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10 Tips You Need When Making Reuben Sandwiches

Reuben sandwich with ingredients
Reuben sandwich with ingredients - Static Media / Shutterstock

Few sandwiches have a cult status like the Reuben. Known most commonly for its rye bread, stacked corned beef, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and sauerkraut, it's a flavor and texture explosion. It's an almost perfect bite, encompassing salty, sweet, sour, and umami. Along with the crispness of the toasted rye and the gooey melted cheese, it's hard not to love. While the origins of the Reuben sandwich are hotly contested, it's undeniably one of the classics of American deli sandwiches.

There are variations on Reuben ingredients depending on where you go, which use pastrami or turkey instead of corned beef, or Thousand Island dressing instead of Russian dressing. Rye is the standard bread choice, but some people use sourdough or different types of rye, like marbled, dark rye, or pumpernickel. Then there are the unconventional takes on it, like the redneck Reuben with beef brisket and barbecue sauce. However you make this sandwich can be completely customizable (albeit untraditional) if you follow the basic formula for a Reuben, choosing a sturdier or maltier bread, salty meat, cheese, a tangy dressing, and a pickled salad.

The payoff is high for something quite simple to make, rewarding you with a hot sandwich that you can have as a delicious lunch or snack in a couple minutes. There are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you get the best results. Here are the tips you need when making Reuben sandwiches.

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Let Your Butter Come To Room Temperature First

person buttering slices of bread
person buttering slices of bread - Vladislav Noseek/Shutterstock

Making the perfect grilled or hot pressed sandwich like a Reuben calls for the bread to be generously buttered. This is not the place to try to cut down on fat, because that's what's going to help your bread toast to perfection and get the crunch you're after. Buttering your bread on both sides is recommended for the yummy richness, but one side will do the trick too.

We all know the pain of trying to coat your bread with cold butter and ending up with clumps because it's not spreadable. However, a good Reuben sandwich needs an even layer of butter all over the bread to get the right crust, especially when using rye bread that tends to be a little tougher than other breads, and benefits from some grease.

To avoid the anguish of trying to spread cold butter, make this step a breeze by thinking ahead. Take your butter out of the fridge for at least half an hour before you use it so it can come to room temperature. It'll soften up enough for you to be able to spread it on more easily. If you're too impatient to wait, you can microwave your butter for 10 seconds, but not any longer, so that it's soft but still solid. Liquid butter can be as much of a nightmare to evenly spread on bread as hard butter.

Place The Sauerkraut In A Sieve To Remove Excess Liquid

open jar of sauerkraut
open jar of sauerkraut - New Africa/Shutterstock

One of the characteristics of a Reuben sandwich is the inclusion of sauerkraut. Made of fermented shredded cabbage, this German staple used to be considered a bit of an old-fashioned food in delis and diners, but it's had a kind of revival in recent years. Hailed as a good-for-your-gut food, sauerkraut is naturally high in probiotics due to the fermentation process. Still, it can be polarizing because, well, it's fermented cabbage, and not everyone loves the pungent, sour taste. This sharpness is what makes it the perfect ingredient for a Reuben. It works perfectly to balance the salty, fatty flavor which is begging for a hit of something acidic and sour.

It also adds some needed moisture. However, there's a fine line when adding a wet ingredient to any sandwich, and a Reuben is no different. Too much moisture from the sauerkraut can lead to soggy bread, which isn't ideal. Sauerkraut usually comes in a jar full of brine, which you'll want to shake off before adding the sour veggies to your Reuben. One way to do so is to strain the sauerkraut in a sieve before adding. This will drain off any excess brine, and you'll be left with the crisp sauerkraut without unwanted juice.

Toast Your Bread On Both Sides

person pulling bread from toaster
person pulling bread from toaster - Cocosan/Getty Images

The crust of a pressed sandwich is just as important as the fillings, and can make a big difference to your eating experience. It's much more enjoyable to bite into a sandwich that's crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Something you want to avoid is that soggy, wet softness on your bread that comes from adding a juicy vegetable, pickle, or saucy dressing. Even melted cheese can lead to mush if you're not careful. Knowing that a Reuben has many of these components — including melted cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing — means that there's a high chance of sogginess. There is a way to avoid this beyond draining your sauerkraut: You can toast your bread on both sides.

Usually when you grill a sandwich or use a hot press, it's only the outside edge of the bread that gets toasted, and the inner side is prone to absorbing all the moisture. Having a crisp layer on each side of your bread makes it less likely to turn into mush. This is why toasting both sides is imperative.

There are a number of ways to do so. Put your bread slices in the toaster before adding the sandwich fillings and pressing your Reuben. You can also grill each slice on both sides in your pan, before you add the fillings and close it. Either way, you're guaranteed a more delicious crunch.

Make Your Own Russian Dressing

white bowl of Russian dressing
white bowl of Russian dressing - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

For those seeking a quick fix without spending more time than they need to, store-bought Russian dressing will suffice (or the slightly sweeter Thousand Island dressing, which is also used in Reubens). However, to truly take your Reuben sandwich to the next level, nothing beats making your own Russian dressing from scratch. Not only are you avoiding the extra additives and sugar often found in store-bought dressings, but the homemade taste is superior. In truth, making dressing from scratch is impossibly simple to do, and you might already have everything you need to make it.

For a delicious and easy Russian dressing, you'll need mayonnaise, ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, an onion, and salt. Mince your onion finely, and mix it with the rest of the ingredients for a tangy, sumptuous Russian dressing. You can also use shallots, add some sriracha, or mix in lemon juice, among other flavor additions you might prefer. That's the benefit of making your own sauce from scratch — you can customize it to your taste, and add a little less or more of something depending on if you like it sweeter, tangier, or spicier.

Use Garlic Butter

garlic butter with herbs
garlic butter with herbs - Ahirao_photo/Getty Images

A Reuben sandwich is already a multifaceted creation with dynamic flavors, which is why it is so beloved by many. It doesn't need any additions or substitutions, but life would be boring without twists. There's a way to take this deli classic to new heights in a really easy way. Garlic butter knocks a Reuben sandwich out of the park.

Garlic lovers will immediately understand why this would make a Reuben even more delectable, but for those who are skeptical, it's worth a try to see how truly delicious this can be. Garlic butter adds a level of complexity to the already rich sandwich, and complements the horseradish in the dressing and the saltiness of the corned beef. Not to mention that garlic bread is already a comfort food, so why not slather garlic butter on your bread to make a garlic-bread Reuben?

You can buy garlic butter, or make your own by adding minced garlic to softened butter. Also, you don't need to stop at garlic butter. There are other flavored butters that can also be just as tasty. Try a truffle butter for a more luxurious Reuben, or perhaps a miso butter for some added umami. The possibilities are endless, and it's an easy way to get creative with your Reuben.

Try Different Substitutes

rye sandwich with coleslaw
rye sandwich with coleslaw - Andrea Skjold Mink/Shutterstock

There are Reuben enthusiasts who insist that you must use corned beef for it to be called a Reuben — but if you're not a purist, there are ways to customize your sandwich to suit your preferences or dietary needs. If you struggle with health issues regarding red meat or foods that are high in sodium, this doesn't mean you have to miss out on the deliciousness. There's an easy protein swap for a leaner Reuben sandwich — instead of corned beef, use turkey. It's a lighter choice, and unlike corned beef, it's more versatile and can be used in numerous Reuben variations.

Turkey works just as well as corned beef, and has the same deli-meat notes you want in its taste. Plus, the milder-tasting turkey will allow the sauerkraut and horseradish flavors to shine even brighter, allowing you to experience the same Reuben flavors from a different angle. Adding turkey to a Reuben is actually quite popular, and when the sauerkraut is replaced with coleslaw, the sandwich is called a Rachel or a California Reuben. While it's a milder tasting sandwich overall, it still hits all the notes that people love about Reubens, and allows people who don't like sauerkraut or corned beef to enjoy it.

The Cheese-Melting Technique Is Key

Reuben sandwich on wooden board
Reuben sandwich on wooden board - S_Images.com/Shutterstock

The key to a good Reuben is perfectly melted Swiss cheese that becomes soft and gooey when you bite into it. But people making Reubens at home might have had this experience before: After thinking the sandwich looked ready, with the bread nicely browned and toasted, they take their first bite and notice that the cheese is still unmelted. This is because Swiss cheese has a higher melting temperature than mozzarella, brie, or other cheeses that melt easily.

There are different ways to make sure the cheese melts on your Reuben. Some advice suggests using thinner layers of corned beef so that the heat better reaches through the meat to the cheese. You can also place bread slices in your warm pan topped with only the cheese, wait until it melts, and then add your remaining fillings before closing your sandwich.

Another way is to warm all the fillings first, including the bread, before assembling the sandwich. In a separate pan, heat up the corned beef and sauerkraut first, so that these ingredients are already hot before touching the cheese. This helps the Swiss cheese melt by heating it from inside the sandwich as well as outside. If you're using a skillet to make your Reuben, you can also add a little bit of water to the pan while you warm your sandwich and cover it. The steam created by the water will permeate your sandwich and melt the cheese faster.

Fresh Bread Always Wins

variety of bread loaves
variety of bread loaves - Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock

There's no denying that rye bread is a key characteristic of a classic Reuben. Whether it's marbled, dark rye, or pumpernickel, the malty, earthy taste of rye adds a lot of substance to the sandwich. For people who don't like the taste of rye, you can use sourdough to achieve something close — it's completely up to you, and you are free to do as you please in your own home. But whichever bread you go with, you're only going to make a superior sandwich if you use fresh-baked bread. Processed bread simply doesn't have the same bite, texture, and taste. Using freshly baked bread in your Reuben will make it infinitely better.

Home bakers might attempt to make bread from scratch, but that might be too ambitious for most people. Supporting your local artisanal bakery is a great option, especially when looking for rye bread. American households often rely heavily on store-bought bread more than in other parts of the world, where neighborhood bakeries are the norm. What makes artisanal bread bakers so special is that they use quality ingredients and are knowledgeable about different types of bread. The bakers can usually give great advice on the best loaves to use for varying purposes to make the bread taste as good as can be. Plus, there's the added benefit of supporting a local artisan who is preserving and furthering the skill of handmade bread production.

Bake Multiple Reubens At Once

three toasted Reuben sandwiches
three toasted Reuben sandwiches - Chas53/Getty Images

If you're making Reuben sandwiches, you'll thank yourself later by making more than one. There's nothing worse than doing all the prep to make the perfect sandwich, only to feel like you want another one after taking your last bite. Making a Reuben isn't as easy as making a grilled cheese, so knocking a few out in one go is a wise idea.

Just as you can make a batch of baked grilled cheese in the oven, you can make multiple Reubens, too. Rather than standing over a stovetop and trying your best to flip your sandwich in one piece, or making them in a sandwich press one at a time, use your oven and save yourself a lot of effort while preparing enough Reubens to serve yourself and others.

Lay down a piece of parchment or baking paper on a baking tray. This will prevent your bread from sticking, and make cleaning up a cinch when you're done. Add slices of buttered bread to the baking tray, butter-side down. Then, add a layer of Russian dressing to each slice. Add your Swiss cheese, deli meat, and sauerkraut. Add another slice of cheese if you like your Reuben extra gooey. Lastly, top with your remaining slices of bread, butter-side up. An added bonus is that there's no need to toast your bread first for this method. It will get nice and crisp in the oven, without the risk of getting soggy.

The Right Side Dishes Matter

stacked Reuben sandwiches with pickles
stacked Reuben sandwiches with pickles - from my point of view/Shutterstock

A Reuben is the complete package when it comes to sandwiches, offering everything you need to enjoy a perfect bite. They really don't need to be served with side dishes, but if you're going to the effort of making a Reuben, the right sides can complement it perfectly, giving you a more complete meal.

A traditional side for a Reuben sandwich in line with its deli origins is a simple serving of dill pickles and potato chips. That will give you something sour and juicy in the pickle, and salty and crunchy in the chips, making for incredibly satisfying bites alongside your rich Reuben sandwich. Plus, you can dedicate your time and energy to the sandwich, since opening a bag of chips and a jar of pickles couldn't be easier.

However, if you're making Reubens at home to feed your family, there are plenty of other sides that will complement the sandwiches and make the meal more nutritious. Similar to grilled cheese, a Reuben goes great with a side of salad or soup. Which side depends on the season, because nothing is more comforting in colder weather than a bowl of warm soup with a hot pressed sandwich. Traditional tomato soup works great, but you can also choose a less acidic option like potato soup to let your Reuben flavors take center stage. On warmer days, a fresh green salad or tangy coleslaw makes the perfect side to a Reuben.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.