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Grilled Queso Panela with Strawberry-Jalapeño Salsa

Smoky, spicy cheesy bliss.

Grilled queso panela cheese topped with strawberry-jalapeño salsa on a blue-rimmed plate.

I love any cheese in any form, but this grilled queso panela is on another level. Smoky charred cheese slabs are topped with spicy-sweet strawberry salsa for a simple summer app that’s sure to delight everyone at your next cook-out.

If you’ve never done it before, throwing cheese on bare grill grates might seem a little crazy. But queso panela, like the Greek halloumi or kefalotyri, is a type of cheese that doesn’t melt over high heat. It will take on char and smokiness, and even become slighty squishy, but it won’t melt.

Grilling cheese isn’t really any trickier than grilling anything, but there are a few basic principles to keep in mind. Here are five tips to help you achieve grilling perfection:

Queso panela cheese on a grill pan.

  1. Clean and oil the grill grates. Whether you’re grilling outside or using a grill pan indoors, make sure that the grates are clear of debris from your last grilling escapade and then lightly greased with oil. Beware of adding too much, especially if you’re grilling over live fire: oil dripping down from the grates can cause flare-ups.

  2. Preheat the grill (or the grill pan). The best way to avoid sticking is to make sure the grill is fully preheated before adding the cheese. I recommend heating the grill (or grill pan) over medium-high for at least 10-15 minutes to ensure it’s really ready to go.

  3. Dry the cheese. Moisture is the enemy of char and those gorgeous grill marks, and it’s also one of the biggest contributors to sticking. Even if you’ve already blotted it dry once, give both sides of the cheese a final pat with a fresh paper towel before adding it to the grill.

  4. Let it be. Once the cheese goes on the grill, don’t touch it for at least 2 minutes. This will allow the cheese to form those grill marks—and it will also give it a chance to release itself from the grill. If you’re anxious that it might be burning, use a fish spatula (see below) to just peak underneath it and assess those grill marks—but resist the urge to rip it off the grill entirely.

  5. Use a fish spatula. Tongs are generally the tool of choice for flipping proteins on the grill, but for this job, a fish spatula is your best friend. I recommend scraping the spatula along the grill grates when picking up the cheese to make sure you’re picking up those charred grill marks with it.

Grilled queso panela cheese topped with strawberry-jalapeño salsa on a white platter.

The smoky char of the grill paired with the cheese’s natural saltiness is already a delicious combination, but a sweet and spicy strawberry salsa takes it over the top. For optimal flavor, make the salsa about 30 minutes before you’re planning to serve it so the flavors have a chance to mingle, and finish it off that same day. It’s also great served with handfuls of salty tortilla chips.



Grilled Queso Panela with Strawberry Jalapeño Salsa

(Serves 4)

Grilled queso panela cheese topped with strawberry-jalapeño salsa on a blue-rimmed plate.

2 c. chopped fresh strawberries

½ jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

¼. red onion, finely chopped (about ¼ c.)

2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

1 lb. queso panela, cut into ½” thick planks

Vegetable oil, for grill

Equipment: grill or grill pan, baking sheet, paper towels, large bowl



In a large bowl, toss together strawberries, jalapeño, red onion, and cilantro. Add lime juice and toss to combine.


Preheat a grill (or grill pan) over medium-high heat. Clean and oil grill grates.


While grill is preheating, line a baking sheet with paper towels. Arrange cheese slices in a single layer on lined baking sheet. Top with more paper towels and blot dry, applying light pressure. Cheese should feel mostly dry to the touch.


Grill cheese for 2 minutes, until dark grill marks form on bottom. Using a long flexible metal spatula, flip cheese to second side. Grill 2 minutes more, then remove to serving plate. Top with strawberry-jalapeño salsa and serve.

 Originally published Mary 27, 2024.


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