These 4 recipes can make your grilled cheese a winner

The Sláinte by Emily Chan was the People’s Choice Award Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. STYLING BY EMILY CHAN / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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The Sláinte by Emily Chan was the People’s Choice Award Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. STYLING BY EMILY CHAN / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Chances are good there’s been at least one grilled cheese sandwich on your menu during our very unusual spring. With many of us craving comfort food to fight off the blues that can come with social distancing, grilled cheese is a nostalgic favorite.

You could even argue that grilled cheese is America’s favorite sandwich. Kevin Cregan, president of the Atlanta Sport and Social Club and founder of the Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival, would agree.

The Atlanta Sport and Social Club is 7 years old, created to “get adults off the couch and in a place where they could meet each other,” said Cregan. They started with sports leagues and moved into doing more social events. Twice a year, the company hosts a retreat in the North Georgia mountains. On the menu for lunch one year? Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

“Every single one of us ordered the same thing, the sandwich and the soup. We talked about how we like to make our own grilled cheese and then we collectively thought, ‘What if we have a contest?’ After all, we’re event producers. Our first grilled cheese festival went viral with 20,000 people attending in 2017.”

This year’s festival was scheduled for April 12, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change. The festival is now scheduled for Sept. 12.

Cregan says the biggest challenge at first was getting restaurants to think it was a good idea to participate. Now they love coming, even if they don’t have grilled cheese on their regular menus. And the amateur division draws participants who want hang out with the pros. “It’s a simple way for someone to show off their culinary skills. They love competing for the title of best amateur grilled cheese in the city.”

When Cregan makes grilled cheese at home, he goes simple. “I like white bread, Kraft singles and a couple slices of bacon.”

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Daniel Ray, shown with his Torched Sicilian, now operates Cheez’d and Confuzed, catering grilled cheese parties around Atlanta. STYLING BY DANIEL RAY / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Daniel Ray, shown with his Torched Sicilian, now operates Cheez’d and Confuzed, catering grilled cheese parties around Atlanta. STYLING BY DANIEL RAY / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Daniel Ray, shown with his Torched Sicilian, now operates Cheez’d and Confuzed, catering grilled cheese parties around Atlanta. STYLING BY DANIEL RAY / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Daniel Ray, who won the amateur contest last year, has a completely different philosophy of grilled cheese. “I’m not classically trained as a chef, but from years as a restaurant manager, I know how to put things together. And I know that better ingredients make better food. I wanted to create ‘fine dining’ grilled cheese, ‘craft’ grilled cheese.”

He’s played around with coq au vin grilled cheese and duck confit grilled cheese. His wife Stacey encouraged him to enter the amateur competition at the Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival, and so he created the sandwich he calls the Torched Sicilian, a recipe he’s sharing with our readers.

He and Stacey, along with daughters Violet and Stella, formed Team Grilled Cheese and showed up at the festival prepared to make 100 sandwiches. Each attendee at the festival gets a quarter sandwich, so that was 400 servings. “We ran out after an hour and a half. That was a huge testament I was doing something right.”

Now he’s operating Cheez’d and Confuzed, catering grilled cheese parties around the city, and hopes to open a grilled cheese mobile operation in the next few months.

Last year was also the first time Emily Chan of JenChan’s Delivery Supper Club in Cabbagetown entered the competition. “A friend suggested it, and since we had just started the Supper Club, the timing was perfect.”

The Supper Club, named after Chan’s wife Jen, started, as the name implies, with supper parties for friends that grew into preparing and delivering food that grew into pop-ups that grew into a storefront. Their dine-in options are closed right now, but they are open for delivery and takeout.

A favorite from their pop-up days is their Mongolian Beef Cheese Steak, and at first, the idea was they would enter that in the competition. “But I went to Ireland and loved the flavor of their cheddar. I decided to make a sandwich that called for three kinds of cheddar, a real international collection of cheese. We think it has the same message we have with all our food. Eat supper together. Eat your grilled cheese together.” She named the sandwich The Sláinte and shares the recipe with our readers. It won first place for the best classic sandwich last year.

She and Jen, along with son Mik, have been working on ideas for this year’s festival. “I’ve made this at the restaurant. It’s Hunter Cattle grass-fed brisket, brie, Emily G’s Pear Honey and arugula, with a garlic schmear. I made it the other day and we sold out.”

Her advice for the best grilled cheese sandwich? “Don’t overthink it. You can use fancy bread, but regular grocery store bread isn’t a barrier to a great grilled cheese sandwich. My trick? Use mayo instead of butter to brown your sandwich. Just be careful because it can burn a little faster than butter.”

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The Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival will be held Sept. 12 at Atlantic Station. In this shot from last year’s festival, you check out the music stage, food trucks and tents for sampling contestants’ entries. CONTRIBUTED BY DERRICK PALMS / PALMS PERSPECTIVE

The Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival will be held Sept. 12 at Atlantic Station. In this shot from last year’s festival, you check out the music stage, food trucks and tents for sampling contestants’ entries. CONTRIBUTED BY DERRICK PALMS / PALMS PERSPECTIVE

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The Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival will be held Sept. 12 at Atlantic Station. In this shot from last year’s festival, you check out the music stage, food trucks and tents for sampling contestants’ entries. CONTRIBUTED BY DERRICK PALMS / PALMS PERSPECTIVE

EVENT PREVIEW

Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival

11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 12. $21. Atlantic Station, Pinnacle Lot, 240 20th St. NW, Atlanta. atlantagrilledcheese.com.

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The Torched Sicilian by Daniel Ray was the Amateur Contest Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. STYLING BY DANIEL RAY / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

The Torched Sicilian by Daniel Ray was the Amateur Contest Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. STYLING BY DANIEL RAY / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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The Torched Sicilian by Daniel Ray was the Amateur Contest Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. STYLING BY DANIEL RAY / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

RECIPES

Four Atlanta chefs share their recipes for award-winning (and award-seeking) grilled cheese sandwiches.

Torched Sicilian

Daniel Ray of Cheez’d and Confuzed won the amateur contest at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. Everything you need for his sandwich is normally available at Publix. He’s partial to Boar’s Head products (the cheeses and pancetta) and the Gourmet Garden herb pastes found in the produce section. The Tuscan Boule bread is a round white loaf sold at Publix.

He named his sandwich for himself (he’s Sicilian) and for the “torched” finish he puts on it. He tops the grilled sandwich with BellaVitano, a cow’s milk cheese made in Wisconsin (despite its Italian name), then uses a plumber’s torch to melt and brown the cheese. We’ve adapted his recipe so you can brown your sandwich under the broiler.

Torched Sicilian
  • 2 slices Tuscan Boule bread, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Basil-Spiked Mayo (see recipe), divided
  • 1/4 cup shredded fontina
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 2 tablespoons diced pancetta
  • 1/4 cup shredded BellaVitano
  • Fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips, for garnish
  • Turn on broiler.
  • Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Spread 1 tablespoon Basil-Spiked Mayo on 1 side of 1 slice of bread. Place bread mayo-side down in hot skillet. Top with fontina, mozzarella and pancetta. Spread remaining 1 tablespoon Basil-Spiked Mayo on 1 side of the remaining slice of bread. Place bread mayo-side up on top of sandwich in skillet. Cook until first side is golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook until second side is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove sandwich from skillet and put on a baking sheet. Top with BellaVitano.
  • Run sandwich under broiler until cheese melts and begins to brown in spots. Remove from oven, put on serving plate, garnish with basil and serve immediately. Serves 1.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 580 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 26 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 42 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 87 milligrams cholesterol, 1,072 milligrams sodium.

Basil-Spiked Mayo

Basil-Spiked Mayo
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon basil paste
  • In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise and basil paste. Refrigerate until needed. Makes 1/2 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: (one tablespoon) 99 calories (percent of calories from fat, 99), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, 12 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 78 milligrams sodium.
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Emily Chan (left) of JenChan’s Delivery Supper Club in Cabbagetown won an award last year for The Sláinte grilled cheese sandwich. She is shown with her son Mik Chan (2 years old) and wife Jen Chan. STYLING BY EMILY CHAN / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Emily Chan (left) of JenChan’s Delivery Supper Club in Cabbagetown won an award last year for The Sláinte grilled cheese sandwich. She is shown with her son Mik Chan (2 years old) and wife Jen Chan. STYLING BY EMILY CHAN / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Emily Chan (left) of JenChan’s Delivery Supper Club in Cabbagetown won an award last year for The Sláinte grilled cheese sandwich. She is shown with her son Mik Chan (2 years old) and wife Jen Chan. STYLING BY EMILY CHAN / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

The Sláinte

“Sláinte” means good health in Gaelic, and the sandwich was good luck for Emily Chan of JenChan’s Delivery Supper Club in Cabbagetown. It won first place for the best classic sandwich at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival.

Chan believes a balance of cheese and other elements is critical. “Too much cheese can ruin a grilled cheese sandwich, just as too little cheese can.” The total amount of cheese in the sandwich should be about 2 ounces.

She dresses up the sandwich with a drizzle of honey-mustard-mayonnaise made by mixing 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise with a generous squeeze of local honey and another of Dijon mustard. Then she adds Sriracha to taste. She puts the mixture in a squeeze bottle to make it easy to drizzle, but says you can spoon it on or put it in a plastic bag and trim off the corner to squeeze it on your sandwich.

The Sláinte
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise, divided
  • 1 thin slice white cheddar
  • 1 thin slice aged Irish cheddar
  • 1 thin slice sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula
  • Honey-mustard mayonnaise for garnish, see head note
  • Heat large skillet over medium heat. Spread 1/2 teaspoon mayonnaise on 1 side of each slice of bread. Place slices mayo-side down in hot skillet. Cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Divide remaining teaspoon mayonnaise and spread on the untoasted sides of bread. Flip bread and toast bottom sides. Top 1 slice with white cheddar, aged Irish cheddar and sharp cheddar. Arrange arugula leaves over cheese and top with second slice of bread. Press down on sandwich with pancake turner and heat until cheese melts and bread is crisp. Remove from heat and put on serving plate. Drizzle with honey-mustard-mayonnaise and serve. Serves 1.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 430 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 19 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 28 grams fat (13 grams saturated), 63 milligrams cholesterol, 676 milligrams sodium.
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Dixie Q’s Brisket Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Poblano Peppers was developed by Scott Serpas, pitmaster and owner of Brookhaven’s Dixie Q. It was the Judge’s Choice Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Dixie Q’s Brisket Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Poblano Peppers was developed by Scott Serpas, pitmaster and owner of Brookhaven’s Dixie Q. It was the Judge’s Choice Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Dixie Q’s Brisket Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Poblano Peppers was developed by Scott Serpas, pitmaster and owner of Brookhaven’s Dixie Q. It was the Judge’s Choice Winner at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Dixie Q’s Brisket Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Poblano Peppers

Scott Serpas, pitmaster and owner of Brookhaven’s Dixie Q, won the Judge’s Choice Award at the 2019 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival with this sandwich.

The star of the sandwich is the smoked brisket, which you can order for carryout from Dixie Q. If you want to make your own, you can follow his recipe. He takes a 12- to 14-pound trimmed brisket and seasons it on all sides with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Then it’s smoked over hickory and oak for 12 to 14 hours or until tender. He says, “Once you have all of the ingredients ready, it’s time to make ‘the best grilled cheese’ you’ve ever had!”

Dixie Q’s Brisket Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Poblano Peppers
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon 1/4-inch diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon 1/4-inch diced poblano peppers
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 slices white bread
  • 2 slices American cheese
  • 1 cup chopped smoked brisket
  • Unsalted butter, room temperature
  • In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until caramelized, about 3 minutes. Add poblano and garlic, raise heat to medium-high, and saute until poblano is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Assemble sandwich. On a slice of bread, arrange both slices of American cheese, smoked brisket, sauteed peppers, onion and garlic. Top with second slice of bread. Spread outside of sandwich with soft butter and place in hot skillet. Cook until bread is golden brown, and cheese is melted, about 45 seconds per side. Serve immediately. Serves 1.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 586 calories (percent of calories from fat, 61), 29 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 40 grams fat (21 grams saturated), 120 milligrams cholesterol, 1,127 milligrams sodium.
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Cooks & Soldiers, which came up with the Iberico Ham and Black Truffle and American White Cheddar Bikini, will be at the 2020 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival, whose date was moved to Sept. 12. CONTRIBUTED BY HEIDI GELDHAUSER

Cooks & Soldiers, which came up with the Iberico Ham and Black Truffle and American White Cheddar Bikini, will be at the 2020 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival, whose date was moved to Sept. 12. CONTRIBUTED BY HEIDI GELDHAUSER

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Cooks & Soldiers, which came up with the Iberico Ham and Black Truffle and American White Cheddar Bikini, will be at the 2020 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival, whose date was moved to Sept. 12. CONTRIBUTED BY HEIDI GELDHAUSER

Cooks & Soldiers Iberico Ham and Black Truffle and American White Cheddar Bikini

The 2020 Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival will be the inaugural event for Cooks & Soldiers. This sandwich is on their menu during normal times, but is also available as a carryout item during this time of social distancing.

To make it at home, you’ll need to make a trip to a specialty grocer like Whole Foods for the Iberico ham and truffle pate. Truffle oil is available now at many mainstream grocery stores, if they have it in stock.

Cooks & Soldiers Iberico Ham and Black Truffle and American White Cheddar Bikini
  • 1 tablespoon clarified butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Truffle Mayonnaise (see recipe), divided
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 slices American white cheddar, divided
  • 1 slice Iberico ham
  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brush skillet with clarified butter.
  • Divide Truffle Mayonnaise in half and spread on 1 side of both slices of bread. Place bread mayo-side up. Top 1 slice of bread with 1 slice of cheese. Add ham, then top with second slice of cheese. Close the sandwich and brush both sides with clarified butter. Arrange in skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes total. Serve immediately. Serves 1.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 650 calories (percent of calories from fat, 68), 27 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 49 grams fat (22 grams saturated), 124 milligrams cholesterol, 1,491 milligrams sodium.

Truffle Mayonnaise

Truffle Mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons truffle pate
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons truffle oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, truffle pate and truffle oil. Taste for seasoning. Refrigerate until needed. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: (one tablespoon) 117 calories (percent of calories from fat, 97), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 13 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 6 milligrams cholesterol, 85 milligrams sodium.
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