The past few years have been brutal and full of chaos, and that means that some days, I don’t exactly have the will to feed myself properly. Often that looks like grazing on various snacks in my kitchen, but when things are feeling especially bleak, I turn to my absolute favorite minimal-effort lunch: a grilled cheese sandwich prepared in my air fryer.
The air fryer, basically a mini convection oven, has been one of the trendiest kitchen gadgets of the last decade, and there’s a good reason why: They’re ridiculously versatile, capable of heating up frozen food or leftovers as deftly as they are roasting vegetables, and work faster than the typical oven or stovetop preparation. As such, they’re perfect for days when you’re feeling too exhausted to even think about all the things left on your to-do list, much less the idea of dragging out a bunch of pots and pans to cook lunch.
To make a sandwich happen, you simply have to smear two slices of bread with softened (or melted) butter — I keep a dish with a softened stick of butter on my counter at all times for situations just like these — and slap a slice of cheese in between the non-buttered sides. Place the sandwich into your air fryer for 5 minutes at 350 degrees, flipping once halfway through — if you feel like it. If you don’t flip, your sandwich won’t be as golden-brown on the side that wasn’t kissed by the heating element, but it will still turn out perfectly crunchy and buttery.
Although it isn’t exactly difficult to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a skillet, preparing your sandwich in an air fryer is objectively easier on almost all levels. The process is similar, but making one in a pan does require standing over the stove to make sure that the thing doesn’t burn or get cooked unevenly. You’ll also have to wash a skillet and a spatula at the end, assuming that you had either of those clean and ready to go in the first place. The air fryer eliminates most of the dishes required to make a grilled cheese sandwich, an ideal bonus for anyone who’s overwhelmed with malaise.
The texture of a grilled cheese sandwich prepared in an air fryer is slightly different — the bread dries out a little bit more than it does with the typical skillet method — but it’s also a little bit crunchier, which plays nicely with the melty richness of the cheese and the butter. If you need a little protein in your sandwich and can manage the additional effort, tossing in a few slices of deli ham or a cooked piece of bacon is an excellent way to turn your simple sandwich into a lunch that’s actually pretty hearty. You can also zhuzh it up with various spreads (Dijon mustard and Sriracha mayo are among my favorites), but none of that is necessary. On its own, an air fryer grilled cheese is depression meal perfection.
And whether or not an air fryer grilled cheese is better than one prepared in a skillet is an irrelevant question. This is not a meal for the times when you feel able to make a really killer sandwich, it’s for the times when the options are making a grilled cheese at home, ordering the same terrible delivery pizza for the third time in a row, or eating nothing at all because you can’t summon the will to do much more than pull open the air fryer and butter up a few slices of bread. Perfection is often the enemy of the pretty damn great, and that’s especially true when you’re down in the dumps.