The Secret Technique to Making the Best Sandwiches on Earth

Making a truly amazing sandwich is as much about the ingredients you use as how you slice, stack and slather them.

If you ask me, sandwich-making is a true lifeskill. It can brighten up a desk lunch, make friends, maybe even win over enemies. But when was the last time you saw a sandwich recipe in a cookbook? I say, the snub must end!

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Sandwich-building puts serious cooking principles to work—using great ingredients that are well-balanced, correctly sized, and placed in a certain order. In hopes of enriching your lunchtime and your culinary imagination, here is how I make my go-to sandwich.

How to Build the Best Sandwich Ever

Piece of sliced bread on a wooden countertopPhoto: Taste of Home

1. Choose a good bread

I start with an unsliced loaf of ciabatta (or another type, if they’re sold out) from a local baker. I find that pre-sliced bread gets too soggy too fast. You can also bake your own bread, if you are so inclined.

Piece of sliced bread on a wooden countertopPhoto: Taste of Home

2. Grab some mustard

After cutting the ciabatta loaf lengthwise, smear mustard on the bottom slice. But not just any mustard. I prefer a well-rounded mustard because it works best with the meat to come. Skip the creamy spreads here, because they can dull the flavor of the other ingredients (don’t worry, mayo and such come later). A good mustard, though, will add richness without competition. You’ll taste it best when it’s on the bottom, because it’s closest to your taste buds.

Meat and cheese layered together on a slice of breadPhoto: Taste of Home

3. Next, stack up the meat and cheese

On top of the mustard goes the meat: pastrami or roast beef, ham, or cured meats. If you want all three, I use that order from bottom to top. When you’re at the deli counter, ask for shaved meat—I’m talking paper thin. I’ve found this helps the meat stay on the sandwich instead of sliding out when you take your first bite.

Same goes for cheese. I recommend layering on a good, aged Swiss. I use no more than a 1:4 ratio of cheese to meat because, like the mayo, the creaminess of cheese can mute flavor. Plus, a little bit of aged cheese goes a long way.

Test Kitchen tip: Make the meat layer wider than the bread by about half an inch all the way around. Why? Because of the next ingredients.

Want to grill your sandwich? Here are the best cheeses to use.

Two slices of bread one with meat, cheese and tomatoes and the other with lettucePhoto: Taste of Home

4. Add your veggies

Now shingle on thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions (marinate the raw onions in salt, pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar for about 5 minutes for true sandwich glory). The cheese underneath keeps the veggies from sliding around and the wide meat layer stops the bread from getting soggy. The loose-leaf lettuce (or one of these other varieties) added next, on top of the tomatoes and onions, also keeps the bread above dry.

Test Kitchen tip: If you want to make the sandwich even more fun, add an over-easy egg on top of the tomatoes and onions, but under the lettuce. When the yolk breaks inside the sandwich, it’ll add to both the flavor and the mess. Yeah, you’ll need more than a couple napkins, but you’ll be glad you did.

Cut in half sandwich on a cutting boardPhoto: Taste of Home

5. Put it together

Now I smear mayonnaise on the top bread slice since I’m a sucker for mayo and it’s so good with the lettuce. (Psst: Light mayo is A-OK here.) Add the top of the bread and press the sandwich together. Tilt it sideways for a few seconds to let the oil, vinegar and tomato juices escape. Then, eat.

After practicing with the technique above—you know, for science, or some other excuse—you can go forth and experiment with other ingredients. Just follow the order above and soon you’ll be known far and wide for your amazing sandwiches.

David Horstkoetter
David Horstkoetter's PhD is in a degree not welcomed in dinner conversation. But he does have other interests, ranging from food to photography.