By Little Northern Bakehouse

Making the best vegan gluten-free grilled cheese can be challenging. Vegan cheeses don’t all melt the same, and how do you get that classic crispy golden brown texture?

We’ve dedicated this edition of our Gluten-free Test Kitchen to finding the best way to make plant-based gluten-free grilled cheese—testing different ways of replicating the classic flavour, texture, and colour of this quick-to-make meal we all know and love.

Problem:

Cooking a grilled cheese using plant-based ingredients and gluten-free bread isn’t the same as cooking with conventional ingredients.

We want to know:

How do you make a vegan gluten-free grilled cheese that replicates the crispy golden brown texture, colour, and flavour of this classic comfort food?

Controls:

Featured Bread: Sprouted 7 Grain bread

Control Ingredients: Vegan Cheddar slices (we used Follow Your Heart—Earth Island in Canada—Dairy-free Medium Cheddar Slices)

Cooking Method: Pan-fried in a non-stick pan over medium heat with a lid on for the first two minutes of cooking.

Cook time: 2 – 3 minutes per side

Gluten-free Grilled Cheese Pro Tips:

Why Sprouted 7 Grain? While you can make great gluten-free grilled cheese with any Little Northern Bakehouse bread, science says sprouted breads brown better, because sprouting transforms staches into simpler sugars in whole grains and brings out their natural sweetness.1 We chose Sprouted 7 Grain for this test to let that secret shine! Why the lid? Dairy-free cheeses usually take a little longer to melt than their conventional counterparts—and a little steam goes a long way to achieving the ultimate gooey cheese experience!

What Makes Grilled Cheese so Good?

To determine the best way to cook plant-based  gluten-free grilled cheese we tested four different cooking methods and scored them in 4 different categories:

  • Browning: Does the vegan grilled cheese develop that famous golden brown crisp around the outside of the bread.
  • Cooked Texture: How does it feel when you take a bite?
  • Taste: How does it taste?

Each test will receive a score in each category out of 5—1 being the lowest possible score and 5 being a perfect score.

Perhaps the easiest method of the bunch, dropping a bit of vegan butter in the pan to melt is a simple way to quickly butter your bread. Place your soon-to-be-grilled cheese in the pan, and allow the bread to soak up the melted butter on each side. It’s easy and effective.

Cook time:

2 – 3 minutes per side

Heat:

medium-high

You could go with the more direct approach. Spreading the non-dairy butter right onto your bread ensures the bread is evenly coated when you place it in the pan. In theory, this method of application should provide a better browning of the bread, and the results of our test seemed to prove it. Our gluten-free grilled cheese turned out amazing—with a rich, savoury, buttery flavour and a perfect golden brown crust!

Cook time:

2 – 3 minutes per side

Heat:

medium-high

This method is similar to applying the butter directly to the bread. Technically speaking, it’s two sides of the same coin—or bread, in this case. The butter versus mayo debate is the polarizing grilled cheese equivalent of “Does pineapple belong on pizza?” Many people are very passionate about which is better: vegan mayo or plant-based butter? It’s all about personal preference, but that didn’t stop us from testing each of them!

We found using mayo (in our case, Veganiase) yields a saltier, diner-style flavour. The grilled cheese was slightly crispy on the outside, however, it was fairly gummy and soft on the inside—a similar consistency to french toast. When it comes to achieving that classic golden-brown crust, we found vegan mayo produces an inconsistent, splotchy, uneven colour compared to our tests with non-dairy butter. With direct application, vegan butter beats mayo in the browning department.

Cook time:

2 – 3 minutes per side

Heat:

medium-high

How to Make the Best Vegan Gluten-free Grilled Cheese

When it comes to making the best plant-based gluten-free grilled cheese, directly applying the non-dairy butter to the bread yields the best result. Buttering your bread with vegan butter is the best way to replicate that classic golden-brown crispy texture. Simply dropping butter into the pan and allowing the bread to soak it up as it cooks also works, and it produces a great grilled cheese! But the flavour, texture, and colouring are much better when you directly apply the butter to the bread, so we recommend taking the extra step.

Grilled cheese is one of those very personal comfort foods, often filled with childhood nostalgia, so you should enjoy your grilled cheese however you like it! In terms of the great mayo-versus-butter debate, that means it’s all about personal preference—go with what you know and love! We think butter is the way to go, but we understand that everyone’s taste is different.

For more gluten-free resources, sign up for our monthly newsletter at the bottom of this page. Check out our other gluten-free test kitchen for tips on making the best gluten-free french toast, and post your makes to Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Don’t forget to tag us!)

1Finnie, S., Brovelli, V., & Nelson, D., Sprouted grains as a food ingredient. In Sprouted Grains: Nutritional Value, Production, and Applications_(pp. 113–142). AACC International via Elsevier, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-811525-1.00006-3 , accessed August 11, 2020.