How to Host a Grilled Cheese Party

The basics of a grilled cheese sandwich are bread, cheese and condiments. Jaymi Heimbuch

My all-time favorite party to host? Grilled cheese party. I mean, what can go wrong? You're combining a bunch of friends and grilled cheese goodness! We always have a blast talking, laughing, and of course coming up with and tasting crazy (like guacamole grilled cheese). Throwing a grilled cheese party takes a little bit of planning, but it's easy and great for any time of day, any time of year. Here's how to pull it off.

Planning: Ingredients and equipment

Getting ready for a grilled cheese party is about as easy as party planning gets, but the secret is to embrace lists. Lists are kind of a vital part of the planning process because you want to provide a variety of options for each component of a grilled cheese sandwich. The more variety you provide, the more creative your guests can get and the more successful the entire event will be. But the more you think about what you want to provide, the more overwhelmed you might feel, so ... lists.

The basics of a grilled cheese sandwich are bread, cheese and condiments. The just-right combination of all three components is what makes a winning sandwich, whether it sports a sweet, spicy or savory flavor. (I’ll provide a few ideas for combinations farther down in this post as well.) So you want to provide quite a few options in each area. Here are the lists I typically use when I am ready to hit the grocery store:

Bread: You want bread that is sliced thick enough to stand up to grilling, but isn’t so dense that it will take over a sandwich.

  • Sourdough
  • Rye
  • Multi-grain
  • Sheepherders
  • French baguette
  • Anything else interesting that catches your eye

Cheese: You’ll be asking your guests to bring their own favorite cheese, but you’ll want to make sure you have a few basics and unique cheeses on hand just in case.

  • Cheddar
  • Pepper jack
  • Chèvre
  • Blue cheese
  • Gruyere
  • Smoked Gouda
  • Mozzarella

Condiments: This will vary a bit depending on the time of year and what’s in season, but here are some of my favorites. Some of these might sound weird, but trust me, with the right bread and cheese combination, they’re amazing.

Savory and spicy:

  • Caramelized onions (lots, lots, lots since this is typically a favorite as it works for both sweet and savory combinations. I’d say buy at least one large onion per guest to make enough caramelized onions)
  • Avocado (you might even provide both sliced avocado as well as a bowl of guacamole which makes an amazing condiment!)
  • Pico de gallo or other salsa
  • Jalapeños
  • Roasted bell pepper slices
  • Roasted zucchini slices
  • Roasted butternut squash slices with sage
  • Roasted potato slices with rosemary
  • Sauteed mushrooms
  • Slices of vine-ripened tomatoes (if someone can bring some from their garden, everyone will be in heaven!)
  • Arugula, spinach or other greens that are delicious wilted

Sweet and tart:

  • Jam or preserves with a bold flavor, such as black cherry, wild berry or jalapeno raspberry
  • Thinly sliced green apples and/or other favorite crispy apple varietal
  • Thinly sliced Bosc or Anjou pears
  • Sliced fresh figs
  • preserved citrus peel such as lemon or orange
  • Toasted walnuts or sliced toasted almonds

Fresh herbs:

  • Tarragon
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Basil
  • Lemongrass
  • Thyme

I don’t really eat a lot of meat and don’t provide any, but I tell my guests they can bring whatever meats they want; usually they arrive with prosciutto, bacon, deli-sliced turkey, shredded roasted chicken, pulled pork and thinly sliced tri-tip. Though I don’t take part, my friends who do eat meat make a lot of yummy noises, so you might consider some of these for the ingredients table as well for your meat-eating friends. Get wild and creative. If something else catches your eye while you're at the grocery store, grab it. You never know if it’ll be a hit or win the “Weirdest Sandwich” contest category. And of course don't forget to have plenty of butter and olive oil.

sliced cheese
Tell your friends to bring their favorite cheeses to the party. Jaymi Heimbuch

Invitations: What guests should bring

This party offers a perfect way for guests to take part in making it extra interesting — and that means unusual cheeses. When you send out your invitations, ask guests to bring:

A special cheese: The best part is you never know what they’re going to show up with. I’ve had guests show up with special blends that have been the hit of the party. The easiest thing to do is let them know what cheese you’ll already have, and tell them that if they’d like to bring something else to add variety, feel free to do so.

Any extra electric griddles: It’s always helpful to have more than enough places to grill sandwiches, so ask guests to bring an electric griddle if they have one. You can then have a grilling pan on each of four stove burners plus one or two more electric griddles on the counter to maximize cooking efficiency.

Logistics: Preparation and how to set up grilling

About two hours before guests arrive, start to get the condiments set up. Start with the things that take the most time such as roasted, caramelize or grilled condiments. Move on to the things that can sit out without drying out or turning colors (as in, go ahead and put your jam or in bowls but leave the sliced fruits for the last minute) and then get your cheese sliced or shredded and put it on a cheese board.

Set up a large table as the ingredients station and pile everything onto it. Set out a stack of plates and cutlery on the end of the table farthest from the kitchen, so it functions as a sort of assembly line with guests starting at one and and moving right on through to the grilling station.

You don’t want one person to be stuck at the stove all night, so it’s best to take a DIY approach. Each guest can be in charge of building and grilling their own sandwich, with guests snagging a burner on the stove or griddle when it opens up. This strategy keeps people mingling — with a few folks in the kitchen working on their sandwiches, more friends mingling around the ingredients table, and more friends enjoying their grilled cheese goodness. The constant rotation keeps conversation going and by setting up the ingredients table well away from the grilling area, you’ll minimize traffic jams.

Help folks who might not have a lot of grilled cheese experience by setting up a how-to card near the stove or grilling area. Here are the three tips I recommend including:

  • Butter up: Spread butter on both sides of your sandwich, or brush some olive oil over each side, before placing it on the grill.
  • Low and slow: Keep the grill’s heat fairly low so that your sandwiches can get brown on the outside and hot and melty on the inside. A grill turned up too high will just give you a burned outside and cold inside.
  • Spin and flip: Keep the sandwich moving around to evenly toast it. Spin it around on the grill every so often, and flip it over as soon as the bottom toasts up. Give it one last flip at the end to make sure the top gets nice and hot again.
grilled cheese in skillet
To make lots of sandwiches, put pans on all your stovetop burners and set up electric skillet stations. Jaymi Heimbuch

Get everyone experimenting:

Everyone will be interested in trying a few different combinations, but they might not want to make four or five of their own sandwiches. So, you can suggest everyone either plan on making one sandwich, keeping half for themselves and cutting up the other half into tasting samples for others. Or you can suggest that each person make two of whatever they've created and set the second sandwich on a cutting board to slice in squares and share.

I've also encouraged everyone to try different, creative combinations and taste test by holding a mini contest. With special desserts as a prizes, we make up categories like "Weird but still worked," "Most loved," "Most original" and so on. After winding down, we sit around talking about the different combinations and all decide on the winners.

Here are a handful of winners from past parties:

  • Smoked Swiss, Manchego, dates, pear, walnuts, caramelized onions on extra sour rye bread
  • Bruschetta (tomatoes, basil, olive oil and spices) with sheep cheese on multi-grain bread
  • Apple, dates, pear, sheep cheese and caramelized onions on multi-grain bread
  • Caramelized onions, jalapeño jack cheese, sliced tomato and pickled jalapeño slices on sourdough bread
  • Avocado, sliced tomato, cilantro and Swiss cheese on sourdough bread

It seems like anyone who loves grilled cheese has a favorite combination, so let us know what you've tried (and loved) in the comments. And definitely tell us if you host a grilled cheese party!

slicing grilled cheese
Think of all the fun your guests will have creating (and eating) amazing combinations!. Jaymi Heimbuch