up leftover garlic bread.

Garlic bread will take your grilled cheese to the next level as its buttery, garlicky flavor brings out the warm melty goodness of the cheese inside. A combination of sharp cheddar and creamy mozzarella cheeses is the perfect pairing to complement your tasty garlic bread slices.

Tomato

Ripe tomatoes on stem

You can never go wrong with perhaps the most classic of all grilled cheese additions: the tomato. The sweetness and acidity of the tomato perfectly cut through the smooth creaminess of your cheese blend. While you may not think of them as a pairing on their own, tomatoes and cheese are a common combination found in all sorts of popular recipes, from pizzas to cherry tomato Caprese and sprinkling parmesan on top of pasta with tomato sauce. You can even sprinkle some basil inside your tomato and mozzarella grilled cheese for a delicious grilled cheese take on a Caprese salad.

While tomatoes are a very popular addition to a grilled cheese sandwich, a fresh and juicy tomato creates one problem that can ruin the structural integrity of your sandwich: moisture. In order to avoid this problem, you can make the simple addition of sprinkling some salt on your tomato slices to help dry up some of the excess moisture they provide. After making this crucial addition, your tomato grilled cheese is ready for the pan without fear of sogginess.

Avocado

Avocado mashed on toast

Avocado toast is an extremely popular breakfast option for many reasons: it’s simple, it’s creamy, it’s fresh, and it pairs well with a variety of spices and other additions. So, why not bring the simple and versatile avocado, which pairs well with toasted bread, into lunchtime by making them into a grilled cheese?

Avocados are a great source of healthy fats and are a perfect way to add more creaminess to your grilled cheese without simply adding more cheese. Avocados are very versatile, so they pair well with a variety of cheese types. Because the subtle nutty, earthy flavor of avocados can be a bit bland on its own, adding a bold and flavorful cheese as pepper jack can really increase your sandwich’s flavor factor. The sweet and spicy pepper pieces found in pepper jack cheese paired with the smooth subtleness of avocado make for a delicious and well-rounded grilled cheese sandwich.

Apple

Apples sliced whole in bowl

Apples make the perfect companion to a tasty grilled cheese sandwich, partially because they have so much variation. Depending on the variety you buy, you can add a hint of sweetness or tartness from apple in grilled cheese; it’s all up to you. Using apple varieties like Honeycrisp or golden delicious will bring an element of sweetness that will nicely compliment a sharp cheese, such as cheddar. On the other hand, a tart apple variety like Granny Smith will pair better with a salty, funky cheese like blue cheese or gorgonzola.

Another reason why apples make a great addition to your grilled cheese sandwich is the texture that they provide. The crisp crunch of an apple slice balances the soft gooey texture of melted cheese. Because of the moisture content that apples provide, you will also want to make sure that you use hearty slices of bread that can absorb moisture (like thick-cut, hearty sourdough bread) for this grilled cheese sandwich.

Mushrooms

Cooked mushrooms ceramic bowl

Bring some earthy, umami flavor to your next grilled cheese sandwich with everyone’s favorite edible fungus: mushrooms. Mushrooms are a great way to add rich, meaty flavor to your grilled cheese while still keeping it vegetarian. There are many different edible mushroom varieties that each bring their own unique differences in taste that can enhance your grilled cheese sandwich in different ways.

Some of the most common mushrooms used in the culinary world are portobello, white button, and shiitake. White button mushrooms are generally the mildest, while portobello mushrooms are much larger (often the size of your hand) and very versatile, and shiitake mushrooms have a more woodsy taste. If you’re new to the world of mushrooms, the white button variety may be the safest, but don’t be afraid to experiment and try out new mushroom types. Some of the best cheese varieties to pair with mushrooms include cheddar, parmesan, and gruyére.