Grilled cheese is one of the tastiest meals to indulge in at lunch or dinner. The crisp exterior and pillowy soft inside of bread along with the salty, oozing cheese…it really is extremely satisfying and the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of thick tomato soup.
I know grilled cheese isn’t one of the most complicated dishes to make, but it does require constant attention. When frying the sandwich in a pan on the stove, you have to monitor it like a hawk.
The temperature of the pan gets harder to regulate over time, which means that the first side of the bread cooks evenly to an appetizing, golden brown, while the second side burns, leaving a bitter flavor.
I know that air fryers are great for evenly browning and crisping foods because they have a smaller cavity, which allows hot air to circulate quickly during the cooking process.
In fact I had great success with using an air fryer to create golden French Toast, so could the same be true for a grilled cheese?
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Read on to discover what happened when we attempted to make grilled cheese in an air fryer - or, if you’ve already decided you want to invest in this handy kitchen appliance, check out the best prices on the best air fryers we like right now:
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In terms of a recipe, as grilled cheese is simply a sandwich - two slices of bread with grated cheese in the middle - I didn’t think I needed to rely on one.
However, when choosing the ingredients to create your grilled cheese there are some considerations to make.
The bread should be thickly sliced - as that ensures you still get a pillowy soft center. If the bread is too thin, it’ll be hard and crispy all the way through. Always spread the sides of the bread that will face out of the sandwich with 1Tbsp butter too, as this helps create the golden, appetizing color.
Finally, when it comes to cheese, you can choose whatever variety you prefer - although the sandwich works best with hard cheeses. In this case, I opted for sharp cheddar. No matter what type you plump for, make sure it's grated using the largest holes on a box grater to achieve the stringiness when you bite into the sandwich.
While I felt confident in my knowledge of how to make grilled cheese, I wasn't sure what timing and temperature to use.
I’ve previously used the appliance in place of cooking in a range, for example when I discovered cooking cinnamon rolls in an air fryer is better than my usual method - and the best results are achieved when using the same temperature as you would when using the traditional cooking method.
However, when it comes to using the appliance in place of a stove - whether that’s for shallow frying in a pan or deep-frying such as making Krispy Kreme style donuts in an air fryer - there’s no clear comparable temperatures.
So I turned to the internet for guidance and settled on a cooking temperature of 385 F / 196 C degrees and a duration of eight minutes, which I dialed in on the Instant Vortex Plus (our current best air fryer)
The only thing left to do was to start preparing the grilled cheese. When I make grilled cheese on the stove, I usually place both slices of bread butter-side down in the pan, then after a couple of minutes, I add the cheese to one slice, topping it with the second slice of bread so the buttered side is now facing up.
I then cook the sandwich for a further couple of minutes allowing the cheese to melt and secure the sandwich before flipping it in the pan and cooking for a final few minutes.
However, this method wasn’t going to be viable in the air fryer, as the non-buttered sides of the bread would also crisp due to the hot air flowing around the cavity, losing the softness I so crave when you bite in. So instead I opted to construct the sandwich and then place it in the air fryer.
Mid-way through cooking, many models of air fryer - including the Instant Vortex Plus - will play an audible alert warning you that it’s time to turn or shake the food.
This is to ensure the hot air can reach every inch of the food to ensure a crisp finish. I sometimes ignore this alert - for example, if the item is particularly delicate such as air fryer ice cream balls, or if I want only the top to be extremely crisp as with pork belly cooked in an air fryer.
However, given that I wanted both sides of the grilled cheese to be crisp and golden, I decided to flip the sandwich half way through cooking, but being extremely gentle when doing so.
I also placed the sandwich on a piece of parchment paper to prevent my air fryer basket from becoming a sticky mess as a few shreds of cheese always drop out of the sandwich during cooking.
Once the cooking time had elapsed, I was thrilled to see the side of the grilled cheese that was visible was an even golden brown color.
I removed the sandwich from the air fryer basket and cut into it - one layer of bread was crisp and the cheese was the right level of gooeyness. However, the other layer of bread wasn’t as crisp as the first and it certainly wasn’t as evenly browned.
Unlike with French Toast, where there is just one layer of bread - the additional thickness of the two slices of bread in the grilled cheese meant the parchment paper has hampered the browning process.
I considered using a metal baking tin but the circular 8-inch pan (one of the only ones I own that fits in the air fryer basket with enough space around the sides for air to flow) wasn’t big enough to accommodate the grilled cheese without squashing the sides of the bread.
So instead, I decided to place the grilled cheese directly on the crisper plate. I knew it would make a mess but luckily the Instant Vortex Plus has both a dishwasher-safe crisper plate and frying basket, which would at least make cleaning the mess far easier.
I re-made the grilled cheese and placed it in the air fryer to cook. When this version finished, it was clear I’d cracked it. Both slices of bread were crisp and evenly brown to an appetizing golden color, while the cheese was soft and melting inside. There was a fair bit of cheese, which had burnt onto the crisper plate. However, one cycle in the dishwasher removed this completely.
It’s far easier making a grilled cheese in an air fryer than on the stove as it doesn’t need to be watched like a hawk. I’ll certainly be making this my go-to method for cooking grilled cheese in the future and I'd recommend you give it a go too.
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Carrie-Ann Skinner was formerly Homes Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades of experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie specializes in smart home devices such as smart plugs and smart lights, as well as large and small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, stand mixers, and coffee machines. Carrie is now a copy editor at PWC.