If you still make a PB&J by spreading loads of greasy peanut butter and sugary jam between slices of flimsy bread, it might be time to take some advice from Keena Tallman, former co-owner of PBJ’s Grilled Gourmet Peanut Butter Jelly Creations, a food cart specializing in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Portland, Oregon. A brick-and-mortar spot followed, but sadly, is now closed. Luckily, you can still utilize Tallman’s expert tips for making a perfect PB&J at home:
Use a Good Peanut Butter
This seems obvious, but it’s also subjective; everyone has their preferred brand of peanut butter, and if that’s Skippy, use what you like. Tallman, however, recommends an all-natural peanut butter, since processed PB can give a greasy texture and sometimes have a bitter flavor. No matter what brand you go for, use the freshest peanut butter possible to ensure it tastes its best (nut oils have a habit of going rancid fairly fast). Chunky or smooth is all a matter of personal taste. The same basic guidelines apply to other nut and seed butters.
Related Reading: How to Make Homemade Nut Butter
Use a Good Jam
Similar to the above advice, try to pick a less processed jelly or jam, but use whatever flavor is your favorite, from classic grape to raspberry, or even orange marmalade. A whole-fruit jam with the least amount of added sugar you can find is Tallman’s recommendation; that way, you can taste the fruit and the sweetness won’t overwhelm your entire sandwich. Feel free to use homemade jam or jelly, or experiment with other store-bought options, like Trade Street Jam Co.‘s blueberry-lemon-basil or blackberry mulled merlot, or BRINS Jams & Marmalade‘s banana or cherry chai flavors.
BRINS Small Batch Sweet Jam Set, 3 for $35 from Food52
For those who want to go beyond the supermarket jelly staples.
Use the Right Bread
Squishy supermarket white bread may be what nostalgia tastes like, but you’ll probably be disappointed if you use it for your sandwich now. That doesn’t mean you want the sturdiest, chewiest loaf you can find, or something studded with nuts and seeds. Tallman found challah to be the ideal option, with the perfect light-yet-rich texture (that also toasts up well) and a neutral enough flavor that it allows the star ingredients to shine through.
Practice Proportion Control
Try to keep your peanut butter and your jelly in roughly equal proportions so they remain in balance and neither one dominates; you also don’t want to overfill your sandwich so your mouth is cemented shut with peanut butter or jelly squishes out all over your shirt with every bite. This is especially important for the next step.
Once you’ve constructed your PB&J, grill it to toasty, gooey perfection. This makes the glass of cold milk on the side even better too. You can toast it as you would a grilled cheese, in a pan over low heat, or use a nonstick panini press or similar appliance (i.e., that Foreman grill you break out for quick quesadillas); even a waffle iron will work, but don’t clamp down too hard lest your fillings ooze out too soon.
Related Reading: These Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich Combos Are Game-Changing
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
You can get as creative with the classic PB&J combo as you want to. One of Tallman’s sandwiches was inspired by the sweet-savory flavors of pad Thai: peanut butter and orange marmalade spread on the bread, with fresh basil, curry powder, and Sriracha. Not the most kid-friendly option, but that’s the beauty of PB&J: It can grow up with us and morph into something new, or it can stick to its roots and take us right back to the Friday afternoons of childhood.
Check out eight more peanut butter and jelly fans’ platonic PB&J sandwich recipes for more inspiration.
The original version of this story was by Blake Smith and Roxanne Webber in 2012. It has been updated with new images, links, and text.
Header image by Chowhound.