12 Tips You Need For Making The Best Reuben Sandwich At Home

When you're craving a savory and hearty sandwich, nothing beats a Reuben. There's a reason you'll find this sandwich on the menu at any good diner or delicatessen. The tanginess of the Swiss cheese and sauerkraut perfectly complements the salty corned beef, making for a deliciously robust flavor profile. 


While all you need to make a Reuben is five ingredients — rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing — we often associate this classic sandwich with dining out. But there's no reason you can't whip up a Reuben in the comfort of your own home. Some of the ingredients may seem daunting at first since corned beef and sauerkraut may not be on your weekly grocery list. However, when you know what to look for, shopping for Reuben ingredients is very straightforward.

Choosing your ingredients wisely is half the battle when it comes to making the perfect Reuben. It's also essential to make sure the cheese melts properly and the bread doesn't get soggy, both of which are easy to achieve if you know what you're doing. With the help of these 12 tips, you'll be able to whip a Reuben that no one will believe is homemade.


1. Choose your corned beef wisely

The best Reubens are stuffed with a generous amount of sliced corned beef. As the star of the Reuben, it's imperative that you don't settle for low quality meat if you want a delicious sandwich.

Jake Dell, the owner of Manhattan's famous Katz's Delicatessen, told Chowhound that you should skip the "crappy canned stuff" altogether. "I would recommend not getting something that has that, like, chemical taste to it. You really want something that's truly just that salt flavor," Dell explained. You can find corned beef at your local grocery store deli or buy it online. Dell also noted that Katz's Deli's corned beef takes approximately four weeks to cure, and can be shipped across the country for at-home consumption.


Dell also recommended corned beef made from brisket. "In theory, you could turn anything into a corned beef," he said, explaining that the term "corned" simply refers to the pickling process. "But some [meats] are just going to turn out better than others texturally and flavor-wise, the way it absorbs that salt. And traditionally for delicatessens, that's always been brisket cut of meat."

In addition to the quality and the type of beef, you should also consider the cut. There are two different types of brisket cuts: Flat and point cut. Flat cut is leaner and more even than a point cut, and therefore, lends itself better to sliced strips of meat, like the type you want for the perfect Reuben sandwich.


2. Make your own sauerkraut

While you can find sauerkraut in most supermarkets, you miss out on some of the flavor and nutritional benefits that come with making your own. There are differences between raw and canned sauerkraut; the former is rich in probiotics as compared to the latter. These probiotics, which are great for gut health, are lost during the pasteurization process which makes canning sauerkraut possible. Canned sauerkraut also has a milder flavor and is more wilted in texture.


All you need to make sauerkraut at home are shredded vegetables and some herbs and spices. Cabbage is the most popular main component, but you can customize your Reuben by using kale or Brussels sprouts instead. You can also experiment with adding different spices, such as dill, fennel, and caraway seeds. Getting creative with your sauerkraut will make your homemade Reuben fresher tasting and more memorable. "Get a little funky with it," Jake Dell said of homemade sauerkraut. "You could have a sauerkraut in 15 minutes if you wanted to. Or you could do one that takes a week or two."

3. Pick the right Swiss cheese

The reason Swiss cheese is perfect for a Reuben is because it melts well and has a mild flavor that allows the stronger flavors of the sandwich to shine through. Look for an aged Emmental Swiss cheese when shopping for your Reuben ingredients at your local grocery store, and don't be afraid to conduct a taste test before you start cooking to make sure the flavor is right.


"You want more of the milder flavor, or the ones where the flavor is rich but not super sharp," said Jake Dell. "You already have a lot of that coming through the saltiness of the corned beef and the tanginess of the sauerkraut. So you don't want something that's super pungent necessarily, and there are some Swiss cheeses that are more pungent than others. You can get a full flavor without it being kind of aggressive at the same time."

4. Opt for fresh bread

Rye bread is an integral part of a Reuben. Jake Dell said that he has seen the sandwich made with sourdough, which he finds "interesting," but he emphasized that rye is the best way to go. The unique earthy, malty flavor of rye bread pairs perfectly with the savory fillings, making every bite delicious.


The quality of your bread is just as important as the type of bread you choose. Pre-sliced, processed bread does not have the same robust flavor or springy texture as a freshly baked loaf. You don't have to bake your own bread at home to make a great sandwich (although you can if you're feeling ambitious). All you need to do is stop by your local bakery and your homemade Reuben will go from mediocre to mouthwatering.

In addition to making your Reuben taste better, fresh bread is essential for preserving the structure of the sandwich. Store-bought bread is often too thin to hold the substantial amount of fillings in a Reuben. When you buy a fresh loaf, you can control how thickly you slice it, cutting off pieces that are big enough to withstand a sizable serving of corned beef and sauerkraut.


5. Make your own Russian dressing

Similar to the advantages of making your own sauerkraut, homemade Russian dressing makes for a tastier and slightly healthier Reuben. You can avoid undesirable additives that come with store-bought dressings, including artificial flavors and refined sugars. Instead, you'll have nothing but the fresh ingredients that make up the spicy, tangy greatness that is Russian dressing.


All you need for an easy Russian dressing is ketchup, mayonnaise, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, onion, and salt. Some people like to add hot sauce or lemon juice for a little extra kick. That's the beauty of making your own dressing — you can experiment with the proportions and ingredients to suit your palette. You also have the option of making Thousand Island dressing instead, which is commonly used for Reubens in place of Russian dressing. The two dressings are exactly the same except Thousand Island dressing omits horseradish, making it a little sweeter and less spicy.

6. Use room temperature butter

The key to giving your Reuben the perfect crunch is to generously butter the rye bread before you toast it. Some people like to butter both sides of the bread and some even prefer to use garlic butter to enhance the flavor of the sandwich. Whatever your preference, opt for butter that has reached room temperature rather than a stick right out of the fridge.


Using room temperature butter allows you to spread an even layer across the entire slice of bread. Cold butter won't spread as easily and you'll end up with clumps. Without an even, generous layer of fat on the bread — mayonnaise also works well in place of butter — you won't achieve the satisfying crunch that characterizes a perfect Reuben.

Your best bet is to plan ahead and take the butter out of the fridge about half an hour before you're ready to start making your Reuben. If you forget, you can always stick the butter in the microwave in 10-second increments. Don't leave it in the microwave for any longer or you'll end up with liquid butter, which is just as difficult to work with as hard butter.


7. Don't let the bread get soggy

Although sauerkraut adds some needed moisture to a Reuben, too much moisture will leave you with soggy bread. That's the last thing you want after going to the trouble of properly buttering your rye slices so they're toasted to perfection. Not only does a soggy Reuben rob you of that appetizing crunch, it also makes for a messy experience as the moist bread struggles to withstand the weight of all that corned beef. 


Luckily, it's easy to avoid soggy bread when making a Reuben. All you need to do is drain your sauerkraut of excess brine using a sieve. You may want to push down on the sauerkraut with a spoon or fork to squeeze out all the moisture. This step is especially important if you use canned sauerkraut, which typically comes in a can filled with brine.

You can also combat sogginess by toasting both sides of the bread, which makes it more crispy overall and therefore, better able to stand up to any lingering moisture. You can place your bread in a toaster or grill each slice on both sides in a pan before adding the other fillings.

8. Let the cheese melt before assembling the sandwich

No one likes biting into a Reuben only to find that the cheese is cold and hard. You want that soft, gooey texture for your Swiss, which means paying special attention to the cheese before you assemble the rest of the sandwich.


"There's a variety of ways you can do it," Jake Dell said in regards to melting cheese for a Reuben. "You can almost treat it like an open-faced grilled cheese if you wanted to toast the bread and have a nice melted cheese that way. You can melt the Swiss just on a plate and then scrape it off that plate and melt it over your Reuben. You could put it on a bed of sauerkraut and stick that in the microwave or on the stovetop."

If you want the cheese to continue melting after you've finished assembling your Reuben, simply warm up the corned beef ahead of time in a separate pan. When every component of the sandwich is nice and hot before you press that second slice of bread on top, you'll be guaranteed perfectly melted cheese.


9. Don't skip the panini press

You don't need a panini press to make a good Reuben, but that doesn't mean you should skip the pressing step. Adding some pressure to the sandwich compresses all the ingredients together, which prevents fillings from spilling out and makes every bite of the Reuben more consistent. You can even achieve appetizing grill marks at home without any fancy equipment.


All you need is a piece of heavy cookware, such as a cast iron skillet, a weighted plate, a pan weighed down by heavy cans, or a brick wrapped in foil. Place your object of choice on top of the sandwich and continue cooking for a few minutes, pressing down occasionally to get grill marks. Then flip the Reuben over and repeat the same process on the opposite side. Your Reuben will look and taste diner-ready and you won't have to deal with corned beef and sauerkraut spilling out the sides of the sandwich.

10. Use the oven

You might feel that making a Reuben is a lot of effort just to make one meal for one person. If that's deterring you from trying it out, why not make a larger batch of sandwiches all at once? Instead of toasting each slice of bread individually and hovering over the stovetop waiting for each piece of cheese to melt, save yourself some time by using the oven.


Simply butter each piece of bread and then lay them down on a baking tray. Next, add some of your Russian dressing to each slice before piling on the Swiss cheese, corned beef, and sauerkraut. Top it all off with a second slice of bread, buttered on top. You don't need to toast the bread in advance when you use the oven, which makes the process much simpler. 10 minutes in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit should do the trick, and you'll have Reubens you can share with loved ones or put in the fridge to eat another day.

11. Put some thought in to the side dishes

Part of what makes getting a Reuben at a deli or a diner so satisfying are the side dishes that come with it. You can easily recreate that experience at home by putting a little thought into what you'd like to put on the plate next to your sandwich. Potato chips and dill pickles are classic Reuben pairings, and including them in your meal is as easy as picking them up from the grocery store.


If you feel like putting a little more effort into the side dishes, then potato salad, cole slaw, and French fries all go great with Reubens. You could also opt for a side salad or soup. No matter what direction you decide to go with your side dishes, you'll feel like you've stepped out of your kitchen and into a bustling New York restaurant. Reubens are filling and flavorful enough on their own, but tasty side dishes will complement the sandwich perfectly and make the meal feel more complete.

12. Experiment with corned beef substitutes

One of the many benefits of making a Reuben at home is that you get to customize it to your taste. Although Reubens are traditionally made with corned beef, you can experiment with other types of meat. While pastrami Reubens are a popular variation, Jake Dell doesn't consider it his favorite.


"We've done pastrami Reubens here [at Katz's Deli] plenty of times, and to me, that's a lot of flavors," Dell told Chowhound, adding, "If I'm gonna have a pastrami, I just want it on rye with mustard. I think turkey works wonderful with a Reuben ... I wouldn't use the cold cut stuff, to be clear. I would use real turkey."

Turkey is a good alternative to a classic Reuben as it typically has less saturated fat than beef. You can also make a vegetarian Reuben with tempeh, seitan, or thinly sliced beets. Or you can simply enjoy the flavors of sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on their own. 

While there are different ways to approach a Reuben, from how you melt your cheese to whether you use a panini press, the stovetop or the oven, you're guaranteed a great sandwich with the help of these simple tips. "If you're paying attention to what you're putting into that sandwich, I do think there's more than one way to make a perfect Reuben," Dell said.