The hallways of Southern Living have been buzzing with an argument between two of the most ardent grilled cheese supporters this side of the Mississippi River. Much as the debate rages, we’re far from a winner. So we’ve taken this battle to The Daily South.
For this week’s SOUTHERN FRIED, brand-new editorial Fellow—straight outta BIRMINGHAM, it’s Katherine Owen—takes on the keeper of Southern Fried, middle-initial-reppin’ Travis M. Andrews. The two duke it out below over that age-old question: When the meats start piling up on a grilled cheese, do you still have a grilled cheese? Katherine says yes, if cheese is the main event. Travis is a G.C.P. (grilled cheese purist) and will barely concede to even tomato and bacon. Take a look at the arguments below, and tell us what you think.
STRAIGHT OUTTA BIRMINGHAM Katherine Owen: While contesting the merits of my personal culinary choices last evening (an $11 grilled cheese), we’ve come to a head about what constitutes a grilled cheese. What I ordered last night, and have since been mercilessly judged for, was a grilled cheese with chicken salad and tomatoes inside. And I believe it was a “grilled cheese.”
Aside from cheese being the most essential ingredient, there are three variations on the grilled cheese litmus test – preparation, how the sandwich is layered, and lack of pre-existing sandwich category.
ONE, a grilled cheese can still be a grilled cheese (in my not-so-humble opinion) as long as it is made on a stovetop. Buttered bread + stovetop = what we all know and love as a grilled cheese. Note how Paninis and toasted subs are made in other (lesser) ways.
TWO, a grilled cheese can still be grilled cheese as long as whatever (any!) additional ingredients are framed by warm, cheesy bread. Such as the grilled cheese with apples, pictured at left. Bread, cheese, barbecue, cheese, bread. This is also a delicious and apparently controversial grilled cheese I have enjoyed in the past.
THREE, a grilled cheese with barbecue pork, framed by two cheesy, crispy pieces of bread, is still a grilled cheese because it does not belong under some pre-existing sandwich umbrella (e.g. tuna melt, patty melt).
A grilled cheese is simply that. A grilled cheese. Barbecue pork, veggies, bacon or fruit just makes it an innovative (even genius) grilled cheese. Don’t take away its time to shine. Glisten, really. And you know how I know I’m right? Because someone out there is still getting my $11 on the regular for a grilled cheese, whatever that truly is.
Travis MANDREWS: This whole thing began when Katherine told me she was going to get a grilled cheese with pulled pork on it. That’s a pork sandwich with cheese, plain and simple. Not to be too bipartisan here, but the sandwich’s bifurcation is simple: bread and cheese. (Specifically white bread and American cheese, but I won’t argue that since it exposes the old man and/or six-year-old kid I am at heart.)
Look, old man or not, that’s what I want when I hear the words “grilled cheese.” Other sandwiches have other names. This fact is always overlooked. Grilled cheese made its own name by skipping all the other vestiges of normal sandwiches—namely the meat and veggies—and getting down to what people really want. Butter, bread, cheese. Sure, some wild folks have thrown on tomatoes and bacon over the years. Can’t say I agree, but at least those are supporting actors, not stars. You can’t toss on a patty of ground meat and call it an addition to the cheese. That’d be like driving to the airport and calling it a road trip. The highlight becomes the flight (or, in the case of meaty grilled cheeses, the meat).
Don’t get me wrong. I love all sandwiches the way Les Miles loves eating grass. This isn’t a quality argument, strictly one of nomenclature. But that’s important. What kind of message are we sending our children when we force other sandwiches to be called “grilled cheeses”? Let every sandwich be itself! We are all unique snowflakes! This conformity is too much! The realm of sandwiches is no place for monoculture. Let innovation reign, not just in sandwich-making but in sandwich-naming. Mic drop; Mandrews out. Sorry for eviscerating your argument, Katherine.
What do YOU think composes a grilled cheese sandwich? Who’s right here? We want to hear from you. Please let us know in the comments below.
Southern Fried Column is a weekly column brought to you by Travis M. Andrews that focuses on the fun, the ridiculous, and the trending in these here Southern United States. Because sometimes home is a little absurd.