How to Have a Grilled Cheese Party for 6-10 People

For @lenadunham, with whom I would eat grilled cheese anytime.
  1. Get 2 loaves of sliced sturdy bread.
    If you're expecting gluten-free folks (which, let's be honest--in 2015, you probably are), get a loaf of gluten-free bread. The best GF brand for grilled cheese is Udi's. For regular bread, go with sourdough, which is sturdy enough to stand up to gooey fillings. You'll have leftover slices, but that's not a bad thing. Put the breads in baskets with a clean dish towel or on platters so they look pretty.
  2. Get 2 or 3 types of cheese, max.
    If you get too many kinds, people go overboard and the flavors will taste muddy. You must save people them from themselves and set them up for success! I recommend one classic (sharp cheddar or jack), one fancy (Italian truffle cheese or Brie) and one tangy and strong (Gorgonzola or goat cheese). Shred harder cheeses like cheddar and truffle, slice semisoft ones, like Brie, and crumble crumbly ones, like Gorgonzola and goat cheese. Put them in little bowls. Buy 3-4 oz cheese per person.
  3. Buy a couple of pints of lemon ice or sorbet.
    It's all about balance: rich, cheesy meals should be followed by light, refreshing desserts.
  4. Put a stick of salted butter in a butter crock, ramekin, or little bowl and bring to room temperature.
    This will make it easier to spread the butter, which is key to making good sandwiches.
  5. Choose 3 or 4 add-ins.
    Grilled cheese is about celebrating the magic of melty cheese + crisped bread, so you don't want to distract from that too much. Choose non-watery items with flavor that complements creamy cheese. I usually go sweet or a little peppery. My picks: tomato jam, red pepper jelly, fig jam, sliced fresh figs, olive tapenade, cooked bacon, caramelized onions, thinly sliced roasted red pepper, arugula, and pesto. Put the add-ins in little bowls.
  6. Make a simple salad.
    Just mixed greens and olive oil-balsamic dressing is all you need. It's good to have something fresh and simple alongside the indulgent sandwiches. Don't dress it until people are ready to eat, but have it ready ahead of time. If it's cold outside, tomato soup is another nice side option.
  7. Put 2 or 3 large nonstick or cast iron frying pans or a griddle (or whatever you have) on your stovetop.
  8. Set up a buffet.
    Ideally on your kitchen counter, in this order: a stack of plates (however many guests you're having, plus 1 or 2 more in case of last-minute additions), the bread, the cheeses, the add-ins, and black pepper in a grinder. Put out spoons and other serving utensils for each item. Put the butter ramekin by the stove with a spatula or butter knife for spreading.
  9. Encourage guests to take a plate and build a sandwich to their liking.
  10. Heat the pans over medium heat.
  11. After guests make their sandwiches, instruct them to bring them to you at the stove, where you will spread them generously on both sides with the butter and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until the bread is golden-brown and the cheese is melted.
    The benefit of having multiple pans is that you can cook a few sandwiches at once.
  12. Don't forget to make yourself a sandwich!
  13. Have everyone sit down and serve the sandwiches with the salad.
    Bon appetit!
  14. If people want seconds, they already know what to do!
    You can encourage them to cook them themselves, or if you're up for it, fire up the pans yourself.
  15. Finish the meal with bowls or teacups of the lemon ice or sorbet, and graciously accept the heaps of praise everyone will surely bestow upon you.
    Allow them to clean up. You deserve a break!