Southern

Meet the Sandwich the Internet Can't Stop Talking About

Aka, the "best budget sandwich ever."

May 24, 2019
Photo by Ella Quittner

There is a sandwich called the PB&M. In its most classic iteration, it's made with peanut butter and mayonnaise on white bread.

Every couple of years, the internet remembers it exists, and goes wild.

It all began in 2014, when Jed Portman (then, a writer at Garden & Gun) heard about the sandwich from Georgia farmer Brandon Chonko, who regularly deployed tweets on the subject. It sounded crazy. Chonko wrote in 2013, "my grandma used to full our gullets with em. Covington ga. A sandwich time may have forgotten but I never did. God awful." (In early December 2014, in response to a tweet from The New York Times' Julia Moskin that her peanut butter cookies were "not Christmassy," Chonko replied, "add mayo.")

Portman mentioned it to his grandparents in North Carolina one Thanksgiving for a lark. He was floored to learn that the PB&M was not only a Southern classic, but also his grandfather's favorite food. He wrote a story about the sandwich for Garden & Gun, positing a probable origin story: "Newspaper clippings from the national heyday of the peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich, a period that seems to have begun in the 1930s and continued through the 1960s, provide evidence that the practice of adding mayonnaise to peanut butter could have originated as a way of transforming rough-hewn nut butters into spreadable pastes."

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Top Comment:
“Years ago, when I was a teenager, a friend made a peanut butter, mayonnaise and sliced cucumber sandwich for me. I loved the contrast in textures as well as the flavor. I've no memory of the bread that was used, but every now and then, I might toast some whole grain bread and make an open faced sandwich with the PB, Mayo and sliced cukes with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper!”
— Tessi
Comment

The piece was widely read. Novelty tee-shirts ensued. ("We sold a fair amount of them for two guys who weren’t really trying," said Chonko.) Chef Ed Lee even wears one on the cover of his James Beard Award–winning cookbook, Buttermilk Graffiti.

"Five years ago, when G&G first published this story, local and farm-fresh were the food-world watchwords," Garden & Gun's Executive Managing Editor Phillip Rhodes wrote to me. "It felt refreshing and fun to produce stories with a gently contrarian point of view: stories about foods with heavily packaged convenience ingredients like canned biscuits for sonker, Tang for Russian tea, or canned tomato juice for aspic. It punctured some of the earnestness of the time. That’s one reason why I think the story took off."

And the internet hasn't dropped it, since.

Take last year. In March, Buzzfeed resurfaced the PB&M in a post replete with reaction gifs (though, no mention of Portman). Staffers sampled a bunch of varieties uncovered through what they write is a 1960s-era ad from Skippy and Hellmann's: the "Double Crunch" (bacon and pickles), the "Crazy Combo" (salami, sliced eggs, and onions), and others. A few months later, the sandwich tore across Twitter and made the food media rounds again.

Photo by Skippy/Hellmann's, via Buzzfeed

And just this week, the PB&M made another comeback on r/foodhacks, courtesy of a user called BlastPalace. BlastPalace posted a video titled "BEST BUDGET SANDWICH EVER?" showcasing a chopped celery riff on the classic. One reddit user wrote: "This is an abomination." Another: "Nope. No thank you, sir."

So, why won't the internet let this sandwich go?

"Of all of the stories we’ve done in this vein, Jed’s PB&M still resonates the most with readers—both with those who recall the combination fondly from their own lives and those who find it intriguing or even gross," wrote Rhodes. "The story found an audience immediately."

In other words, the PB&M has got all the good makings of an evergreen meme: a compelling provenance, the element of surprise, and lots of room for controversy.

The "best budget" version, with celery. Photo by Ella Quittner
The classic PB&M. Photo by Ella Quittner

When I asked Chonko if, after all this time, he likes the sandwich—whether he'd have one right now, for a snack—he said, "I would not. I didn’t care for them. I only had them a couple times." He had not heard of this most recent rendering with chopped celery. The way his grandmother Sarah Kirkland used to make them in Covington, GA, they contained only mayonnaise and smooth peanut butter.

I confessed that, unable to sit on the sidelines of this great debate any longer—and, above all, curious if the PB&M with celery really is the "BEST BUDGET SANDWICH EVER"—I tried and loved the sandwich in all its formats. That I found something about the velvety, sour-sweet combination totally irresistible. Especially with the celery crunch.

"Maybe I ought to try one again," he said.


Have you tried a PB&M? Let us know in the comments.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches.

53 Comments

bueno O. June 7, 2019
i grew up in tennessee and we were poor growing up sometimes we would eat mustard sandwiches or mayo sandwiches with black pepper also ate onion sandwiches and tomato sanwiches.i better stop its making me hungry
 
Maite June 3, 2019
Never tried peanut butter and mayonnaise but back when we were in junior high my friends and I used to make peanut butter and tuna salad sandwiches.
 
Karen C. June 3, 2019
Sounds so odd to me. But then PB&M sound pretty odd together to most of the world, so I won’t knock it. I remember trying PB&banana once—heavenly. But before that I always thought **that** was bizarre.
 
patti June 3, 2019
I'm sorry, but I cannot even imagine this. Tuna salad and PB? But hey, go for it, if that's what you like. Enjoy! No one should judge.
 
Lynda W. June 2, 2019
First, NOT done with gobs of mayonnaise like in your photos. Second, NOT Miracle Whip, that's disgusting.
Soft bread of any kind, peanut butter, preferably crunchy but any will do, mayonnaise, and a couple of leaves of crunchy lettuce, a tiny sprinkle pf salt. This is perfection!
 
Kim M. June 2, 2019
Darn it! I was hoping "M" was for "marshmallow"!
 
ChefKK May 31, 2019
my mom used to make pb and mayo with dill pickle or a banana!
 
Diane J. May 30, 2019
My dad was born in 1912, and lived through the depression. Our family was very frugal. He loved PB and Miracle Whip sandwiches, and got me hooked as well. I'm 73 now and still eat them occasionally. I rarely have white bread available, but that's the best choice for this sandwich. I love the idea of iceberg lettuce on them as well and will try it next time. Good memories!
 
Bruce B. May 31, 2019
You rarely have white bread available?? I find that unimaginable. I live in Coatesville, PA (yes, I know you never heard of it) and within 10 miles of us there are at least 10 supermarkets that sell white bread. By the cartons if I want them. And, BTW - - - you can freeze bread- it will keep for 6 months ! ! !
 
rJames May 30, 2019
Agree. Add a banana.

Growing up poor we had PB & Jelly & Butter. Excellent. Triscuit with a pat of butter - still eat that.

My dad put mayo on everything - eggs, peas, cake, cookies, onion & tomato sandwich. Prob why he died at 54 - that and cigs & bourbon.
 
Terri May 30, 2019
even better when you add banana!!
 
Russell May 30, 2019
Grew up eating Peter Pan smooth and Miracle Whip. I am 66 and is still my favorite sandwich.
 
Karen C. May 30, 2019
Where did you grow up? My mom grew up in Martinsville, Indiana (better known for John Woodin and its KKK activities). Is PB&Mayo a midwestern or southern thing exclusively?
 
Lauren R. May 30, 2019
I will try this combo. But I have a personal favorite peanut butter odd couple. I really wanted a PB&J once and realized I had no J. Then I thought to myself, tomatoes are fruits, right? Peanut butter and ketchup was born. I really like the tangy ketchup that cuts through the sticky peanut butter.
 
M W. May 30, 2019
I don't know about the quintessential version of this sandwich, but in the foothills of North Carolina it was peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, your choice) and Duke's mayo. (Not Miracle Whip, not Hellman's, and we didn't have Blue Plate growing up.) ---We added slices of apple to make it lunch. Bananas were for when you didn't have apples. --They weren't bad, but they could add poundage if you weren't careful about how many of them you ate.)
 
Lori May 30, 2019
I grew up on peanut butter, mayo and iceberg lettuce on white bread sandwiches. That and the fried baloney sandwich with mustard remain my favorites. My mother is from West Virginia and also grew up on these sandwiches. However, her real favorite is a pork and bean sandwich on white bread folded
Iike a taco with a smidge of mustard 😄
 
Dale T. May 30, 2019
like my pb&m sandwiches with a glass of mild good stuff since I was a kid
 
patti May 30, 2019
These sound disgusting. BUT, as a pb and mayo lover (separately, mind you), I will try it out. You all cannot be wrong! Thanks for sharing this culinary wonder!
 
Karen C. May 30, 2019
Pepperidge Farm white bread, crunchy PB, Miracle Whip. My mom was born in 1923 and must have grown up eating it, which is how it happened to be my childhood food as well. I still eat it. Love it. Despite people giving me a hard time. Their loss!
 
Beverly C. May 30, 2019
At our house it was peanut butter and Miracle Whip with lettuce. Had them nearly daily for years for lunch all through elementary school. Supplemented with Campbell's soup (usually Cream of Tomato). Very fond memories.
 
Kristy M. May 30, 2019
My Mom ale=ways had peanut butter with mayonaise and lettuce sammies so good
 
Rebecca M. May 29, 2019
This is one of my favorite sandwiches! I have eaten these for years!
 
Tessi May 29, 2019
Years ago, when I was a teenager, a friend made a peanut butter, mayonnaise and sliced cucumber sandwich for me. I loved the contrast in textures as well as the flavor. I've no memory of the bread that was used, but every now and then, I might toast some whole grain bread and make an open faced sandwich with the PB, Mayo and sliced cukes with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper!
 
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Ella Q. May 30, 2019
Sliced cucumber! Sounds delicious.
 
OldGrayMare May 29, 2019
Having read this and the comments, I feel MUCH better about MY childhood sandwich....bologna & grape jam on white bread.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. May 30, 2019
Trying this ASAP.