The 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

10 years of cheese, bread, and grit. We're talking the highly competitive, super carbo-loaded, insanely delicious annual Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown – hosted in the backyard of our Toad&Co headquarters, and just in time for National Grilled Cheese Day (April 12). 

(If you're not familiar with this epic battle of cheesy proportions, you can check out The Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown: A Definitive History.) 

People making grilled cheese sandwiches outside

Toad&Co leadership team smiling behind their panini presses

Three contestants showing off their grilled cheese creation

This year's contest was our best yet...After two years of lockdown and taking it virtual, we got to gather in person once again. The beer was flowin' (thanks Topa Topa Brewing Co.), spatulas were flippin', and our Santa Barbara community was in full good-times mode. And we all know you can't have grilled cheese without delicious soup – so we had our local friends Organic Soup Kitchen passing out the good raffle tickets and tip jars aplenty, with all proceeds going back to the Soup Kitchen (because grilled cheese is great, but it's even better when it supports a good cause). 

Pot with tomato soup being ladled out, with Organic Soup Kitchen written on the pot

Whiteboard featuring list of contestants at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown

We had an awesome group of contestants from across our community – but only one team can win the coveted Golden Spatula award. And we have to warn you, this year's contest got about as gourmet as it gets. So without further adieu, the winning recipe, from Topa Topa's Casey Harris, Brewmaster/Co-Founder, and Justin Clemente, Lead Brewer. If you attempt this one, it's guaranteed to take your grilled cheese game up several notches (but it's no walk in the park to make). Don't say we didn't warn ya.  

Grilled Cheese Smackdown judges' table


Justin and Casey, the original recipe writers behind Chief Peak IPA have journeyed from Topa Topa Brewing Co's HQ in Ventura, CA, to deliver "Cheese Peak": a cheesy sandwich wonder featuring Mushroom Bulgogi, Kimchi Butter, proprietary *cheese* blend on cracked wheat sourdough paired with Sweet Corn Porridge garnished with Chive, Sesame Oil, and Nori Flakes. 

Winning chefs Casey and Justin, holding up their grilled cheese

  • Makes 3 sandwiches
  • Prep time: 6-7 hours

  • Kimchi Butter

    1 cup kimchi
    1/2 pound butter
    2 tbsp gojuchang
    1 tsp korean chili powder

    Dehydrate kimchi. 
    On a sheet tray with a rack, fan out the kimchi as a single layer. Dehydrate in the lowest setting of your oven (preferably 175F for 6 total hours or until kimchi is completely dried). Cool then grind to fine powder in spice grinder or blender. 

    Compose compound butter. 
    Combine softened, room temperature butter with salt, kimchi powder, gojuchang and korean chili powder. Whisk until smooth. *Omit or adjust spiciness to desired liking with chili powder. 

    Mushroom Bulgogi

    2 pints cremini mushrooms
    1 pint shiitake mushrooms
    1 inch knob ginger
    2 garlic cloves 
    1/4 asian pear
    1/4 onion
    2 tbsp sesame oil
    2 tbsp sugar
    2 tbsp soy sauce
    2 tbsp water
    black pepper
    white pepper

    Prep mushrooms.
    Clean mushrooms with a damp rag. Cut mushrooms into quarters. In a food processor, add mushrooms and pulse blend mushrooms into a small dice. Blending mushrooms in small batches will ensure they do not get cut too fine. 

    Prep sauce.
    In a blender, combine peeled ginger, garlic, onion and asian pear with sesame oil sugar, soy sauce, water, black pepper, white pepper. Blend until smooth. 

    In a smoking hot pan, add a thin layer of oil and sear mushrooms in batches. Mushrooms will release a lot of liquid so be sure to continue cooking them until all liquid has evaporated. Once all mushrooms have been sautéed, remove mushrooms from pan and set aside in a separate bowl. Using the same pan, add the blended sauce and cook on medium heat until the sauce has reduced down to a paste. Add back cooked mushrooms and combine. Cool and season to taste. 


    1/2 loaf sourdough bread
    3-4 slices provolone
    3-4 slices white cheddar

    Assemble sandwich.
    Spread kimchi butter over two slices of bread. Flip over and spread a hearty layer of mushroom bulgogi spread onto bread. Layer a slice of each cheese on top of the mushroom mixture (be sure to have the cheese cover every inch of the bread so that there are no bald spots). Then place the other slice of bread on top of cheese with both sides of kimchi butter on the outside. 

    Cook sandwich.
    Heat griddle on low setting. Once heated, place the sandwich on the griddle and use a weight/press to slightly compress the sandwich together. Using a low and slow method, cook the sandwich until bread has taken on a golden red color. Flip and cook the other side until it has taken on a similar color and cheese has fully melted. Remove and cut in half.


    1/2 onion
    2 cloves garlic
    4 tbsp butter
    2 tbsp flour
    1 pound corn
    1 quart veg stock
    1 cup heavy cream

    1/4 cup fine chopped chives & 1/4 cup toasted nori flakes to garnish

    Sweat aromatics.
    In a dutch oven, melt butter on medium heat. Add chopped onions and garlic and sweat until translucent. 

    Make roux.
    Add flour to the onion mixture and cook until flour has been fully incorporated and slightly toasted. 

    Boil soup.
    Add frozen corn and vegetable stock. Cook for 30 minutes or until liquid has reduced down to 3/4. 

    With a stick blender, blend soup until smooth. For a smoother soup, strain into another pot. Finish soup with heavy cream and salt to taste. 

    Chili Oil

    2 clove garlic
    1/4 cup chili flakes
    2 tbsp sesame seeds
    3/4 cup neutral oil (like canola)

    Prep oil. 
    In a heat proof bowl, combine grated garlic, chili flakes, sesame seed. Heat oil to 350F and pour over spices. Let cool completely and set aside.

    Gojuchang glaze

    1/4 cup gojuchang
    2 tbsp kimchi liquid 
    1 lemon

    Prep glaze.
    Combine gojuchang, residual liquid in kimchi jar and whisk until smooth. Season with pepper, lemon zest.  

    With a pastry brush, paint a streak of gojuchang glaze on the side of a wide rimmed bowl. Ladle corn porridge into a bowl and garnish with chili oil, nori flakes and fresh cut chives. Serve with grilled cheese and an ice cold Dos Topas. 

    Chefs Casey and Justin at a panini press making their grilled cheese sandwich creation

    Can of Dos Topas beer from Topa Topa Brewing Co.

    The winning grilled cheese team showing their golden spatula award