How to Make Amazing Reuben Sandwiches
Step right up for layers of corned beef brisket, melty Swiss cheese, crunchy sauerkraut, and sweet Thousand Island dressing — no deli trip required
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Reuben sandwiches run deep in my family.
For starters, a Reuben sandwich is my mom’s favorite sandwich of all time, and I’ve been her appreciative sidekick in this regard for decades. If there’s ever a Reuben sandwich on the menu at a restaurant, I can guarantee she will order it. Is it the tender slices of corned beef, the sweet Thousand Island dressing, the melty Swiss cheese, or the tangy sauerkraut she loves so much? Or is it a combination of all these traditional Reuben sandwich ingredients that make it her go-to?
Now, you might think of Reuben sandwiches as being staples of every New York deli and Jewish delicatessen — and you’d be right. But I’m from Savannah, Georgia, where St. Patrick’s Day is right up there with Christmas and the 4th of July in terms of major holidays. Well, corned beef brisket is a traditional Irish dish, and leftover corned beef happens to be an excellent ingredient for making Reuben sandwiches. So you can see how Reuben sandwiches have become a family favorite in my home kitchen, no matter the time of year.
Sometimes we discuss the fine points of pastrami vs. corned beef, and marbled rye vs. seeded rye. But any way you slice it, my mom says a Reuben sandwich is the best sandwich of all time — and I’m on Team Mom. Follow along to see how easy it is to create your own Reuben sandwiches.
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Reuben sandwich Q&A
As you sit down to a big ol’ bite of your meal, you’re going to want to be conversant about the classic Reuben sandwich.
What is a Reuben sandwich?
A Reuben sandwich is a deli staple that traditionally features buttered, grilled slices of rye bread with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing.
What is on a Reuben sandwich?
Many New York and Jewish delicatessens have their own version of the classic Reuben sandwich, but there are similarities across the board. Rye bread is always used, but the deli will change up the type of rye. Pumpernickel, marbled rye, seeded rye, and light rye bread are all great options.
The cheese has to be a slice of Swiss cheese. Then there’s the sauerkraut; you can’t omit its tangy flavor. What kind of meat is on a Reuben sandwich? Corned beef brisket or round is traditional, but you’ll also find pastrami on some Reuben sandwiches.
Finally, there’s the Reuben sandwich sauce. You’ll find either Russian dressing (which includes a little spiciness, typically with horseradish or chili sauce), or simpler Thousand Island dressing to add that iconic sweetness and messiness to this delicious deli sandwich.
Where was the first Reuben sandwich invented?
Some say that Arnold Reuben of Reuben’s Restaurant and Deli in New York invented the first Reuben sandwich in 1914 when an actress came in late one night and requested a giant sandwich. He created the “Reuben Special”: slices of rye bread with ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing.
Others claim that Bernard Schimmel from the kitchen of the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska created the first Reuben sandwich in 1925. At a weekly poker game with friends, Schimmel made the sandwich when a fellow poker player, Reuben Kulafofsky, requested a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. Mr. Schimmel spread Thousand Island dressing on slices of dark rye bread and layered on Swiss cheese, corned beef, and drained sauerkraut. He then took it to another level and spread butter on a side of each slice of bread and grilled the sandwich like you would a grilled cheese sandwich.
What goes with a Reuben sandwich?
Reuben sandwiches can be a whole meal by themselves because they’re so rich and often mile-high in size. I like to serve a Reuben with a sour dill pickle to cut through the richness and balance the saltiness of the corned beef. But I wouldn’t say no to some salt and vinegar potato chips.
How to make a Reuben sandwich
Now that you know the nuts and bolts of what’s on a Reuben sandwich, here’s how to make my recipe with no fuss.
1. Gather your Reuben sandwich ingredients
Photo by Ashley Strickland Freeman
Having everything at hand is key to making sure your Reuben sandwiches come out great every time. First, instead of using store-bought, make your own Thousand Island dressing by stirring together mayonnaise, ketchup, sweet pickle relish, and onion powder. Prep time: about 3 minutes.
Set out 8 slices rye bread, some corned beef, Swiss cheese, and drained sauerkraut for easy layering. And don’t forget about the salted or unsalted butter; make sure it’s softened to room temperature for easy spreading.
2. Build the Reuben sandwiches
Spread Thousand Island dressing onto one side of each slice of bread. Top them with slices of Swiss cheese. Then top 4 slices of rye with corned beef, followed by about 1/4 cup sauerkraut. Flip the remaining 4 slices of rye bread, Swiss cheese slices down, on top of the sauerkraut. Spread 2 tablespoons butter onto the top slices of bread.
3. Cook the Reuben sandwiches
Photo by Ashley Strickland Freeman
Making this recipe couldn’t be easier, but I’ve got three important tips to make these the best Reuben sandwiches ever.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add two of the sandwiches, buttered sides down, into the hot skillet.
Tip 1: Cover the cast-iron with a lid and cook until the bread is golden brown. Covering the skillet helps the Swiss cheese become melty without over-toasting the bread.
Uncover the cast-iron skillet and spread butter on the top bread slices before flipping them and cooking, covered, until they're golden brown on the other side.
Tip 2: If you're not ready to serve, transfer the hot sandwiches to a cooling rack so they won’t get soggy while you cook the remaining sandwiches.
Tip 3: Don’t leave sandwiches covered in the frying pan, as moisture from condensation will make the bread soggy.
Get our classic Reuben sandwich recipe
If you’re like my mom (and me!) and can’t resist ordering a Reuben sandwich when it’s on a deli menu, you’re going to love being able to make them at home. Total time: 30 minutes.
It’s hard to resist a griddled sandwich stuffed with melty Swiss cheese, tangy sauerkraut, sweet Thousand Island dressing, and salty corned beef. And now you don’t have to.
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