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For the Best Grilled Cheese, Use Your Waffle Iron

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There is no shortage of ways to get creative with a waffle iron. TikTok is flooded with creators pressing just about anything they can think of between those two hot griddles—bacon, bao buns, and fully loaded hot dogs. Culinary personality Daniel Shumski has written a whole cookbook of recipes to make in a waffle iron, from waffled oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to spaghetti and waffled meatballs. At BA, we even gave reheating pizza a try in a waffle iron.

But in a sea of waffled mac and cheese and tater tots, it’s the humble waffled sandwich that has my heart.

When you think about it, a panini press and a waffle iron aren’t all that different. Both are hot iron presses, designed to brand bread or batter with crispy, golden ridges. Both work in a matter of minutes and bring me a disproportionate amount of joy. Why have a sandwich when you could press it between two hot plates and call it a panini? And why buy a panini press if you already have a waffle iron? There’s only so much counter space.

All-Clad Stainless Steel Belgian Waffle Maker

There is one obvious difference: The panini press is flat, whereas the waffle iron is patterned with funky ridges and grooves. When it comes to simple sandwiches, that groovy griddle is a huge advantage. No hate for the panini press, but its main function is to flatten a sandwich. A waffle iron adds loads more textural contrast, pressing toasty, melty pockets into the sandwich. Not sold yet? Consider the waffled grilled cheese.

In my opinion, the best part of a grilled cheese is the bits of cheese that spill over and crisp into frico-like chips on the pan. Imagine that, but it’s the entire sandwich. That’s what happens when you cook a grilled cheese sandwich in a waffle iron, as I discovered in a last-minute bid toward lunch at my parents’ house (mom had made waffles for breakfast—yes, she spoils me). After approximately two minutes, I lifted the top of the press to discover that my grilled cheese had pressed into a golden panini, branded with the iron’s signature grid marks. The cheese had escaped from pockets in the bread’s open crumb, making contact with the hot iron and crisping into cheesy frills on the outside of the bread. This grilled cheese was less melty and gooey, more crispy and crunchy—exactly how I like it.

Since then, I’ve waffled caprese sandwiches, nut butter and jellies, and ham and cheese paninis. The future possibilities are endless. A few tips and tricks on making any panini in a waffle press:

Choose the right machinery: While a circular iron like the Presto FlipSide Belgian Waffle Maker is great for fluffy waffles, it’s only able to produce one panini at a time. It’ll work for sandwiches, but if efficiency is a priority, go for a waffle maker with four grids like this one from All-Clad, once dubbed “the Cadillac of waffle makers.” It can press four standard white bread sandwiches at once. And if panini making is your primary intent, seek out a waffle maker with removable grids, which are easier to clean.

Pick the right bread: Open-crumbed bread like sourdough is prone to leakage—not necessarily a bad thing if it’s frico-ed cheese you’re after. But if you’ve got more components than just cheese, opt for a soft, tight-crumbed bread like white bread, milk bread, brioche, or challah, which do a better job of keeping the ingredients contained. Avoid hard, crusty bread, like ciabatta or baguette, which get a little too crunchy on the griddle.

Pick the right cheese: Any cheese that you’d put in a grilled cheese—think gooey American cheese, sharp cheddar, smoky gouda, and piquant pepper Jack cheese—would work well here. Stretchy cheeses like mozzarella will retain their structure and make for picture-perfect cheese pulls, while soft cheeses like creamy Brie may seep and pool on the press as they melt. Mix and match depending on what vibe you’re going for.

Add your toppings: Here’s the time to let your creativity run wild. I personally love a prosciutto, Brie, and fig jam moment, but the classic caprese (featuring tomatoes, mozz, and basil) is my lunchtime hero. I have a feeling this Bombay Sandwich would waffle well, as would this Curried Tomato Sandwich.

Fat is your friend: Grease the iron liberally before waffling to prevent any stickage. Cooking spray works well here, but for the richest, crispiest results, slather both sides of the bread in butter or mayo as well.

Keep an eye on the clock: The waffle iron won’t be able to close all the way, which might disengage the timer built into the machine. You can set a kitchen timer, but I prefer to keep an eye on the machine and check back when things start to smell toasty (typically 2–3 minutes, depending on how hot your waffle iron gets).

Oh, and you should make waffles too

Egg on a waffle

Airy with an outer shell that is crunchy like toast and perfumed like sweet eggy heaven—this is a waffle worth waiting for. 

View Recipe

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