Reuben Sandwich

Reuben Sandwich Guide: History, Recipes, and Perfect Pairings

The Reuben sandwich’s true origin remains an intriguing debate. One popular account credits the creation to Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer in Omaha, Nebraska, who allegedly crafted the sandwich during a poker game in the early 1920s. Supporters of this narrative point to the Blackstone Hotel, where the sandwich first gained popularity thanks to hotel owner Charles Schimmel adding it to the menu.

Another claim originates from New York City, where Arnold Reuben, founder of Reuben’s Delicatessen, purportedly invented the sandwich in 1914. According to this legend, an out-of-town actress requested a unique sandwich, prompting Arnold to combine ingredients that later became the Reuben sandwich.

Both origin stories carry merit, supported by regional pride and historical contexts. Whether you believe in the Omaha or New York version, the sandwich’s lasting appeal suggests a blend of both culinary traditions.

Evolution Over the Years

The Reuben sandwich has evolved significantly since its inception. Initial recipes called for classic ingredients: corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye bread. Modern variations often feature twists such as coleslaw instead of sauerkraut, turkey instead of corned beef, or different types of bread and dressings.

The sandwich has transcended regional boundaries, appearing on menus nationwide and beyond. You can find gourmet versions in upscale restaurants and more straightforward renditions in diners and delis. Home cooks have also embraced the Reuben, experimenting with alternative preparations like Reuben casserole or Reuben quesadillas.

Throughout its evolution, the Reuben sandwich maintains its core identity, embodying a perfect balance of flavors that continues to captivate taste buds.

Key Ingredients of a Classic Reuben Sandwich

Rye Bread

Rye bread serves as the foundation of a traditional Reuben sandwich. This bread, known for its dense texture and slightly tangy flavor, complements the robust ingredients. Authentic versions often use marbled rye, offering a visually appealing contrast and added depth of taste.

Corned Beef

Corned beef is essential for a classic Reuben. This meat, cured in a brine solution, brings a salty, savory profile that balances well with the other elements. Use thinly sliced corned beef, ensuring even distribution and optimal flavor in each bite.

Swiss Cheese

Swiss cheese provides a creamy, mildly nutty flavor that enhances the sandwich’s overall taste. Its slightly sweet and buttery notes offer a pleasant contrast to the saltiness of the corned beef. Melt the cheese thoroughly to achieve the best texture.


Sauerkraut adds a tangy and crunchy dimension to the Reuben sandwich. This pickled cabbage, fermented to perfection, introduces a sour element that cuts through the richness of the other ingredients. Drain the sauerkraut to prevent sogginess in the sandwich.

Russian or Thousand Island Dressing

Russian dressing or Thousand Island dressing serves as the final touch, adding a creamy, slightly sweet, and tangy flavor. Russian dressing typically contains mayonnaise, ketchup, and horseradish, while Thousand Island dressing includes pickle relish. Choose your preferred dressing to complete the authentic Reuben experience.

Variations of the Reuben Sandwich

Regional Twists on the Classic

Various regions offer unique spins on the classic Reuben sandwich. In the Midwest, you’ll find the “Wisconsin Reuben,” which replaces corned beef with smoked sausage. Down South, the “Georgia Reuben” uses turkey instead. On the West Coast, the “California Reuben” often includes avocado slices and alfalfa sprouts. Each variation maintains the core elements of a Reuben while introducing local flavors.

Vegetarian and Vegan Alternatives

For those avoiding meat, vegetarian and vegan alternatives to the Reuben sandwich have gained popularity. A common vegetarian option substitutes corned beef with grilled tempeh or portobello mushrooms. For a vegan Reuben, replace the Swiss cheese with dairy-free cheese and the traditional dressing with a vegan-friendly version. Popular choices include cashew-based dressings or tahini with a touch of lemon juice. These adaptations ensure the essential Reuben taste profile remains while adhering to dietary preferences.

How to Make the Perfect Reuben Sandwich

Cooking Techniques

Follow simple steps to make a Reuben sandwich that stands out. Begin by heating a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Butter one side of each rye bread slice. Lay them, butter-side down, on the skillet. Add a slice of Swiss cheese to each bread slice. Grill until the cheese melts.

Heat the corned beef in a separate pan or microwave to ensure it’s hot. Place the sauerkraut in a sieve, press out moisture with a spoon, and heat it until warm.

Assemble the sandwich by layering the hot corned beef and sauerkraut over one slice of bread with melted cheese. Add dressing of your choice before closing with the other slice, cheese-side down. Press gently, and cook the sandwich on the skillet until both sides are golden brown and crisp.

Tips for the Best Ingredients

Choosing high-quality ingredients ensures the best Reuben. Opt for freshly sliced corned beef from a reputable deli. Select a robust rye bread with caraway seeds for added flavor. Use genuine Swiss cheese to achieve the classic taste.

Sauerkraut should be fresh and drained to prevent sogginess. Go for homemade or high-quality Russian dressing or Thousand Island dressing.

Always use unsalted butter to avoid overpowering the flavors. Consider a reputable brand to maintain consistency and richness.

These techniques and ingredient choices result in an extraordinary Reuben sandwich that balances flavors and textures perfectly, providing an authentic culinary experience.

Pairing and Serving Suggestions

Beverages That Complement a Reuben

Pairing the right beverage can elevate your Reuben sandwich experience. Consider these options:

  • Craft Beers: Pale ales, lagers, and porters offer a range of flavors that complement the savory and tangy notes of a Reuben.
  • Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot provide robust flavors that match the richness of corned beef and Swiss cheese.
  • Iced Tea: Unsweetened or lightly sweetened iced tea provides a refreshing contrast, cleansing the palate between bites.
  • Sodas: Classic sodas like cola or ginger ale can balance the sandwich’s richness with their effervescence and sweetness.
  • Pickle Juice: For a bold choice, try sipping pickle juice. It enhances the sandwich’s savory components.

Side Dishes to Serve

Select side dishes to enhance your Reuben meal, adding balance and variety:

  • Potato Chips: Crispy potato chips add texture and a touch of saltiness.
  • Pickles: Dill pickles provide a tangy counterpoint, complementing the sandwich flavors.
  • Coleslaw: Creamy or vinegar-based coleslaw introduces a crunchy, refreshing element.
  • Potato Salad: A classic potato salad, with or without mustard, adds creaminess and starch.
  • Fries: Freshly cooked fries deliver indulgent satisfaction, pairing well with the Reuben’s heartiness.

Choosing these pairings ensures a well-rounded dining experience, enhancing the enjoyment of your Reuben sandwich.


Creating the perfect Reuben sandwich is both an art and a science. By carefully selecting high-quality ingredients and mastering the cooking techniques, you can elevate this classic dish to new heights. Pairing your Reuben with the right beverages and side dishes enhances the overall experience, making every bite memorable. Whether you’re a purist or enjoy experimenting with regional variations, the Reuben sandwich offers endless possibilities to satisfy your culinary curiosity. Dive in and enjoy the rich, savory flavors that make the Reuben a timeless favorite.

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