How to properly construct a cold-cut sandwich

Reader Ben passes along this image that George Takei shared on Facebook, because f- yeah, the future:


Now I don’t know how George Takei gets down or if I’m supposed to take something he shares on his Facebook page as an endorsement of its beliefs, but who makes a sandwich with two slices of bologna? And while there’s something noble about the precise construction of the sandwich in the bottom right corner, who’s really going to take a knife to bologna?

I get that this is more of a math/puzzle thing than a sandwich thing, but it seems as good a segue as any to discuss the proper way to make sandwiches at home, from cold cuts, to take to work (or school, or on a picnic, or wherever you’re going) and eat at lunch.

It starts at the deli or the deli counter of your local supermarket. If you care about the way your sandwich tastes — and lord knows you do — don’t buy pre-sliced, shrink-wrapped lunchmeats. C’mon. You’re better than that.

You’re going to have to feel out the deli man or woman. Ideally, check out how he’s slicing meat for the person before you. If he produces a thin, even cut without being specifically asked, that’s your guy. If it’s someone who gives samples, bonus. Pretend to browse around the deli until he’s available, like, “oh, maybe I need to buy this dusty old jar of olives!” But don’t buy that jar of olives. Also, be careful about looking creepy while you’re sizing up the person slicing the salami.

Speaking of: Salami’s one of the meats you can request sliced thin and know everything’s going to work out OK. With a good slicer and a conscientious deli man, you can get even slices of salami that are damn-near paper-thin. As an added bonus, salami’s really light, so if you get 1/2 pound of thin-sliced salami you’ll end up with a huge stack of it.

It’s the rest of the meats you need to be careful with for special requests. Most places slice meats pretty thin by default, so if you’re too naggy about it and they go overboard, you could wind up with a pile of practically shredded turkey that’s impossible to separate. That’s bad. Also, you don’t need them to slice cheese thin, and if they do so with softer cheeses, you’ll end up with a huge block of it.

Why do you want lunchmeat sliced thin? It’s about surface area and texture. You don’t want lunchmeat bulk, you want lunchmeat flavor. And big thick hunks of sliceable lunchmeats are going to be chewy and weird. If it’s sliced thin and piled appropriately (more on that in a bit), it should be tender and tasty.

I generally make two-meat sandwiches to keep things interesting. What you pick depends on your tastes and your deli’s selection, but I like to combine a bolder lunchmeat flavor with a more mild one. I tend toward Boar’s Head products because they’re reasonably priced and good.

There are a bunch of particulars about which meats go best together, but that’s a feel thing. Use your instincts. Get creative, but be prepared to dial it back a notch if you take it too far. Maybe the new Jerk Turkey goes well with cappy ham, but I doubt it, and I’d want to have some of the plain roast chicken around to pair with the turkey if the ham didn’t work out.

I find I use about 1/4 pound of meat and 2-3 slices of cheese per sandwich, assuming I’m using regular sliced bread. So prepare for that when you buy your meat and cheese and figure out how many days you’ll be taking a sandwich to lunch.

Bread is your call. My general approach to buying bread is to buy whatever whole-wheat bread in the supermarket has the latest sell-by date, though I do play favorites.

Once you’ve got sliced bread, two meats and a cheese, you’re ready to make a sandwich. Oh, and you’ll need some sort of dressing or else that sucker’s going to be way too dry. We keep a pretty impressive array of mustards and hot sauces at the analog TedQuarters. I vary the dressing based on what seems to go best with the meat. Some are obvious: horseradish mustard with roast beef, ranch with Buffalo chicken. Others less so: Inglehoffer Sweet Hot Mustard on… well, basically anything. That’s good stuff.

Now to the actually making the sandwich part:

Spread an even coat of dressing onto one of the two pieces of bread. Onto the dressed side, pile 2-3 slices of your first lunch meat, then 2-3 slices of your second lunchmeat.

IMPORTANT: Do not just stack the meat on the bread flat. It’s a little more time consuming, but you need to pile the slices of meat on one at a time, not folded or rolled but in gentle ribbons. You want your pile of lunchmeat to be as fluffy as possible. Also, maneuver the meat so it covers all the bread, obviously. If it hangs over the sides a little, that’s fine. Sorry, George Takei.

Once your meat is piled on, lay your cheese on top of the meat. No need to ribbon the cheese. If you want to use some sort of vegetable, you can put it on top of the cheese, but I generally find that any vegetable that seems like a good idea on a sandwich at 8 a.m. seems like a bad one by noon when it’s crushed and wilted. Then put the other piece of bread on top. Don’t put dressing on that side of the bread if it’s going directly on the cheese, because you don’t want to dress cheese. I can’t really explain why, but have you ever dipped a piece of cheese in mustard or a mayo-based dip? Would you ever? Does any part of that appeal to you, beyond the curiosity aspect? I suspect no, and so you don’t dress cheese.

Then you have a sandwich. OK bye.

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