This Reuben Sandwich recipe layers tender corned beef with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on griddled marble rye. A classic deli indulgence!
I have so much love for the Reuben sandwich. The crisp, buttery rye bread. The creamy Russian dressing and tangy sauerkraut. The gooey Swiss cheese against the salty meat. Someone get the jar of pickles ready and pass me a stack of napkins stat!
The warm, griddled sandwich has been a staple at diners, delicatessens, and luncheonettes across the country for almost 100 years. This classic Reuben sandwich recipe is also another post-St. Patrick’s Day “must” in my house, right along with my cold Corned Beef Sandwich with coleslaw and Corned Beef Hash.
Where Did the Reuben Originate?
The Reuben sandwich originated in America in the early twentieth century. There are two schools of thought as to who first created it, and where. It’s a subject that’s been pretty hotly debated by Reuben enthusiasts and food historians.
One camp traces the first Reuben sandwich recipe to Arnold Reuben of Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City around 1914. The sandwich was called the “Reuben Special” or the “Annette Seelos Special” (named for the actress).
By the descriptions available online, this first appearance at Reuben’s Delicatessen used ham and turkey instead of corned beef, and coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. Certainly a delicious sandwich, but not the hot, grilled corned beef Reuben that later followed on New York deli menus.
Others attribute its creation to 1925 at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, and a grocer named Reuben Kulakofsky. As the story goes, Kulakofsky made the griddled corned beef, swiss, and sauerkraut sandwich for the hotel’s owner, Charles Schimmel, during a poker game. Schimmel liked the sandwich so much that he decided to put it on the hotel’s menu.
Personally, I’m in the Omaha-Kulakofsky camp, especially after reading Who Really Invented the Reuben? from Saveur magazine and Kulakofsky’s granddaughter. It’s an interesting read!
Tips for Making a Really Great Reuben
To make a deli-style Reuben sandwich, a few tips and techniques are key:
- Use thinly-sliced corned beef. If you’re using my Instant Pot Corned Beef or Beer Braised Corned Beef recipes, you’ll have the easiest time cutting thin slices if you chill the corned beef first. You can take the chill off of the slices before assembling the Reuben by steaming them in some of the reserved cooking liquid for just a minute or two. Dry off any excess water before assembling the sandwich.
- Avoid the temptation to overstuff the sandwich. If the sandwich is too thick, it will take too long to warm all the way through on the griddle.
- Let the cheese be your “glue.” I like to layer the Swiss cheese on the bottom and top layers of the sandwich, instead of all in one place. The melted cheese will help hold the sandwich together as you flip it during cooking, and when you eat it.
- Use a good-quality rye bread. I like to use Jewish rye, for its chewy crust and soft, yet sturdy crumb. Whenever possible, I buy marble, which swirls light rye and pumpernickle. You can also use a dark pumpernickle loaf. Look for Jewish rye and pumpernickle breads near the deli counter at the grocery store, or in the bakery section.
- Make homemade Russian Dressing. It doesn’t take long and is especially delicious!
- Gently press down on the sandwich with a spatula while it’s cooking. This will help to compact the layers a bit and heat everything through. You don’t have to weight or press the sandwich, like a panini, but a little pressure with the back of the spatula works wonders.
- Roll up your sleeves, and dig in! The Reuben is a messy sandwich. Sauerkraut will fall out on your plate. Drips of Russian dressing might appear on your hands. Embrace it!
What to Serve with this Reuben Sandwich Recipe
Reubens are pretty substantial on their own, but a few classic deli sides never hurt. We like kettle chips and a half or full sour kosher dill pickles on the side.
Hot, crispy french fries are also a good choice (reminiscent of a New Jersey diner plating), as is a scoop of a warm, vinaigrette-based potato salad. (I find mayonnaise potato salads a little too rich alongside the fatty meat and cheese in a Reuben.)
For beverages, cream soda is a New York deli staple. We also love a good, creamy stout with our Reubens, especially if we’re making them around St. Patrick’s Day.
Reuben Sandwich Recipe
- 2 slices rye bread (preferably, marble)
- 1 tablespoon butter , softened
- 2 tablespoons Russian dressing
- 2 slices Swiss cheese (or more, to taste)
- 3-4 ounces corned beef , thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup sauerkraut , drained
- pickles and potato chips or French fries (for serving)
- Butter one side of each of the slices of rye bread. Spread Russian dressing on the unbuttered sides. Layer the sandwich in the following order: 1 slice of Swiss cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut, and the remaining slice of cheese. Top with the second slice of bread, dressing-side down.
- Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Grill the sandwich until the bread is golden and crispy and the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes per side. Gently press down on the sandwich occasionally with a spatula as it cooks. Serve immediately with pickles and potato chips, French fries, or vinaigrette potato salad.