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What makes for a great sandwich?

ipsedixit Dec 20, 2006 05:57 PM

Well, what is it?

Is it the bread?

The meats?

The toppings, e.g. lettuce, tomato, sprouts, etc.?

The spread, e.g. mayo, mustard, [insert exotic name] dressing?

Well, of course it's probably a combination of all (and probably some additional) factors listed above.

But, the question I pose is what's the most important thing to making a sandwich great?

For example, with burgers it's pretty easy to say that the patty is the key ingredient. We can all lard our burgers with cheeses, ketchup, mustard, bacon, etc., but it all comes down to the hamburger patty. If the patty ain't good, the best bacon in the world is only going to get you a BLT, not a hamburger.

So, is there a similar defining ingredient for a sandwich?

  1. soypower Dec 24, 2006 07:59 AM

    when we owned a sandwich shop, i think the thing that made our sandwiches taste better than everyone else's was the order of ingredients:

    from the bottom to the top:

    lower half of french bread
    oil & vinegar, salt & pepper
    top half of bread, spread with mayo & mustard

    this order of ingredients allows the wet ingredients to mingle with the dry ingredients while ensuring that nothing too slippery is next to anything else that's too slippery.

    this of course is secondary to good quality ingredients...:o)

    1 Reply
    1. re: soypower
      Davwud Dec 24, 2006 03:11 PM

      That's a good sandwich.


    2. e
      elise h Dec 24, 2006 03:09 AM

      A number of hounds have stated that the meat should be thinly sliced. I agree. I wonder why that does that make a difference, versus the same amount of meat in thicker slices. Any thoughts?

      4 Replies
      1. re: elise h
        Davwud Dec 24, 2006 03:11 PM

        More surface area.
        More surface area, the more the oils from the meat can get out and mingle.
        It also seems make the sandwich less dense. Even if you stack the meat the way it was sliced.


        1. re: elise h
          revsharkie Dec 24, 2006 08:03 PM

          If you have thick slices of some meats, it becomes hard to bite through and your sandwich falls apart. (Roast beef is a major culprit in this respect.)

          1. re: revsharkie
            HillJ Dec 24, 2006 08:12 PM

            Not for nothing but I'd also be afraid of choking on the sandwich.

            1. re: revsharkie
              chef chicklet Dec 26, 2006 05:29 PM

              Or in the case of egg salad it squishes out and then your left with the remains of soggy bread and dangling lettuce.

              Cut your liverworst too thick, one can't taste the mustard and onion... and If you loose the integrity of that divine sandwich that is just sinful.

              So it's about balance and construction.

          2. a
            Atlantis Dec 24, 2006 02:01 AM

            For me, it's nostalgia, but the sensory sensations are almost - almost - as powerful as the memories.

            White bread, Sunbeam. An open jar of Hellman's mayonnaise, and my mother slicing a ripe, red tomato that is so perfect, I can smell it from the kitchen table where I saw, awaiting my summer lunch, the one for which she called me in from playing with my friends out in the alley.

            She spreads a lot of mayonnaise on the bread, because that was her way, and then she puts the top on the sandwich, which is far too big for my small hands, cuts it diagonally, and presents it to me with a tall glass of cold milk.

            There is always a dribble of mayonnaise on the edge of the white bread, already tinged with tomato juice and seeds, and, as I lick it off, I do not know that, years later, with my mother long gone, I can still feel that soft white bread in my soft little hands, I can still feel my tongue snake around to lick off that extra mayonnaise, and, the best of all, I can see my mother smiling at me as I bite in what is surely the most wonderful tomato sandwich that was ever made.

            1. l
              lucyis Dec 24, 2006 12:59 AM

              BobB I agree with your deconstruction of the NYC deli sandwich.
              To quote the late gourmet/gourmand Alan sherman
              "Do not make a stingy sandwich.
              Pile the cold cuts high.
              Customers should see salami
              Coming through the rye."
              Happy Holidays...may all your corned beef be lean and all your sandwiches be balanced:)

              1. Will Owen Dec 23, 2006 06:45 PM

                The bread, whatever kind you use, has to be strong enough to not crumble in your hands, and tender enough so that you can bite through it easily. I *HATE* those rolls too many sub places in LA use, with a leathery crust and cottony crumb, so that when you bite down the whole thing just collapses and the innards goosh out the sides! We have a neighborhood place that makes wonderful subs, but I wish they'd find a different bread supplier.

                Aside from that, it's hard to find a sandwich that won't please me, so long as the bread is dressed enough to moisten it just enough. I'm fine with iceberg lettuce, cheap salami or bologna, too much mayonnaise (but NO Miracle Whip!), liverwurst - in fact, one of my favorite sandwiches (since I was about 9!) is liverwurst, Swiss cheese, sliced HB egg and plenty of mayo on either sourdough or good homemade white bread.

                When I was working in Silicon Valley back in the early '70s there were lots of little delis that made wonderful sandwiches to order. We would rotate among three in particular, one English, one German and one Italian: roast beef and Wensleydale one day, goose-liver paté with pistachios and Gruyere the next, mortadella and provolone the next. More than made up for long hours and lousy pay...

                1. s
                  Sharuf Dec 23, 2006 09:35 AM

                  There once existed in downtown SF the ultimate, all-time best sandwich shop. It was called Goldberg Bowen, and they featured super-fresh sliced sourdough (and other breads as well, of course). They were just down the street from my office, so on my frequent visits I was always torn by the Big Decision: Crab salad? Shrimp Salad? That lovely rare roast beef? Their tasty perfected version of egg salad? They would dress up the sandwiches to your specifications and give you gratis a slice of Swiss cheese and a dill pickle spear.

                  Goldberg Bowen was the gold standard against which I judge other sandwich counters.

                  1. jfood Dec 22, 2006 12:42 PM

                    A great sandwich need not be expensive, cheap, high end or low end, it jut needs to be satisfying. My favorite sandwich growing up was a BLT with mayo on white toast (the round bread in the market). Sometimes half through I would find myself with only some bacon, mayo and bread, still great, and then further in I might find the last bite only mayo and toast, still great. But if I were to post a mayo on toasted wonder bread on this site, OMG.

                    Every day brings a different desire and the "perfect" sandwich with one exception. The PERFECT sandwich must not cause damage to the roof of my mouth. How many times have I bit into a wonderful concoction only to find after I am done that the crust was so "crusty" that a layer of skin is missing. No matter how tasty, dealing with this all afternoon and into the night definitely takes away from the experience.

                    As for my favorite, its toss up between a Carnegie Deli Pastrami, a Carnegie Deli Corned Beef or a Carnegie Deli Corned Beef and Pastrami combo, any of these on rye bread. Some good brown (not yellow) mustard, potato salad and some pickles (half-sour) on the side. Washed down with some cream soda (others will place Cel-Ray here). Oh Yeah Baby!!! :-)))

                    1. a
                      andlulu Dec 22, 2006 01:29 AM

                      The spread matters the most to me.

                      Many of sandwich have been ruined by not enough spread, too much spread or just gross spread. Whether it be too salty,too sweet, or just masks the other goodies in the sandwich all together.

                      1. c
                        coxie Dec 21, 2006 11:57 PM

                        I always start with the following:
                        1. Fresh bread - any style, white, sourdough, turkish, whatever, fresher the better and thick sliced. I'm not a fan of flat bread or wraps.
                        2. Butter or aioli, never margarine, sometimes EV olive oil
                        3. Vegemite - a scrape adds saltiness and an undefinable taste

                        Anything else depends on the balance of textures and tastes.
                        My favourite is ham (the most expensive I can find), sharp cheddar cheese, roma tomatoes and any kind of lettuce except iceberg, and occasionally a scrape of seeded mustard.
                        Other combos:
                        Bacon, free-range chicken, avocado, aioli, white pepper
                        Roast beef and ketchup, lots of butter
                        Jambon et fromage baguette from Paris (never tastes the same anywhere else, I think they use emmental cheese)

                        1. DonShirer Dec 21, 2006 11:11 PM

                          I like many kinds of sandwiches, but I think what my favorites share is an interesting texture. Too soggy or too dry does not cut it.

                          1. m
                            mpollmann Dec 21, 2006 04:24 PM

                            i would say a great sandwich is all about balance and the bread quality. in my opinion, if you don't have the bread, it's not a sandwich, so it makes sense to me that the bread is most important. beyond that, the sandwich filling is crucial. i think the sandwich should be more than just the sum of it's parts. a good sandwich would be represented by the sandwich that loses quality if you were to minimize one ingredient, or put too much of another in.

                            1. f
                              feelinpeckish Dec 21, 2006 01:15 PM

                              Good ingredients (not necessarily specific ones either) which go together, moist spread(s) whether mayo or mustard or tomato based, a very good bread/roll but not as thick as the often illustrated sandwiches in food mag/tv shows etc. You must be able to get your mouth around it with ease and not soil yourself in the process.

                              1. Davwud Dec 21, 2006 12:09 PM

                                As a friend of mine once said, "Sometimes there's nothing like a good sandwich" to which I replied, "Always, there's nothing like a good sandwich."

                                As some have stated above, it's all about balance. The sandwich is not good if the bread is wrong. Or the filling is wrong or whatever.

                                You need the perfect balance of bread, filling (Meat, cheese, PB &J, etc) and condiment/vegetation.

                                If any is out of whack or just plain out of place, it won't be as good.


                                1. MeffaBabe Dec 21, 2006 11:37 AM

                                  My all time fav sandwich is on a crusty white bread roll (Like a french bread baquette only the white bread texture) DePalma procuitto, the freshest red tomatoes, the freshest mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar... HEAVEN
                                  Als Subs Shop in Boston comes real close to my own homemade version of this delightful sandwich... I may have to get one for lunch today!

                                  1. SanseiDesigns Dec 21, 2006 04:10 AM

                                    Gpod bread, good meats, good condiments, good company. A great sandwich is even better when the company with whom you are enjoying it makes the meal memorable!

                                    1. d
                                      dustchick Dec 21, 2006 04:06 AM

                                      I think it's all about balancing simple quality ingredients. My SO still raves about the sandwich we had at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville: baguette, ham, gruyere, dijon mustard...that's it. Just the right amount of each fine ingredient. Mmm...

                                      1. revsharkie Dec 21, 2006 03:34 AM

                                        I went off sandwiches for quite some time because my ex-in-laws, with whom I lived for a time, thought day-old white bread that was purchased for 20 cents a loaf and put in the freezer for a month or two was quite acceptable for sandwiches. I found it like trying to eat cardboard.

                                        My favorite homemade sandwiches have meat (either ham or roast beef, generally, although good corned beef has its place too) with some kind of cheese--my favorite is that Lorraine Swiss that has the lacy little holes in it. With roast beef I want horseradish. Then I grill them in the pan with butter on the outsides, till the cheese melts. I have been getting some nice rare roast beef, thinly sliced, and make the sandwiches out of that.

                                        The bread needs to be whole wheat or multigrain. I don't like rye bread or especially not white bread, which turns almost immediately to a doughy lump stuck to my teeth. I don't generally like veggies on my sandwiches, especially not lettuce. If I go to Subway I will let them put onions, peppers, olives & pickled banana peppers on, but there just isn't any reason, in my opinion, to wreck a good sandwich with iceberg lettuce. (Back before the e.coli scare they used to have fresh spinach, but they took it away then and it hasn't come back. I did like that, although they were awfully chintzy with it.)

                                        1. chef chicklet Dec 20, 2006 09:43 PM

                                          cold crisp lettuce and tomatoes and just the right amount of mayo or mustard. Too much mayo - YUCK!

                                          With a burger its would be the temperature of the meat and how tasty it is... medium rare please!

                                          1. k
                                            kotatsu Dec 20, 2006 09:19 PM

                                            Agree with the posters who said bread is the key ingredient. I like lightly toasted rye. Almost any sandwich tastes good to me on lightly toasted rye bread. For my Southern California chowhound friends, I'll so far as to say the ___ Farms rye bread in the green wrapper at Albertons. Haven't found this bread anywhere else.

                                            A little bit of thinly sliced red onion on a cold sandwich is always nice.

                                            And if you live in a place outside California, try the Kraft Creamy Italian dressing on a sandwich. omg!! Like mayo, but packs more punch.

                                            1. s
                                              swsidejim Dec 20, 2006 08:13 PM

                                              My criteria:

                                              1) Good Bread, where I live in chicago, that typically means a gonnella roll (kaiser, or sub roll) for me. gotta be fresh...
                                              2) Thinly sliced deli meats, sliced that day ( capicola,corned beef, roast beef, turkey, mortadella, etc..
                                              3) a couple of slices of cheese ( swiss, provolone, munster)
                                              4) A little lettuce, some tomato, and mine have to have onions
                                              5) Mayo, and maybe a little Grey Poupon. and if i am having an italian sub, some italian dressing...

                                              1. blue room Dec 20, 2006 08:08 PM

                                                What makes a sandwich good? After the user-specific ingredients, I think it's moisture content!

                                                1. m
                                                  marlie202 Dec 20, 2006 07:53 PM

                                                  fresh italian bread,proscutto,mozzarella,sundried tomatoes in olive oil

                                                  1. ajs228 Dec 20, 2006 07:51 PM

                                                    It's not any one ingredient. It is the harmonious mingling of all the ingredients. The bread should compliment the condiment should compliment the cheese should compliment the meat. A great sandwich is greater than the sum of its parts.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: ajs228
                                                      chowser Dec 20, 2006 07:54 PM

                                                      I agree--because you could have a great bread and great insides/condiments that don't go with that type of bread and it wouldn't be great. It all has to work together.

                                                      1. re: chowser
                                                        notmartha Dec 20, 2006 08:40 PM

                                                        I agree - the combination of the ingredients, how they harmonizes and balances each other. It's the ying and the yang. I like contrasts, so some savory, some sweet, some crispy, some tender. Mush upon mush is hard to take, so is tough cuts with chewy bread.

                                                        It can be as simple as a great baguette, spread with butter, and topped with a few thinly sliced ham in the streets of Paris.

                                                        Or something like the sandwich they sold in a shop at Central Calfornia that I've lifted the recipe: crusty bread topped with roughly smashed blackk olive tapenade, a few slices of salami, and slices of fresh mozzarella and basil. You've got the savory and the slightly sweet (mozzarella), and the soft and the chewy going all at once.

                                                        Of course PB & Jelly goes great with soft bread, not hard crusty rolls...

                                                        Mayo is necessary in some sandwiches, and totally out in others. For instance if you have smashed avocado with turkey mayo is not necessary, but it's a key ingredient if you have a BLT (too dry otherwise). I don't generally use mustard on sandwiches, but on a cuban it works really well to cut the richness of all the cheese and meat.

                                                        I also don't agree that most shops here use the best ingredients.

                                                    2. HillJ Dec 20, 2006 07:44 PM

                                                      The bread is def the foundation of a great sandwich and I agree that even the sandwich turns out to be a dud the bread is still a meal!

                                                      Beyond that moisture is key to a good sandwich...pasty or dry sandwiches ugh! Condiments play an important part but personal preference rules that. Freshness another important element. A sandwich eater can tell in the first bite if the sandwich is made from fresh ingredients.

                                                      1. l
                                                        LStaff Dec 20, 2006 07:40 PM

                                                        For me its about proper preparation since quality ingredients are somewhat common place at most sandwich shops. In my experience people who make sandwiches for a living make the worst sandwiches. I guess after about 50 sandwiches you start to loose the passion for it, but for the life of me can't figure out why it is so hard to put a sandwich together that will stay together while you are eating it. And who in their right mind would put the onions all by themeselves on one side of the meat and not together with the lettuce and tomatoes? And cheese belongs between the meat and veggies, not on top of the veggies next to the bread. All right, I gotta stop now... I'm getting all worked up.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: LStaff
                                                          Tony Miller Dec 24, 2006 08:29 PM

                                                          I agree that ordering the layers correctly makes a huge difference. I once noted at a Carl's Jr that the cook piled the lettuce and tomato and stuff on the top of the bun while the meat and cheese were frying, then piled the meat/cheese onto the lettuce and put on the bun bottom. If you ate it with the bun right-side-up, the cheese was at the bottom (wrong!); if you turn the bun upside down then all the salad stuff is on the bottom (also wrong). I've never liked their burgers since!

                                                        2. Sam Fujisaka Dec 20, 2006 07:26 PM

                                                          The simultaneous integration of all and separate contribution of each ingredient.

                                                          1. m
                                                            malibumike Dec 20, 2006 07:22 PM

                                                            The bread is at least 50% of the importance of a good sandwich, good sourdough bread, or a good italian roll, etc., without it you have a boring sandwich.

                                                            1. BobB Dec 20, 2006 07:04 PM

                                                              The ingredients, of course, but beyond that, a nice even distribution of them so that you get all of that well-crafted goodness in every bite.

                                                              This is actually a pet peeve of mine about New York deli - in all the famous corned beef & pastrami sandwich places (Carnegie, 2nd Ave, etc) the meat is excellent but they serve it as a softball-sized lump in the middle of the bread, leaving the edges bare. Am I the only one who's driven nuts by this?

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: BobB
                                                                Yaxpac Dec 20, 2006 07:07 PM

                                                                well, that is why they give you extra bread. kinda like the extra tortilla with a taco. you use the extra bread for the spillage. Or...you might want to get your sandwhich on a club roll.

                                                                1. re: BobB
                                                                  LStaff Dec 20, 2006 07:43 PM

                                                                  Right. When you buy a sandwich, you shouldn't have to de/re construct it just to be able to eat it.

                                                                2. CocoDan Dec 20, 2006 06:15 PM

                                                                  It has to have outstanding bread. Nothing else matters. If the filling is lousy, you can always dump it and eat the bread.
                                                                  It's the BREAD! Enjoy!

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: CocoDan
                                                                    welle Dec 20, 2006 06:36 PM

                                                                    I was about to say that - BREAD. I didn't realize that until they opened Tony Luke's (Philadelphian import) in NYC. There are tons of places that make cheesesteak sandwiches here, but when Tony Luke's opened here - it was different. The key was the bread, which they supposedly trucked every morning half-baked from somewhere South Jersey. Perfectly crusty on outside and soft and puffy in inside.

                                                                  2. Andiereid Dec 20, 2006 06:07 PM

                                                                    Melted Cheese. Almost any sandwich is better with melted cheese.

                                                                    1. PaulF Dec 20, 2006 06:03 PM

                                                                      I have to think about the real answer to this, but in the immediate I thought you might be interested in this thread:


                                                                      Here, the OP makes the argument that fast food burgers are all about the condiments and the patty is just a vehicle. I thought it was an interesting review of a maligned food.

                                                                      As for this question, I need to ponder. FWIW, it's not the sprouts ...

                                                                      1. Katie Nell Dec 20, 2006 06:01 PM

                                                                        What makes a great sandwich? When someone else makes it!! Seriously, I don't know if it's because we had sandwiches too much growing up, but I cannot and most likely will not eat sandwiches at home, unless it's a grilled cheese! However, I love sandwiches at a good sandwich shop! Hamburgers are different- it's definitely all about the patty, and it's definitely all about medium, at the very least!

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Katie Nell
                                                                          ML8000 Dec 20, 2006 06:25 PM

                                                                          That's exactly what I was thinking...although I'd extend it to if someone at home makes the sandwich.

                                                                          It's weird and I have had discussions before with friends. The only thing I came up with was that as a whole, complete, ready to eat package of goodness, handed to you -- it's great and instant. But as a thing you put together, you see the mundane parts and it's not the same and actually somewhat non-appealing.

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