World’s Best Grilled Cheese (Sharp Cheddar & Caramelized Onions on Beer Bread)

by Julie Ruble on June 1, 2011 · 40 comments

You’ve been shipwrecked on a desserted — ahem, I mean deserted — island. Your food options are limited to a sandwich (minus the “wich” part) and a very peevish looking saltwater crocodile who doesn’t seem to want you gnawing on him. After awhile your beard begins to rival that of Tom Hanks’s in Castaway, only there’s no Wilson to keep you company.

You’re hungry. You’re alone.

You’re gonna die.

Okay, sorry; that was an unpleasant beginning for a post, wasn’t it? And there’s that big knife up there underscoring the point.

I promise it gets better. Well, not too much better — you’re still gonna die. But something amazing happens first!

One day you’re wasting away on the beach entertaining fond memories of pizza while chewing on a piece of driftwood. Suddenly, a tiny Tiki Fairy appears. You know this is probably a brief hallucination indicating that an agonizing death is imminent, but you indulge your brain and greet her.

What do you know, she has a surprise for you! Drifters who find themselves starving to death on her island get to choose one last meal. Filet mignon? Truffle burger? Mom’s macaroni and cheese? You name it, you get it.

Ah, the question! It’s been posed to everyone from 50 famous chefs to death row inmates: what would you want your last meal to be?

Photographer Melanie Dunea is the one who had the brilliant idea to email 50 great chefs this question and compile their responses in her book, My Last Supper. Some of the chefs go fancy: caviar and spit-roasted pigs would be in Gary Danko’s final spread. Others prefer simple, comforting food from their childhood: Marcus Samuelsson wants gravlax with a dill mustard sauce in his last hours.

Funnily enough, the death row inmates seem to divide along similar lines. There are cost (and other) limitations to ensure the inmates’ meals don’t become extravagant, but some still think big! One, for instance, asks for two steaks, two burgers, a sliced turkey breast, bacon, two baked potatoes, one chef’s salad, one ear of corn, one pint of ice cream, and four sodas. Others cling to small pleasures; one asks only for cool whip and cherries.

Personally, I’m torn. I want comfort food. I want my mom’s chocolate sheet cake, macaroni and cheese, and yeast rolls for sure. I want a pimiento cheese sandwich on white bread, Dad’s chicken and dumplings, and at least a dozen Coke Zeros.

But I also want luxury! I could go for some fresh lobster tail and fried softshell crab. I want a thick Wagyu rib eye. I want this cheeseburger. I want this ice cream sundae.

Can I also have some Chinese pork buns?

Oh, and one more thing. A grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t ordinarily make my list, but this isn’t your average grilled cheese — it’s the World’s Best Grilled Cheese.

In fact, Sommer from Mama With Flavor (have you seen her blog? hilarious.) started all of my “last meal” daydreams when she responded to my tweet about this sandwich. She proclaimed it “last meal worthy.” And worthy it is: sharp cheddar cheese and sweet caramelized onions are piled high and toasted between two slabs of buttery, freshly baked beer bread.

Trust me, this sandwich would be a far better companion on your deserted island than any anthropomorphized volleyball. With the very first bite I took, I knew I’d struck genius. Lunch (or dinner, or midnight snack, or breakfast, or even dessert) just doesn’t get much better than this. And with a recipe for fresh bread that consists of only four ingredients, it doesn’t get much simpler than this either.

You know what I have to ask for my parting question — and I can’t wait to read your answers! What would your last meal be?

Sharp Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, and Beer Bread Grilled Cheese


Recipe by: Adapted from Catherine Bienik (beer bread) and Simply Recipes (caramelized onions)
Yields: one loaf of beer bread (up to about 4-5 sandwiches)

Bread Ingredients:
3 cups self-rising flour
scant 1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces beer (I used Guinness)*
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Caramelized Onion Ingredients:
4 onions, sliced thinly
salt to taste
olive oil

Other Sandwich Ingredients:
about two tablespoon of butter per sandwich desired
sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:
Make bread: Preheat oven to 375. Grease a loaf pan or line it with greased parchment paper. Mix flour, sugar, and beer until combined and pour batter into pan. Cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is well browned and loaf feels firm (you can also stick a toothpick in; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready). When the loaf is close to done, brush the top thoroughly with melted butter and let the loaf bake for 3 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool for about 20 minutes before removing it from the pan and cooling completely.

While bread is baking and cooling, caramelize onions: Put a few tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is translucent and shimmering, add onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes to an hour. The goal is to let the onions sit long enough that they start to cook down and caramelize, but not to let them burn. If they seem to be sticking or burning at any time, you can do any of the following: add some more oil to the pan, turn down the heat slightly, or add some water to the pan. Once the onions are a rich brown, remove them to a container to cool slightly before use. Store extra onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Assemble your sandwich: Once the bread has cooled, use a serrated knife to cut it into slices. In a skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Place a slide of bread into the skillet and pile on sliced cheese and caramelized onions (note: you can brush the underside of the bread all over with melted butter first if you want to ensure even browning). Place another slice of bread on top.

Cook until the bottom slice of bread is well toasted (peek every now and then by lifting a corner) and then gently flip, using your hand to brace the top slice of bread as you do so. You can add more butter if your skillet looks dry, lifting the sandwich to allow the butter to run underneath. When both sides are golden and toasted, remove sandwich to a serving plate and microwave for 30 seconds to insure melty cheese. Repeat these steps to make as many other sandwiches as you want! Serve immediately.

*NOTE: I don’t drink, so I wasn’t sure what sort of beer to use. This recommendation from a friend was outstanding, though! For information about how much of the alcohol cooks out of a given dish, please see this chart. In this particular recipe for beer bread, only about 30% of the alcohol remains in the entire loaf after cooking.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Maris (In Good Taste) June 1, 2011 at 7:37 pm

The title was enough to convince that this is indeed the worlds best grilled cheese and then the photos confirmed it!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 1, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Aw, thanks, Maris!

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PJ Mullen June 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

You had me at Guinness in bread. I must try this.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 1, 2011 at 8:01 pm

You’re gonna adore it! :)

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Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen June 1, 2011 at 8:00 pm

This looks amazing. I usually just make boring grilled cheeses with rye bread and kraft singles, but I believe it’s time for an upgrade!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Thanks, Maggie! You’ll love it!

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Lauren at Keep It Sweet June 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm

That does look last-meal worthy! The bread itself sounds amazing, but making that into a grilled cheese is genius!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 1, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Thanks, Lauren! :)

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Kathleen June 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Oh-My-Gosh!!! I want this NOW!!!!! Bookmarking right now!!!!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Thanks, Kathleen :) Hope you love it!

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Vivian June 1, 2011 at 9:18 pm

This was REALLY good! I bet this bread would be good in any type of sandwich and maybe with a slice or two of bacon thrown in like Firebird’s ?? :)

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 12:43 am

Bacon would be a great addition! Thanks, Mom!

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Vanessa June 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Mmh I love grilled cheese. I don’t think I’d be able to chose my last meal. This looks awesome though. Can’t say that I’ve ever had beer bread though, intriguing. I had caramelized balsamic onions on some bread with goat cheese tonight.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 12:42 am

Yum — love caramelized onions, LOVE goat cheese. Must try that on beer bread. Ha! Thanks, Vanessa :)

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Joanne June 1, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I would want vats and vats of cheese if it was my last day. But melted cheese holds a very special place in my heart. Love this!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 12:42 am

Oh, cheese, how I love thee! Thanks, Joanne :)

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Saleta June 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm

This looks so delicious! YUM! My husband is a grilled cheese fanatic, so I will definitely be making this soon.

I think my “last meal” sounds a lot like yours, as I have numerous items I’d want. A small sampling of those items would include: Shepherd’s Pie, Brown Bread, and Onion Soup from McGuires (Pensacola, FL), Marghertia Pizza from The Tuscan Oven (Pensacola, FL), yeast rolls, french silk pie, shredded beef enchiladas from Abuelo’s (chain restaurant in Texas), good cheese grits/hushpuppies/baked beans, strawberry shortcake, and my mom’s peanut butter candy. Great, now I’m hungry. lol

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 12:41 am

Oh yum, Saleta! I want French silk pie too! We used to get one from Perkins when I was little that I’d love to tack onto my last meal. Nice list! :)

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Kristina @ spabettie June 2, 2011 at 1:02 am

oh, WOW, can the Tiki Fairy bring me one of these, Right Now? :) caramelized onions and melty cheese, two of my favorite things…

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Thanks, Kristina! Two of my faves as well! Now if only the Tiki Fairy would get on the ball… :)

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Alexa Adams June 2, 2011 at 11:20 am

This looks so great! I think I’ll make some this weekend!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Thanks, Alexa! Hope you love it!

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Brooke (Baking with Basil) June 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

Beer bread and grilled cheese!! Oh my heavens! Looks and sounds scrumptious!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Thanks, Brooke! I loved every bite!

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a_foxie_smile June 2, 2011 at 1:42 pm

It is bleak that the reality of the last meal is that it has to be what already belongs in the prison kitchens. So many of those requests only result in very vague approximations served. That must be heartbreaking as your last meal – not that someone guilty on death row should really be pitied, but humans are humans.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Yes, I read this too — and read that this accounts for why there are so many burgers, for instance, on the list, since that’s one of the better things served in a prison kitchen.

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Saleta June 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm

So true. I was actually in Huntsville, TX last weekend and visited the capital punishment museum there. They had a big display of pictures of individuals that have been executed in the last few years, and all of the last meals that each person requested, and if it was fulfilled or not. All of them were, except for one person who asked for liver & onions and got Salisbury steak/onions instead. You’re right though, human is human and it’s sad.

Okay, didn’t mean to hijack this amazing grilled cheese post and make it more about capital punishment last meals. eek.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm

No worries, Saleta! This is a topic that really interests me as well. There used to be better web resources (for instance, one that discussed whether a request was fulfilled or not), but it seems Texas thought it was in bad taste and took it down?

I tend to get emotional reading through the last meals. It’s something so physical and basic and innocent, really — this little human desire for a good meal — that it humanizes the inmates. Not surprisingly, though, the information provided about their crimes was a stark and jarring contrast that certainly removed the edge off any sympathy I felt. This kind of discordant info is so interesting to me. It makes me examine my opinions and feelings about things, which I value.

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Saleta June 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I agree! My undergrad degree is in criminal justice, so I have a strong interest in the topic. You’re right though, it’s very emotional to read their last meal requests. The hardest thing about that (in the museum) though was not the meal requests that had been typed and displayed with the offender’s picture, but the meal requests that were hand written by offender’s in 30-40 years ago. Something about seeing it in their own handwriting just makes it all different.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Oh, I think that would be emotional for me as well. I’d like to visit the museum sometime — so fascinating (which is not to reduce the human component of it to some sort of entertainment, of course!)

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muppy June 3, 2011 at 6:51 am

ooooooh i really want to make that bread.
I have never actually thought about what my last meal would be, i’m guessing it would change monthly but at the moment grilled veges on sour dough with chilli jam and feta, mmmmmm yum. and can i have dessert?…..brioche pumpkin cheesecake!!!

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LEV June 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Hello! This bread looks AMAZING I am going to try making it tonight! Also, I just added you to my list of “blogs i read” (actually, mine are titled “who I stalk” haha) on my foodblog. I hope my readers come here too!
-InfinATEappetite.com

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Aw, thanks Lev!! How sweet!

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Maranda June 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I could definitely die happy after eating one of these sandwiches! This is on my list of things to make. I may have to have my baking group do it with me…it will count if we bake the bread first.

I made some stuffed pork chops recently that went up on my “last meal” list. I really have to think more about what I would choose.

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natalie (the sweets life) June 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm

WHOA. why had i never thought to make GRILLED CHEESE with beer bread? truly awesome!

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Jeremy July 18, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I finally attempted to make this bread. It was my first time making bread and it turned out excellent! The sandwich was even better. What a great combination. The only thing I didn’t do was put it in the microwave, but instead, I sliced the cheese first before doing anything else, just to give it enough time to reach room temp.

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking July 19, 2011 at 12:46 am

Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Jeremy! This is a favorite of mine!

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Sommer J December 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm

omw! looks soooooooo good! how’d I miss this???? I just ate 50 clementines and I still want this!

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Julie @ Willow Bird Baking December 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

It was so yummy, Sommer! And the bread is SO easy! :) Thanks!

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