How-To & Diy

How To Pick the Right Bread for a Sandwich

August 28, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Give your sandwich the respect it deserves. 

Sandwich Breads

Shop the Story

Sometimes, only a sandwich will do. Pasta seems too complicated, meat too fussy and begging needily for side dishes, and eggs...well, that was last night.

The sandwich, however, is deceptive in its simplicity. It seems easy -- bread, fillings, eat -- but the 'wich actually requires a complex balance of textures and flavors. (Which is probably why they are such a hot topic for debate.) Have you ever had a burger with a too-crusty bun, or a multi-layered hero on thin slices of storebought something-or-other? Then you know the subtle tragedy of having chosen the wrong bread for the sandwich at hand.

The cardinal rule of sandwich-making (and often the most difficult to master) is that textures need to work together, side by side. Most people take this very seriously with fillings, and then leave the bread by the wayside. (Rookie mistake.) Choosing the right bread rests firmly in your control -- it just takes some basic knowledge and a bit of creativity. Luckily, we've sliced things down by bread type to ensure that you're fully prepared for sandwich domination. 


Brioches and Challahs 
In the realm of soft and squishy, we tend to lean towards challah all day, every day. (Just kidding. Sort of.) Some breads work with almost everything, and challah -- like its sweeter French cousin, brioche -- is one of them. If you're looking for fluff or sweetness as a balance to salty flavors, look no further: Both of these breads will also stand up to savory, salty prosciutto, umami-packed condiments, and even lobster salad. You can also play up their subtle sweetness with a smear of nut butter, chocolate spread, or fluff (or all three at once). 

Ima's Challah

Rolls and Thick-Cut Slices
Would you ask a baby to carry your duffel bag for you? No, you wouldn't. That would be crazy. Then don't ask a thin hole-y slice of bread to do the work of a Kaiser roll. Heartier sandwiches, like pulled pork or meatballs, require more support, so go with a bun or roll. If you're set on slices, remember that fillings more likely to get soggy -- like marinated steak or tomatoes for bruschetta -- benefit greatly from thick-cut slabs of bread.

Texas Toast Sandwich

On the opposite end of the spectrum from your hefty two-hands-required sando are those sandwiches that require a lighter touch. If you're crafting a lovely open-faced sandwich or tartine, the last thing you want to do is drown out your fillings. While baguettes are versatile (and can be eaten in one sitting for lunch, with some brie), they also allow for thinner slicing, which means that your other ingredients get their chance to shine. Baguettes are also a wonderful blank canvas for more serious toppings, especially if you're feeding a crowd: toaststoasts, and more toasts are a foolproof party trick. 

More: Sometimes, the best sandwiches have ice cream in the middle. Especially these bad boys. 

Though some would argue that a wrap does not a sandwich make, we like to be prepared for any and all situations, regardless of sandwich politics. Breakfast scrambles are perfect swaddled in lavash; kefta and falafel feel right at home snuggled into a pita; and don't even get us started on burritos. Just be sure your filling is malleable enough to get rolled up.

Tofu Scramble

Oil-Based Loaves 
Do you want to make a Mediterranean-influenced sandwich, like Saltie's life-changing Scuttlebutt? Of course you do. Choose (or better yet, bake) an olive-oily bread like focaccia or ciabatta. Feel like being literal about this? An olive bread it is. This is the ideal opportunity to get your bread humming in sweet harmony with your feta, your pickles, and your capers. 

The Scuttlebutt

Whole-Grain Breads
Want a healthy midday sandwich to fuel you through the afternoon, like this smoky tempeh and hummus number? Get a grain-laden bread in the game. Earthy, multi-textured loaves are a perfect match for equally good-for-you fillings like leafy greens, sprouts, spreads, and tofu or tempeh. They also make a mean PB&J.

Smoky Tempeh and Hummus Sandwiches

More: This is the way to the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Going for an all-American BLT or grilled cheese? Stick to something equally classic, like a loaf of crusty sourdough. These simple sandwiches are all about what's in the middle (cheese, bacon, summer tomatoes -- you know, life's greatest joys) and you want a bread that will showcase that. The balance of soft chew, crusty crust, and a slight tang often make this our default bread. Sourdough also plays well in decadent chocolate sandwiches or other dessert-like forays, for those who like a little salt in their sweet. 

How To Make The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

What are your favorite sandwich breads? And what do you sandwich between them? Tell us in the comments!

Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I'm a former Food52 Julia Child Food Writing Fellow now studying law so I can make food fairer, more delicious, and more sustainable for everyone. I was born and raised in Montreal (mostly on poutine and matzoh ball soup), but in my heart I am an Italian grandma—I live on pizza and make a mean eggplant parmesan.

1 Comment

Renee' February 7, 2016
Just read your feature on what breads to use for a sandwich. Thank you! I love a really good sandwich and you are so right about the wrong bread for a sandwich. The flavors just don't blend when you have Donald Trump sandwich fixings combined with a Donald Duck bread! Renee'