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The Best Grilled Cheese Is Made in Your Air Fryer

For crisp, golden bread and a luscious, melted interior, make your grilled cheese in the air fryer.

The Washington Post

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a crispy-looking grilled cheese

Air Fryer Grilled Cheese. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

When you’ve been doing something for so long and so often, it’s easy to fall into a routine, to never ask yourself, “Is there a better way to be doing this?” That’s especially true with cooking.

Don’t get me wrong. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and repetition breeds confidence and speed. But being open-minded has it perks.

Lest you think I’m about to be too lofty or philosophical, I’ll get to it: I have a new favorite way to make grilled cheese. And it’s in the air fryer.

Grilled cheese is one of the first things many of us learned to cook. It’s the kind of meal you can throw together out of desperation or plan with precision and care. And when you make it, odds are you’re pulling out a skillet.

That’s been my method for going on two decades. But then my air fryer came into my life and I started to rethink all the different foods I cook all the time — tofu, roasted vegetables. It was time to try air fryer grilled cheese.

I was skeptical at first and slightly turned off by having to drag out the air fryer and clean the basket. Then again, it’s not that different from washing a skillet.

Well, it was a revelation. After about 8 minutes at 360 degrees in my air fryer, out came a grilled cheese sandwich that far surpassed my expectations. (Don’t have an air fryer, or don’t want to bother? I have tips for better skillet grilled cheese, too!)

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Air fryer grilled cheese with pepper jelly and ham. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

If you need convincing, here are the top reasons the air fryer is now my favorite method for making grilled cheese.

The bread is uniformly crisp and golden.

In a skillet, I have never achieved the same golden color edge-to-edge as I have in the air fryer. And the crispness? I’m talking audibly crisp. In fact, my son found it too crisp for his taste (sigh), but the air fryer makes it easy to experiment with time and temperature to achieve your ideal texture. Keep in mind that air fryers vary in strength, so you may need to tweak my instructions for your particular model.

You’ll never have unmelted cheese.

One challenge of making grilled cheese in a skillet is that the exterior can get to the color you want — or even burn — before the cheese is melted. There are ways around this, including first griddling the interior sides of the bread or covering the pan with a lid. Still, you cannot beat the intense heat of the air fryer for ultimate melt. In fact, it can help to wait a minute or two to slice an air fryer grilled cheese to let it briefly set and cool. The appliance also handles sliced cheese with ease.

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(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

If you prefer to use vegan cheese, I got incredible results in the air fryer, to the point that it was indistinguishable from dairy. When I tried a vegan grilled cheese using the same product in the skillet, the shreds did not come close to melting the same way, even with a precook of the bread.

You can use less fat.

As I’ve written before, it’s best to think of the air fryer as a less-fat, not no-fat, strategy for cooking. You still need something for color and flavor, as well as preventing the food from scorching. All it takes is a minimal coating of fat on the outside of the bread. My top pick is mayo, though you can use oil or softened/melted butter (salted or unsalted!) instead. Compared to how much you might typically need to coat a skillet, especially if you add more after you flip the sandwich, it’s considerably less fat in the air fryer.

It’s easier to make multiple sandwiches.

Making two sandwiches in one skillet is often not feasible, especially if you toast the bread first. Even a 12-inch skillet may struggle to hold more than one sandwich. The air fryers I tested this recipe in — an Instant Vortex Plus 6-quart and Cosori 5.8-quart — had plenty of room for two sandwiches. I probably could have squeezed in a third with slightly differently shaped slices of bread.

The heat is even and hands-off.

I appreciate the more hands-off nature of air fryer grilled cheese. In a skillet, I frequently have to tweak the heat. Not so in the air fryer. The heat is incredibly steady, so set it at one temperature and you’re good to go. While it’s a good idea to stay near the kitchen in general when you’re cooking, there’s considerably less babysitting for an air fryer than a skillet. (Now, if you’re just familiarizing yourself with your appliance and trying to figure out the ideal temperature, you might need to experiment your first time or two, but as with a regular oven, once you’ve figured out how it runs — hotter or cooler than expected or spot on — the guesswork is over.) And when you can fully assemble the sandwich from the get-go, just put it in the basket, flip once and you’re done.

Air Fryer Grilled Cheese

1 serving

Active time: 5 mins; Total time: 15 mins

With a crisp, golden exterior and luscious, melted interior, air fryer grilled cheese takes the beloved sandwich to the next level. Using the air fryer also makes the process relatively easy, hands-off and neat. Moreover, you only need enough fat to apply a thin layer to the outside of the bread, rather than coating an entire skillet.

Feel free to get creative with your cheese and other fillings, based on whatever you like or is in your fridge.

This recipe doubles easily, as many mid-size or larger air fryer baskets will comfortably hold at least two sandwiches.


  • 2 (1/2-inch-thick) slices bread, such as country/hearty white, sourdough or whole-grain
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sandwich spread, such as pepper jelly, mustard or chutney (optional)
  • 2 to 3 ounces shredded cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack or Gouda, preferably freshly grated (may substitute vegan shreds)
  • 1/2 to 1 ounce filling of your choice, such as thinly sliced apple, ham, chopped kimchi or pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • mayonnaise, canola oil or softened butter, for spreading


On the air fryer, select the air fry mode, set to 360 degrees and preheat until the appliance signals it’s ready.

On one side of each slice of bread, apply a thin layer of your preferred sandwich spread, if using. Pile the cheese and filling, if using, on one of the slices of bread and cover with the other slice, spread side down. Apply a thin layer of the mayo, oil or butter on the outside of the top and bottom of the sandwich.

Transfer the sandwich to the air fryer basket and air fry for 8 minutes, or until both sides of the sandwich are crisp and golden, flipping halfway through.

Let the sandwich rest for 1 to 2 minutes - the cheese will be very hot and melty - before slicing and serving.

Notes: This recipe was tested in the Cosori 5.8-quart and Instant Vortex Plus 6-quart air fryers. Depending on the appliance you use, you may need to adjust the cooking time and/or temperature to achieve the desired results.

Nutrition per sandwich, using cheddar and mayo: 525 calories, 53g carbohydrates, 64mg cholesterol, 29g fat, 2g fiber, 14g protein, 14g saturated fat, 883mg sodium, 9g sugar

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

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This post originally appeared on The Washington Post and was published January 25, 2024. This article is republished here with permission.

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