~ These (healthy!) Buffalo Chicken Dip Grilled Cheese Sandwiches are basically my ultimate crave-worthy creation. Two of my most favorite foods, together in one amazingly cheesy-gooey-awesome sandwich. (Ready in just minutes!) Buffalo Chicken Dip meets Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in a mind-blowing, life-changing, you-have-to-try-this recipe! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Includes Make-Ahead Steps •
Summer is wrapping up and fall is looming right around the corner. As awesome as summer is (warm weather, pool days, bike rides … and most importantly: NO SCHOOL), fall is pretty great, too! Fall means it’s time for Sunday Night Football, hikes through beautifully colored foliage, bonfires, Halloween fun, and corn mazes (to name a few).
Also, fall has the best assortment of seasonal foods. Skeptical? Hear me out. Fall has hot soup, chili, pumpkin-flavored everything, grilled cheese, mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, hot wings – and there’s an entire holiday dedicated to eating food (and being thankful). What’s not to love about autumn?
So, as I started to look ahead for fall recipes, I wondered how I could take some autumn classics and upgrade them. I’m thinking of classic fall comfort foods, but reinvented to be even yummier and healthier!
What if I combined two of my favorite fall foods: grilled cheese and spicy buffalo wings? We’re talking grilled cheese with buffalo chicken dip in the middle! It doesn’t get much better than that!
Honestly, I can’t think of a more quintessentially fall food for chilly nights and football noshing. These are all loaded up with:
- warm, crunchy, toasty bread
- melty cheese
- a thick layer of Buffalo Chicken Dip
- fresh, juicy tomatoes and crisp, cool lettuce (Think those sound like an odd addition to grilled cheese sandwiches? Trust me – they’re not. That pop of freshness is so perfect here!)
I could see myself on the couch, watching football with one of these in my hand. And not even caring much if the Browns throw another interception. Buffalo-chicken-melty-cheesy-goodness is a great distraction.
Fueling up for a hike or an apple-picking adventure? This is what you want. Need. CRAVE.
Thought your fall couldn’t get any fall-ier? Get ready, because these sandwiches will knock your [fall-themed] socks off.
What Bread to Choose for These Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Since the beginning of time, scientists, grilled cheese aficionados, and philosophers have debated whether the cheese or the bread is the most important part of a grilled cheese sandwich. (Ok – not really, but go with me here.)
Plato said, “There are two slices of bread and only one layer of cheese, therefore the grain is more important.” His opinion went unchallenged for thousands of years until Einstein famously disagreed saying, “No, definitely cheese.” There were riots around the globe.
Personally, I have to agree with Plato, that the bread is the make-or-break factor in a grilled cheese sandwich. In order to make this the best grilled cheese ever, I have a few key points to note when choosing the loaf you want for this recipe.
• Whole Grain: We always recommend that you pick a whole grain, or whole wheat, loaf of bread for added fiber and nutrients. It’ll help you stay fueled up for all of your autumn activities much more effectively than plain white bread.
• Read Those Ingredient Labels: Sadly, a lot of mainstream whole wheat breads include less-desirable ingredients in the mix, too. Specifically, we recommend that you avoid brands containing high-fructose corn syrup. And, be sure to check to see exactly how much whole grain you’re actually getting. A lot of “whole wheat” or “whole grain” breads still actually feature regular ol’ white flour as the main ingredient, with only a few whole grains tossed in. Try to find a brand that uses only whole grains.
• Our Pick for This Recipe: We tested a few different breads and decided that Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat was our favorite option (it’s what we used in the photos), but there are lots of good options out there – choose your personal favorite.
The Cheese We Picked for Ooey-Gooey Perfection
Now, let’s play devil’s advocate here and say that, theoretically, cheese is the most important part of a grilled cheese sandwich (sorry, Plato). I mean, it is called a grilled cheese, so there’s a fair argument.
We tested this recipe with sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, American, and both reduced-fat and full-fat cheeses.
Unanimously, our family decided that American cheese went better with the buffalo chicken dip, compared with cheddar. Plus, it just seems much more “American” to eat American cheese while watching American football on a Sunday night in the fall.
Also, although we rarely recommend full-fat cheese options, we tested this recipe with reduced-fat cheese, and it simply didn’t get the job done this time.
So, we all agreed that the full-fat American cheese is, without a doubt, the best option to use in this particular grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, it has a bit more fat and calories than reduced-fat options, but the trade-off was worth it here. Plus, we were making plenty of other healthification tweaks we could feel good about (more about that later).
Fast Chicken for the Buffalo Chicken Dip Filling
The buffalo chicken dip filling is what upgrades this grilled cheese sandwich recipe from a fall classic to an absolute autumn legend.
Here at THK, we often suggest that you use rotisserie chicken to kick-start recipes, because it’s a super time saver — someone already cooked the chicken for you! The buffalo chicken dip we whip up here is no different. Just buy a rotisserie chicken, shred it, and you’re ready to roll!
That being said, let’s envision a day when you happen to have some raw chicken breast in the fridge that’s begging to be used, or maybe you’ve got leftover chicken that needs to be re-purposed.
As long as it isn’t marinated or overly seasoned with flavors that would compete with the buffalo vibe, any chicken will work in this grilled cheese recipe.
Just cook it, shred it, and then treat it the same as you would the rotisserie chicken.
How to Get a (Healthier) Crispy Exterior
A grilled cheese sandwich without the crispy-golden sear on the bread is a fraud, an imposter, a liar, and a cheater. Unfortunately, however, that greasy crunch usually comes from butter, mayonnaise, or a mix of the two. Neither of which are particularly healthy.
This was the biggest dilemma I faced in trying to make this grilled cheese healthier. How do I keep that essential aspect of a classic recipe, but slash the fat?
Should I toast the bread beforehand? That gets the crunch, but it’s just kinda dry. Meh.
Should I just throw the grilled cheese sandwich in a pan and hope for the best? (That was a total fail, by the way – it had no crunch and no grease).
Maybe just a tiny bit of butter will be enough? Sadly, it wasn’t …
Just as I was about to give up and use a larger amount of butter, I happened to spray the pan I was using with non-stick cooking spray.
I was curious if it would make the sandwich easier to flip. (I used Pam brand original non-stick spray which is basically just a mix of canola oil, palm oil, and coconut oil.)
But when I flipped the sandwich, guess what … it was not only easier to flip, but it was also crispy and brown on the outside! Hallelujah!
From there, I tried spraying the bread directly with the cooking spray instead of spraying the pan, and it was even browner and crispier! And it wasn’t all dried out like when I tried toasting the bread beforehand, or when I simply threw an un-sprayed sandwich into the pan.
You might think you’ll miss the butter. I understand – I wondered about that, too. But with all of the big, big buffalo chicken dip flavors happening inside, you really just don’t need it, anyway. You actually don’t miss one more rich element in the recipe, at all. Hurray – my little trick shaves some fat and unneeded calories, but still delivers a toasty color and great crunch!
Assembling Your Buffalo Chicken Dip Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
This ain’t your average grilled cheese — I think I’ve made that pretty clear. This grilled cheese is 10,000x better than a regular one. But it does require a little more assembly, although not all that much. (And trust me — it’s worth it!)
Here’s how you make this awesome Buffalo Chicken Dip Grilled Cheese:
1) Shred the rotisserie chicken breast. (Save the wings to dip in some hot sauce if you’re really in a buffalo chicken mood!)
2) Mix the shredded chicken, hot sauce, cream cheese, and a little chopped onion together and microwave it until it’s pretty gooey and melty. (We microwaved for around 30-45 seconds.)
Yep – you’ve basically got buffalo chicken dip right there! BUT … try really hard not to grab some chips and start dipping (or just face-plant into the bowl). Focus. That dip is destined to become a sandwich.
3) Quickly put a heaping ¼ cup of that warm, yummy dip on an American cheese-topped slice of bread.
4) Close up the sandwich with another slice of cheese and a second slice of bread.
5) Spray the sandwich (both sides) with cooking spray.
6) Pop your sandwich in a non-stick skillet and cook it on medium-low, until the bread is browned and crispy on the outside and the cheese is melty on the inside (about 2½ to 3 minutes on the first side, and 1½ to 2 minutes on the second side).
7) Take the sandwich out of the pan and stuff a leaf of lettuce and a couple slices of tomato into the middle. Like I said before, you might not normally think to stick cool, fresh lettuce and tomatoes inside warm, melty grilled cheese sandwiches – but in this recipe, it’s delicious genius, balancing out all that decadent richness from the cheese and the buffalo chicken dip.
8) And now? Now you eat! Make “mmmmmm” noises and enjoy what may arguably be the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever had!
What Makes This Grilled Cheese Sandwich THK-Healthier?
If you’ve been
drooling reading along here, then you probably already know the answer. But let’s recap why you don’t have to feel guilty wolfing down one of these bad boys. Sure, it tastes sinful, but there’s a lot of good goin’ on here:
- whole grain bread for a boost of nutrition and fiber
- protein-rich, white-meat chicken
- only a teensy bit of silky Neufchâtel (reduced-fat) cream cheese
- a veggie-ful layer of tomato and lettuce (Honestly, they’re here because you’ll love the freshness they add to lighten the other rich flavors, but hey hey – they also boost nutrition. *bonus*)
- a tiny hit of cooking spray that replaces the artery-clogging butter in most grilled cheese recipes (But as I mentioned above, I found a great little trick for achieving toasty-crunchy bread without that butter, anyway!)
How to Serve Up These Amazing Sammies
What goes with buffalo chicken? Yup. Celery, carrots and ranch (or blue cheese). They’re the perfect chums for a Buffalo Chicken Dip Grilled Cheese Sandwich, too!
To keep it healthy, though, look for a yogurt-based, reduced-fat dressing, and grab loads of veggies to go with it.
Mmmmmm … and while you’re dunking the veg, try also dipping your sammy. Just a little tip from someone who’s been around this block a time or two.
Buffalo Chicken Dip … meets Grilled Cheese Sandwich … meets *BLISS*. You’re gonna love this one – trust me!
And you know I love to hear from you – so once you’ve tried this, please leave me a comment and a recipe rating, and let me know all the awesome fall activities this sandwich fueled you up for (or tell us which you think is more important: the bread or the cheese)! ; ) Enjoy!
- 1 1/3 cup shredded rotisserie chicken breast (see note)
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel cheese), softened
- 1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot "Original" hot sauce (see note about adjusting spiciness)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
- 8 slices American cheese (preferably from the deli, not pre-packaged, individually wrapped slices)
- 8 slices whole grain or whole wheat bread
- cooking spray
- 4 lettuce leaves
- 8 tomato slices
- Mix the chicken, cream cheese, hot sauce, and onion in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until hot and melty throughout (about 30-45 seconds).
- Top 4 slices of bread with one slice of cheese each, and divide the warm chicken mixture evenly on top of the cheese (about a heaping 1/4 cup per sandwich). Top each with a second slice of cheese and then a second slice of bread. Spray the exterior of the sandwiches with cooking spray.
- Cook in a nonstick skillet on medium-low, flipping partway through, until the bread is lightly browned and toasty on the outside and the cheese is warm and melty on the inside (about 2½ to 3 minutes on the first side, and about 1½ to 2 minutes more on the second side).
- Open each sandwich and place a leaf of lettuce and two tomato slices in the middle of each.
- Serve immediately.
Chicken: As we mentioned in the post, rotisserie chicken is a quick, easy option for this recipe. But, nearly any boneless, skinless chicken breasts will also work well here, as long as they’re not seasoned with spices or marinades that compete with the other flavors in this recipe. If you prefer, you can simply plan on cooking a couple of extra chicken breasts whenever you’re making chicken, so you'll have extra cooked chicken for this recipe without any extra work.
Hot sauce: We like to use 1/4 cup total for this recipe (which works out to be 3 teaspoons per sandwich). That amount creates a bold, pleasantly spicy "buffalo wing" flavor. However, if you'd like a little less spice and a more "grilled cheesey" flavor, try using a total of 8 teaspoons hot sauce, instead of the full 1/4 cup (which will work out to be 2 teaspoons of hot sauce per sandwich instead of 3 teaspoons). It's also delicious!
Make-ahead steps: You can mix up the "buffalo chicken dip" portion of this recipe (the chicken, cream cheese, hot sauce, and onion) earlier in the day or a day before, so your grilled sandwiches are even quicker to make at mealtime.