Jalapeño poppers are my favorite American bar snack, but they take so long to make I don’t often have a chance to eat them at home. One night, as I pondered the ever-so-difficult question of what to make myself for dinner—cooking for one, as I often do, can be such a chore—I came across a jar of pickled jalapeños and inspiration hit.
I transformed my usual comfort food, a classic grilled cheese, into this beauty. It became an instant favorite amongst my friends and family.
This jalapeño popper grilled cheese sandwich is the kind of self-indulgent Friday meal I like to pair with a cold drink, a blanket, and a chick flick. It’s also a fun kid-friendly lunch (just keep an eye on the spice levels and adjust accordingly) and an easy party appetizer.
The filling is cheesy, gooey, and fragrant. The outside is buttery and crispy, just like a deep-fried popper but without the hassle.
Pre-shredded vs. GIY (Grate It Yourself)
Chefs love to go on and on about not using pre-shredded cheese in recipes where you need cheese to melt nicely. Unfortunately, there’s a valid reason for that. Pre-shredded cheese is loaded with anti-caking agents that get in the way of a cheesy pull. Grating your own cheese is the superior way to go.
A Clever Shortcut
Pre-shredded cheese is so convenient I will not be the one to tell you not to use it; it’ll taste great no matter what, so you do you. However, I do have a chef-approved alternative.
If you feel tossing the food processor bowl in the dishwasher is easier than dealing with a grater, then you’ll love this technique. Throw all the filling ingredients into your food processor and pulse them into a smooth, spreadable paste. This is particularly useful if you are thinking of scaling up this recipe.
Use the Oven to Scale It Up
I love making small grilled cheese sandwiches for when I have friends over. This version feels like fancy finger food, but it’s comforting enough to appeal to the masses. If you want to kick it up a notch, serve it with shots of warm tomato soup for that nostalgic effect a la Anton Ego in Disney’s epic food film, Ratatouille.
When I do a big batch, I bake them in the oven where I can usually fit 6 at a time (24 bite-sized sandwiches) on a sheet pan. To cook them, preheat the oven to 425°F and place a rack in the upper third of the oven. Place a knob of butter on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the preheated oven until melted, about 5 minutes. Tilt the pan to coat and sprinkle the tray with the Parmesan (if using). Cover the hot sheet pan with bread slices. Spread the cheese filling evenly, and bake for 5 minutes, until gooey.
Carefully remove from the oven, add the second layer of buttered bread (butter side up) on top, pressing it down slightly with a spatula, sprinkle once again with Parmesan, and return to the oven until golden brown. Cut each sandwich into four mini triangles (the superior grilled cheese shape) and serve.
You can use mayo instead of butter when making grilled cheese, which gives you a slight tang and a beautifully crisp exterior that won’t burn as quickly. I, however, am a purist. I firmly believe butter makes everything better. You can use fresh jalapeños instead of pickled and add as much or as little as you like—the flavor will be a bit milder, but the spice might be stronger depending on your peppers.
If you want to add a touch of sweetness, use candied bacon. It’s a bit extra, but so are most good things in life.
Grilled Cheesy Goodness
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- Grilled Cheese BLT
Cook the bacon:
Add the bacon in a single layer to a non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat. Cook the bacon until crispy, turning as needed. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Make the filling:
Add the cream cheese, Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, chopped jalapeños, and cumin (if using) to a small bowl and mix well to combine.
Once the bacon has cooled a bit, chop it and add it to the cheese mixture.
Assemble the sandwiches:
Butter one side of each slice of bread and place them on a plate, butter side down. Slather the filling on 2 slices of bread and top with the remaining slices to make 2 sandwiches, buttered sides facing out.
Toast the sandwiches:
Drain off the bacon fat from the skillet and carefully wipe it out using a dry paper towel. Set the skillet over medium heat.
Sprinkle the tops of the sandwiches with Parmesan cheese, if using. Once the skillet is hot, add the sandwiches, Parmesan side down. Sprinkle the tops with more Parmesan.
Cook, uncovered, until golden brown. Flip and cook until golden on both sides.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool a few minutes. Slice using a serrated knife and serve right away.
A grilled cheese sandwich is best served fresh from the pan, but the filling in this recipe is make-ahead friendly. Refrigerate the mix in a covered bowl for up to 3 days and allow it to come to room temperature before using.
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