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Grilled cheese sandwich in my cast iron is cooking unevenly

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I have a Lodge Logic cast iron pan that is seasoned very well. Lately I've been cooking grilled cheese sandwiches, which are supposed to come out great in a cast iron pan, but they're cooking very unevenly. Specifically, the edges of the bread (not just the crust) are almost burnt before the middle of the bread is even toasted. I've tried putting weight on the sandwich to press the whole thing down but that hasn't worked so I guess the heat is simply not reaching certain points on my pan.

I just read this NY Times article that seems to say this is often the case.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/din...

So, is there anything I can do about this? I've also tried heating the pan longer before cooking but that hasn't solved it. I want my sandwich to look like the perfect ones in the pictures!

Thanks.

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  1. Guessing on the problem,but the only time that happens here is cook "error".I am in a hurry,fire too hot etc.Slow down,back off on the temperature and take a close look at your choice of "butter" and bread.Both are very fire fussy,char easily.Pratice,if you have a pan that's comfortable you are nearly there.

    1. The unevenness that McGee writes about should burn the middle first - assuming the sandwich is centered over the burner. Note that slow heat did did not help with McGee's cast iron - he still got a hot center.

      In a restaurant grilled cheese is probably cooked on a grill, which heats more evenly (much thicker metal, and a more distributed heat source).

      I suspect that the edges of your sandwich are in closer contact with the pan than the center. If there is a gap between the center bread and the pan it won't toast as fast.

      Moving the sandwich around in the pan can compensate for uneven heating of the pan. Lower heat would give you more time to do this.

      I assume you are buttering the bread before toasting?

      1. (sigh) Such problems! I'm guessing you're using a gas cooktop? Not electric or ceramic, I wouldn't think you'd be using cast iron on those. Perhaps the gas jet (holes) are gummed up with something, creating uneven flame distribution?

        2 Replies
        1. re: moma1bud

          FYI, I use cast iron on my ceramic cooktop and It's worked fine. Probably better than electric. No scratches on my cooktop and I get an even heat in my skillet. I'd much rather have gas, but I've gotta work with what I got for now. :)

          1. re: moma1bud

            Me too, just make sure it has a flat bottom. One of my cast irons has a raised ring on the bottom.

          2. Maybe you aren't buttering the bread evenly. Try melting butter in the pan before adding the unbuttered sandwich. Just take a stick of butter and zig-zag it quickly over the heated pan. It doesn't take much. Be sure to do that again when you flip the sandwich.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Channa

              I would guess it's the type of bread your using and/or you've unevenly buttered the exterior. Try using bacon fat spread evenly on day old (or more) crusty bread. It's sooo good and the bacon fat produces a nice, even crusty crunch. Or, if you don't have bacon fat, butter the bread and add a little oil to the pan and then fry up that sandwich!

              1. re: lynnlato

                Screw butter. use mayo on the outside. its just oil and egg and browns up wonderfully. give it a try.

                1. re: hyde

                  It's easier to spread thin and evenly than butter. Short order cooks probably use the standard melted margarine/butter blend.

            2. It would seem that the article you cited clearly answers your question. a 100 degree difference in heat in different parts of the cast iron?

              1 Reply
              1. re: bnemes3343

                but that 100 degree difference is between the center of the pan, heated by the flame, and the edge, furthest from the heat. The sandwich is burning at the edges, and not at the center. Unless there is a cold spot at the center of the pan that lines up with the center of the sandwich, uneven heating of the pan is not the problem - or at least not the central issue.

                Other variables - diameter of the pan, size of the burner, how many sandwiches at a time.

                Without ignoring the heating pattern of the pan, I'd focus more on the contact between bread and pan. The softer bread at the center may be contracting or even bowing away from the pan.

              2. Instead of butter I lightly coat each side of the sanwich with mayonaise- for any of you who are mayo adverse you don't taste it. Picture perfect and delicious grilled cheese everytime.

                1 Reply
                1. re: acenyc

                  that's what i was going to say - comes out perfect every time with the mayo trick.

                2. I don't have this problem with my grilled sandwiches for a couple of reasons:
                  - I use a panini grill, with flat, nonstick top and bottom plates
                  - I use a firm, whole grain bread (TJs 9 grain)
                  - I adjust the height of the grill so it gently presses the bread, but does not squeeze it.
                  - I include meat with the cheese, thus overstuffing the middle.

                  With this bread and grill I don't need to butter or oil the bread to get an even toast, though I might use it for added flavoring.

                  1. That's just the way cast iron is on the cooktop. You can try moving the sandwich around while it's browining, but I'd suggest getting a plain aluminum pan. They're available at a ridiculously low price from places like Surfas:

                    https://www.surfasonline.com/productl...

                    1. I'll have to try a cast iron on our glass cooktop (can't get gas to the kitchen, darn so we replaced the 30 yr-old electric with a new glass top range, was afraid to use the cast iron on it because the manual said that's a no-no) I do use my Le Creuset french oven on it, but that's enameled. I made grilled cheese panini's (provolone/pancetta on ciabatta rolls) the other night, just used a bit of olive oil in a stainless steel saute pan, squashed them down with the french oven cuz it's heavy! Don't need the fancy panini press that way ( guess I'm cheap?) They were awesome! Crunchy and oozy at the same time. I like a little red pepper flakes in oil, too.

                      1. This is a really old post but I thought is bump it rather than make a new post because thisis exactly the problem I've been having. I notice too that when I'm frying something like home fries and use a bit more oil, the oil pools around the outer ring and barely covers the center. Could my pan possibly have warped over time, the center warped upwards? I don't notice other liquid acting this way when its off the heat though. It didn't perform like this before, though I'm now gonna do a more thorough investigation when I get home. Is this a common problem and is it fixable?

                        I gotta say, I have a love/hate relationship with my cast iron. I love the results when I get it all right (there were ups and downs with the seasoning due to well-meaning roommates cleaning) but get so frustrated when it doesn't. Thought I finally had it down after proper seasoning, but lately its been very inconsistent.

                        ETA: In case it helps anyone who could answer, this is happening with my 12 inch Lodge pan and I cook on an electric coil.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: nanobabes

                          A dome in the middle doesn't seem right. Mine (not a Lodge, and smaller) is slightly lower in the middle.

                          1. re: nanobabes

                            Pans can warp a bit, up or down, when heated. Down seems to be more common. Metal expands when heated. The bottom outside will get hotter than the inside (closer to the heat source). The rim will be cooler than the center. The thickness of cast iron helps it resist this distortion, but does not eliminate the stresses.

                            But there is another factor. Oil, when heated, flows away from the hottest parts. So thinning of the oil film in the center of a pan is normal. The poor heat conductivity of cast iron plays a factor, since the part over the burner will get hotter than the edges (that extend beyond the burner).

                            1. re: paulj

                              That makes so much sense. And I read part of that article before too, but not the Bernard-Mangaroni effect part. That explains why my grilled cheeses burn in the center but my home fries crisp better by the edges. It must be happening now with the electric coil because the heat is concentrated over a bigger area in the middle, making the oil pool up more towards the edge, as opposed to the wider ring of heat with my old gas burner which probably caused disparities as well, but not as extreme. (Yet another reason for me to hate electric burners!) No wonder my 8 in skillet works fine.

                              Thanks for the tip, but I'm not sure how I'll be able to work with the weird heat pattern. The article provides a tip of heating oil and taking it off heat so the oil can redistribute but I'm concerned that the temp of the oil will drop down too low. I'll give that a try though. Man, I thought that cast iron was supposed to be heated evenly once it gets to temp. I think I read somewhere here about heating it in the oven beforehand, which I'll try, though it sounds cumbersome as well.

                              LOL I am really really trying to make my relationship with my cast iron pan work.

                              ETA: whoops, meant to reply to greygarious's post below, though all replies have been helpful! Last time I post through my phone.

                          2. Cast iron doesn't conduct heat very well. Try using a narrower burner for single sandwich? Also, make sure you're not skimping on fat.

                            1. There is a thread somewhere on Cookware about pans that *are* made with domed centers, though that makes zero sense to me.

                              But even in flat-bottomed, non-warped pans, you may observe the Benard-Mangaroni effect (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/din...) in which as the pan gets hotter, the oil pools at the edges of the pan.

                              To check how evenly your pan heats, cover the bottom with an even layer of rice or flour; the former is probably easier, and neater. Put the pan on the heat, and don't move it. Observe if there is an area or areas where the starch browns faster than in others. If there is, make a diagram; be sure to note what burner you used, and the direction of the pan's handle. Consult that sketch when you make the sandwiches, position them in the pan, and rotate the pan accordingly.

                              1. My cast iron pans are fine, but I notice with a gas burner it cooks more on the outside of the pan than the middle, no matter what you are cooking.

                                I have my grilled cheese down perfectly however. Melt copious amount of butter in the pan, swish the bread on both sides to coat, then fill, put together and return to pan. Cover with a lid for a couple of minutes, while turning over a few times periodically. It will be done in no time and will be perfectly done. I promise!

                                1. I'd say, you need to butter all of the bread surface before putting the bread onto the skillet. If you aren't buttering the edges, they might burn before the center is toasted. Are you using a watery margarine, or butter or a margarine with oil?

                                  Use lower heat than you are using. And put the sandwich down onto the skillet as it is heating. I don't know why doing this works well, but for me it does. Turn often.