When it comes to deli sandwiches, few are as iconic or popular as the corned beef sandwich: hearty rye bread piled high with tender slices of corned beef, layered with melty Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and dressing. It’s one of those vintage sandwich recipes that always hits the spot, no matter the day or occasion.
What’s the difference between a Reuben and a corned beef sandwich?
A square is always a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Similarly, all Reubens are corned beef sandwiches, but not all corned beef sandwiches are Reuben sandwiches.
A Reuben is a specific type of sandwich with corned beef that must include rye bread, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and either Russian or Thousand Island dressing. A corned beef sandwich broadly, however, can include an array of different toppings, sauces and fillings to suit one’s personal taste preferences. The recipe shared here is a slight variation on a classic Reuben sandwich.
What is corned beef?
Corned beef is a cured deli meat made from beef brisket and other spices. The meat gets its signature pink hue from the nitrates that are typically added to the brining solution. Those nitrates help inhibit the growth of harmful foodborne bacteria during the curing process. Once cured, the corned beef is typically boiled, braised or roasted, then sliced or shaved for serving. Use it in one of our favorite recipes to make with corned beef.
Now, what about pastrami? While similar, corned beef is not the same as pastrami. For pastrami vs. corned beef, it comes down to the actual cut of beef used. Plus, pastrami is additionally spiced and then smoked.
Ingredients for a Corned Beef Sandwich
- Corned beef: Corned beef makes any sandwich feel hearty with tons of rich, meaty flavor and texture.
- Sauerkraut: This fermented cabbage adds moisture to the sandwiches and offers a wonderful tang that cuts through the richness of the beef and cheese. For a fun project, try making homemade sauerkraut.
- Swiss cheese: This cheese melts beautifully and complements the flavors of corned beef and sauerkraut.
- Sauce and dressing: A combination of mayo and chili sauce adds a wonderful kick to this sandwich, and a side of store-bought or homemade Thousand Island dressing is perfect for dipping and dunking to your heart’s content. If you have some left over, use it in any of these Thousand Island dressing recipes.
- Rye bread: Great bread is the foundation of any sandwich. Choose a high-quality loaf of seeded or unseeded rye, pumpernickel or marble rye for these corned beef sandwiches.
Step 1: Make the sauce
In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and chili sauce until well combined. Fold in the cheese and sauerkraut.
Editor’s Tip: Mixing the cheese and sauerkraut into the mayo and chili sauce helps bind the ingredients together so they melt together and don’t fall out while toasting and flipping on the griddle.
Step 2: Assemble the sandwiches
Spread the mixture evenly over 1 side of each bread slice (about 2 tablespoons per slice). To half of the bread slices, add a pile of corned beef, then top each with a remaining piece of bread, spread side down.
Step 3: Toast on a griddle
Spread the outsides of sandwiches with butter. Then, on a preheated griddle, toast the sandwiches over medium heat until golden brown and cheese is melted, four to five minutes on each side. If desired, serve with dressing.
Editor’s Tip: To help the cheese melt, you can cover these hot sandwiches with a domed lid from a pot or saucepan while toasting the first side of the sandwich. The trapped steam will help transform your sandwich filling into ooey-gooey cheesy corned beef heaven.
Corned Beef Sandwich Recipe Variations
- Try a different sauce: If you’re not a fan of using store-bought or homemade Thousand Island dressing, you could also use Russian dressing on your corned beef sandwich. While not traditional, a Dijon or whole-grain mustard would also be a great flavor pairing.
- Use coleslaw: Instead of using sauerkraut, you can make something like these corned beef and coleslaw sandwiches.
- Add some bonus toppings: Besides the classic fixings like Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, you can also add caramelized onions, pickles, or pickle relish to your homemade corned beef sandwich recipe.
- Change the cheese: While Swiss is the most common cheese for corned beef sandwiches, it’s far from the only option. For a spicy kick, opt for pepper jack cheese. Muenster, Gouda or butterkäse are some of the best melting cheeses for sandwiches.
How to Store Corned Beef Sandwiches
Once cooked, corned beef sandwiches are best enjoyed immediately while they are warm. Unfortunately, these sandwiches tend to get soggy, and the bread loses its toasted crispness if stored for later enjoyment.
Can you make a corned beef sandwich ahead of time?
While we don’t recommend cooking the sandwiches ahead of time, you can prepare the sauce ahead of time and store until you’re ready to build the sandwich. You can also slice the meat and have it ready to go. The sauce is good for up to three days before making the sandwiches.
Corned Beef Sandwich Tips
Can I make my own corned beef to put on corned beef sandwiches?
Yes, you can make your own corned beef for sandwiches. While we love the ease of using pre-sliced corned beef from the deli counter, nothing beats using homemade corned beef on a sandwich. Try this slow-cooked corned beef recipe for a real treat. Use up any extra meat in our favorite leftover corned beef recipes.
How do you cut corned beef for sandwiches?
If you pick up deli corned beef, it will already be sliced for you. But if you’re making homemade corned beef, cut it against the grain for sandwiches. Alternatively, shaved or shredded corned beef also works well.
Why is my corned beef sandwich soggy?
To prevent your corned beef sandwich from being soggy, do your best to drain and squeeze as much excess moisture from the sauerkraut before adding it to the recipe.