DAILY SOUTH DEBATE: What Constitutes a Grilled Cheese?

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.

Ripple's grilled cheese sandwich

Photo by Elizabeth Parker


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.

Grilled Cheese & Apple Sandwiches; Photo: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

Grilled Cheese & Apple Sandwiches; Photo: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

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.)

Extra Cheesy Grilled Cheese; Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas; Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey

Extra Cheesy Grilled Cheese; Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas; Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey

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. 


  1. DAILY SOUTH DEBATE: Has the Pumpkin Craze Gone Too Far? | Your Hub for Southern Culture

    […] the ground. NThe hallways of Southern Living have been buzzing again–this time, not about grilled cheeses. Pumpkin lattes fill some cups, while others remain conspicuously empty. So, clearly […]

    October 2, 2014 at 3:06 pm
  2. spanish fly

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    September 15, 2014 at 9:13 pm
  3. S H

    agree with Travis

    July 18, 2014 at 10:06 pm
  4. DAILY SOUTH DEBATE: What Constitutes a Grilled Cheese? | LikeOuts

    […] 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. Read full article […]

    July 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm
  5. willie turner

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    July 18, 2014 at 2:24 pm
  6. Sara Beth

    Adding extra ingredients to a grilled cheese is like adding extra features to a car. It’s still the same car, but with more pizzazz!

    July 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm
  7. bagelsorbiscuits

    I feel sad for the poor, simple-minded souls who can only fathom a grilled cheese with just bread and cheese. Open your minds, y’all. There is a whole grilled cheese world out there waiting for you!

    Also, Buzzfeed clearly agrees with Katherine: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicamisener/31-grilled-cheeses-that-are-better-than-a-boyfriend#2371607

    July 18, 2014 at 11:05 am
  8. James

    A few mentioned grilled pimiento cheese. That’s a good sandwich but it has its own name:

    Palm Beach

    No need to conflate the two.

    And yes, Travis is 100% right. The Birminghamian kid needs to go back home.
    Butter, White bread, American cheese singles. (I have to admit that I’ve used Hellman’s instead of butter, and Hellman’s and butter)

    July 18, 2014 at 10:35 am
  9. Ann Parish

    Grilled cheese=butter bread cheese bread That’s it. Cheese has to be the prime ingredient. Adding anything makes the cheese secondary. You can have a grilled ham and cheese or a grilled whatever and cheese. But a grilled cheese with chicken salad or a grilled cheese with anything implies a grilled cheese only with the other stuff on the side.

    July 18, 2014 at 9:36 am
  10. Carol Reddick

    I believe in plain ol’ grilled cheese BUT I do approve mayo or Miracle Whip. Now, I do appreciate an enhanced grilled cheese such as grilled three cheese or grilled cheese with spinach, apple, and feta – just sayin’.

    July 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Grilled cheese is bread and Cheese that is served hot with maybe a pickle chip on the side anything else is a sandwich with cheese.

    July 18, 2014 at 7:12 am
  12. Jane Moody

    Grilled pimento cheese!

    July 17, 2014 at 10:49 pm
  13. Nancy Beaird

    Mandrews has it right. The inclusion of wildly disparate add-ons make the sandwich a “something” with cheese – e.g., panini, Phillie steak, or you-name-it. I will allow that a true grilled cheese may be embellished in an understated way with thinly sliced tomatoes and or chili peppers; may be made with grilled pimiento cheese; and can include any varieties of breads and cheeses (and seasoned butters or oils). I also accept a simple grilled cheese with bacon – only. All that other stuff: sandwich with cheese.

    July 17, 2014 at 10:24 pm
  14. Carol Lynch

    Travis is right – cheese, mayo, butter and bread!

    July 17, 2014 at 9:50 pm
  15. Michele

    I vote cheese butter bread but recently saw pimento cheese grilled and that sounds really good

    July 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm
  16. Sheila

    Grilled Cheese= white bread American cheese butter, cooked on frying pan or griddle.

    July 17, 2014 at 9:30 pm
  17. Katie

    Mandrews is 100% right! Sorry Katherine but you need to stop pretending that sandwich makers laziness in naming is anything else. Do you call a patty melt a grilled cheese with beef? No! I didn’t think so. There was only ever one correct side to this argument.

    July 17, 2014 at 9:25 pm
  18. karenl

    cheese, butter, bread on the stovetop

    July 17, 2014 at 7:35 pm
  19. Freda Hogan

    I think of myself a purest, as this is a real Grilled Cheese, but mine highly seasoned….Use two slices of nice rye bread with seeds, butter both sides of each slice, so cheese will stick, add a good amount of strong cheddar cheese, add the buttered, second slice. Season with salt and pepper, garlic powder, and mixed Italian seasonings.. (lots of butter and lots of cheese) to die for!!!

    July 17, 2014 at 7:24 pm
  20. janefredarch53

    Travis is right..cheese, dukes mayo, real butter and maybe a tomato when they are super ripe!

    July 17, 2014 at 7:07 pm
  21. Jane frederick

    Travis is right. Grilled cheese is cheese and maybe a tomato when they are super ripe plus dukes mayo and real butter.

    July 17, 2014 at 7:06 pm
  22. HK Jaye

    basic G/C= buttered bread-cheese-bread anything else is say a G/C with…pickles, ham, tomatoes…pretty simple.

    July 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm
  23. Beth Kienker

    I too am a purist-buttered bread and cheese cooked in a cast iron skillet to brown. I do also use Dukes mayo to “butter” the bread instead of butter. It adds another element of flavor and creates wonderful crisp bread!

    July 17, 2014 at 5:57 pm
  24. Debbie Tierney

    A Grilled Cheese Sandwich is buttered bread and cheese, grilled. When my family and I get creative with the sandwiches,(adding more ingredients) we call them Cheesy Melts.

    July 17, 2014 at 5:36 pm
  25. Connie

    My Georgia grandmother showed us how to make “grilled” cheese sandwiches. Butter one side of a piece of white bread, fry in a frying pan butter side down, add cheese. When the bottom piece of bread is browned, place another piece of bread on top of the cheese and flip the sandwich. Smash the sandwich and fry until second bottom is brown and the cheese is melted.

    July 17, 2014 at 5:35 pm
  26. Lori

    Grilled cheese is grilled cheese. That’s the way the Lord intended it.

    July 17, 2014 at 5:20 pm
  27. Lakin Van Deventer

    If the sandwich has more than cheese on it, it is no longer a grilled cheese. It’s a different sandwich. If you tell my 6 year old we are having grilled cheese, he knows it will be bread and cheese heated on the stove. Let’s not complicate this sandwich thing folks.

    July 17, 2014 at 5:03 pm
  28. The Litigator

    Since we’re getting all up in arms about nomenclature, let me ask you this: why is it a GRILLED cheese when it’s cooked on a stove-top/griddle. Is there any other food that we cook in that way that we call GRILLED?

    Doesn’t GRILL refer to some sort of metal framework? Noticeably absent from the way 99% of people cook their GRILLED cheese sandwiches

    July 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm
  29. The Litigator

    Katherine, I can sympathize with you–however, you lost me with the pulled pork. Bacon? Fine. A single slice of ham? Fine. But big ol’ chunks of pulled pork? Sorry, dat ain’t a grilled cheese.

    I agree it should be a sliding scale. But I think my scale is less forgiving than Katherine’s.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:51 pm
  30. Stephanie Ray Brown

    You only need the basics for this great comfort food sandwich! But I do love my bread to be toasted when eating pimento cheese too!
    You truly just needs basics for this great comfort food sandwich! But I do enjoy my pimento cheese posted every now and then too!

    July 17, 2014 at 4:46 pm
  31. Ms. Cookie

    AAAAAAAND Mandrews for the Win!! Cheese, Bread, Butter. That’s all there is to it.
    Plain. Simple. Delicious.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm
  32. Jill Cheesemonster

    Travis M. Andrews for President 2016, Grilled Cheese Ticket.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:11 pm
  33. Nancy B

    Totally agree with Travis. Grilled cheese is grilled cheese is grilled cheese. Why mess with perfection? Let’s not overthink this.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm
  34. KymD

    A grilled cheese by any other name is still a grilled cheese. Add anything to it and it is not.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm
  35. Craigy

    Totally agree with Mandrews here. Grilled cheese is a grilled cheese. Put something else on it and it’s a grilled whateveryoumade sandwich.

    If we did a poll of 8 year olds we would overwhelmingly determine that a grilled cheese is buttery bread with cheese. Serve them anything else and half would refuse to eat it, and the other would take a bite and burst into tears.

    Don’t start adulterating our grilled cheese. THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:57 pm
  36. Caren Churchwell

    Grilled cheese is cheese melted between two slices of bread by grilling with butter. Anything else is a grilled cheese and ______ sandwich. So you can have a grilled cheese, bacon and tomato sandwich, or a grilled pork and cheese. etc.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:57 pm
  37. Karen

    Travis is right on this one. No one would ask for a grilled cheese and expect it to have chicken salad or any other meat inside.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm
  38. Cathy Oliver

    Bread, butter, and cheese is a grilled cheese. I agree also that it should be white bread, American cheese, and real butter. Margarine, or oleo as my Granny called it produces an inferior grilled cheese product.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm
  39. Rosemary Cardno

    I’ve gotta go w Travis — a Grilled Cheese is just that — CHEESE! I’d go with adding a tomato…. just to be agreeable! All those other ingredients simply “redefine” the NAME of the sandwich … They still conspire to create delicious Southern Grilled Sandwuches!! Nothing to argue about, really …. It’s ALL GOOD!

    July 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm
  40. theonlykaren

    Grilled CHEESE. Not Cheese and Apples or Cheese and Pork, then it is not just merely a Grilled Cheese. You don’t add cheese to a burger and it stays a burger: it is now a CHEESEburger. So if you have a pork sandwich with cheese, and it’s grilled, you have a grilled pork sandwich with cheese. NOT a grilled cheese. Peace out, MANDREWS…

    July 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm
  41. Jean Lunsford

    Grilled cheese is: two pieces of bread; cheese is the ONLY center; grilled with butter! That is a grilled cheese. Anything else is “whatever” with cheese.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm
  42. Karen D

    Grilled cheese is buttered bread & cheese. Nothing else. If you add anything else this it’s a totally different kind of sandwich.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm
  43. Virginia

    I’m with Meg (and Travis). Add anything else, and it is a ____and cheese sandwich, not a grilled cheese sandwich.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:37 pm
  44. Alex Rrrrrr

    I like mines with bacon and egg but its usually for brunch. Still counts as grilled cheese methinks.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:37 pm
  45. Cathy Homsley Kirchner

    Cheese has to be the main component, and not just one of the ingredients. I have no real problem with a sandwich sold as a “Grilled Cheese with Apples,” for example, but I would not call it a Grilled Cheese then. The modifier “With Apples” must be in the title of the Sandwich.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm
  46. Carla Jean

    I’m with Katherine here. I think it’s based on the ratio of cheese to other contents. The sandwich interior must be 50 percent-plus cheese. #sosayethcj

    July 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm
  47. Meg Hobbs

    Bread+butter+cheese=grilled cheese. period.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:16 pm

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