Is There a Right Way to Make a Tuna Melt?

August 13, 2018

You don’t plan to make a tuna melt. It just happens. Say, you haven’t gone to the grocery store in nine days but need lunch, like now. You forgot to defrost that chicken for dinner and it’s already 8 o’clock.

Tuna melts are there for you. Tuna melts will catch you if you fall.

Photo by Julia Gartland

This happened years ago and stuck with me. Sometime between when I started remembering stuff (3 years old, right?) and when we moved out of that apartment (11 years old), my mom and I were sitting on the couch while my dad made dinner, which means something must have been wrong—because my mom and I never sat on the couch while my dad made dinner.

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He toasted English muffins under the broiler, mixed canned tuna with lots of mayo and maybe celery and relish, piled this on the muffins, draped the mountains with cheese, and broiled again until bubbly, melted, and browned.

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Top Comment:
“Your article got it backwards. ”
— Patrick G.

It was only recently that I realized: This isn’t the only way to make a tuna melt. (Wait, what?) Open-faced and broiled is homestyle. But closed and griddled, much like a grilled cheese, is diner-style. And this, apparently, has a lot of followers:

If you think football fans watching the Super Bowl are rowdy, well, you should have seen our editorial team watching this tuna melt poll**. “Why is griddled winning?!” our community editor Lindsay-Jean Hard cried out. “Open face is the only way to go!” But our assistant editor of partner content Erin Alexander clapped back, “I’m a griddler!”

(**In the interest of full disclosure, these were the only two things that anyone said about our tuna melt poll. And they were exchanged over a staff-wide messenger, not aloud. And then everyone changed the subject. But it felt exciting, to me anyway.)

So let’s break down the pros and cons:

Open-Faced and Broiled

Pros: Higher tuna salad to bread ratio. The bread is an English muffin, which is just the best. But it doesn’t have to be an English muffin, which is cool, too. Direct heat over the cheese makes it ultra melty and bubbly. The broiler does all the work!

Cons: What if you forget about the broiler and your English muffin burns? They say you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk, but I say it’s fine to cry over a burnt tuna melt.

Closed and Griddled

Pros: Double the golden, crusty edges. Yet no need to pre-toast the bread. Because it’s griddled, the bread must be greased for the pan with mayo or butter (great or great). Because it’s closed, way less messy to eat. And it’s more popular, according to our 199-person Twitter poll.

Con: Unless you’re creating an overstuffed, flip-at-your-own-risk sandwich, there’s probably less tuna salad involved. The cheese goes from sandwich star to supporting role. You have to tend to the stove. It’s not the way my dad made it for me when I was little.

Okay, the last one only applies to me. Still, I can’t help but wonder if that’s where we all get these strong opinions about soft topics in the first place.

Is there a right way to make a tuna melt? Yes and no. To me, there is. And to you and you and you, there is. And we can all disagree and all be right.


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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Patrick G. June 14, 2024
No. Restaurant or diner style is open faced. Home style is basically just a glorified tuna sandwich.
Patrick G. June 14, 2024
Your article got it backwards.
FrugalCat September 29, 2020
My family always made them in the toaster oven.
Posie (. August 13, 2018
The right way to make a tuna melt: MAKE ONE.
Emma L. August 13, 2018
Hear hear!