Making the Perfect Corned Beef Sandwich: Ingredients and Tips

Corned beef sandwiches are a delicious and comforting meal. With layers of tender corned beef, tangy sauerkraut, spicy mustard, and crunchy bread, they make an amazing lunch or dinner. But what exactly should you put on a corned beef sandwich to make it perfect? Here’s a guide to assembling the ultimate corned beef sandwich.

Corned Beef

Obviously, the star ingredient in a corned beef sandwich is the corned beef itself. You’ll want to start with high-quality, freshly sliced corned beef. The best sandwiches are made with thin slices of corned beef that are slightly moist and tender. If you’re buying pre-packaged corned beef, opt for deli-sliced over the canned variety. And if you happen to have leftovers from a homemade corned beef brisket, even better!

When layering the corned beef on your sandwich, pile on plenty – at least 2-4 ounces per sandwich. You want lots of meaty bites in every bite. Don’t be skimpy!


A good corned beef sandwich needs bread that can stand up to the hearty fillings and added moisture. Rye bread is the classic choice. The tang of the rye pairs perfectly with the seasoned saltiness of corned beef. Look for a firm, dense rye bread – soft bread will fall apart too easily.

Rye comes in light and dark varieties as well as different grains like pumpernickel. Choose your favorite for optimal flavor and texture. Toasting the bread adds crunch and prevents sogginess.


The zing that sauerkraut adds helps cut through the richness of corned beef. Its pleasant sourness balances the other flavors. Drain canned sauerkraut before adding it to your sandwich to reduce moisture. Or opt for fresh sauerkraut if you can find it.

Use about 1/4-1/2 cup of sauerkraut per sandwich. Too much can make the sandwich soggy. Layer it on top of the corned beef. The meat helps protect the bread from becoming mushy.


A smear of mustard brings the whole corned beef sandwich together. The mustard’s subtle spice and vinegar notes complement the other ingredients. Yellow mustard is the standard, but spicy brown or whole grain mustard also pair nicely.

Spread the mustard directly on the bread before adding the other fillings. This creates a barrier against moisture and prevents the bread from getting soggy as you eat.


While not traditional, melted cheese takes a corned beef sandwich to the next level. Swiss cheese is a popular choice, but cheddar, provolone, and American cheese also taste great. The creaminess balances the strong flavors of the meat and sauerkraut.

To add cheese, simply place a slice on top of the corned beef before topping with the sauerkraut and second piece of bread. The heat of the meat and toasting the sandwich will melt the cheese nicely.

Russian Dressing

Russian dressing, also known as Russian sauce or Thousand Island dressing, adds a creamy, tangy flavor to a corned beef sandwich. It contains mayonnaise mixed with ketchup, onions, pickles, and spices. The cool creaminess pairs perfectly with hot corned beef.

Use 2-3 tablespoons per sandwich, spread on both slices of bread. Russian dressing can replace or be used along with mustard as the sandwich spread.

Pickles and Pickle Relish

For an extra bite of tangy crunch, add sliced pickles or pickle relish. Dill and sour dill pickles work well and complement the other briny, savory flavors. A couple pickle slices per sandwich is plenty. Or spoon on 1-2 tablespoons of relish per sandwich.

Layer the pickles and relish on top of the corned beef along with the sauerkraut. Their acidity helps cut through the richness.

Extras and Variations

Once you’ve got the basic sandwich down, feel free to customize and add extras as desired. Here are some tasty options:

  • Thinly sliced red onion – brings crunch and mild onion flavor
  • Chopped fresh parsley – brightens up the sandwich with herbal flavor
  • Horseradish sauce – adds kick and pairs well with the corned beef
  • Deli mustard like honey mustard or stone ground – switches up the flavors
  • Pepperjack or habanero cheese – brings heat and spice to the sandwich
  • Celery seed, caraway seeds, or chopped dill pickle – enhances sandwich with savory flavor
  • A squirt of lemon juice – brightens and cuts through the richness

Don’t limit yourself – part of the fun of a corned beef sandwich is piling on your favorite flavors!

How to Assemble the Perfect Sandwich

Now that you know the key ingredients, here are some tips for sandwich assembly:

  • Toast the bread – Broil or grill the slices first to prevent a soggy mess.

  • Butter or dress the bread – A thin layer of butter, mustard, or Russian dressing helps seal in moisture.

  • Layer the meat first – Cover one slice with corned beef in a single layer, about 3-4 ounces per sandwich.

  • Top with cheese (optional) – Add cheese now if using so it melts.

  • Pile on sauerkraut – Drain off excess moisture first. About 1/4-1/2 cup per sandwich.

  • Spread on mustard – Add a nice smear (1-2 tablespoons) of mustard.

  • Finish with pickles, etc – Top with any other crunchy veggies or condiments you’re using.

  • Crown with the second slice – Complete the sandwich with the top buttered, toasted slice of bread.

  • Press gently – Before cutting and eating, gently press down on the top of the sandwich to compact the layers.

  • Cut diagonally – For ideal presentation and eating, cut the sandwich diagonally into two triangles.

  • Secure with skewers (optional) – If the sandwich will be sitting for awhile before eating, insert bamboo skewers to hold the ingredients in place.

Cooking Methods

There are several ways to cook a corned beef sandwich to melting and melding the ingredients:

  • Pan frying – Butter the bread and fry the assembled sandwich in a skillet over medium heat until browned on both sides.

  • Grilling – Great for getting a nice char. Cook assembled sandwiches on a hot grill 2-3 minutes per side.

  • Broiling – Broil assembled sandwiches 6-8 inches from heat 3-4 minutes per side until bread is toasted.

  • Toaster oven – For small batches, toast assembled sandwiches in a toaster oven at 400oF for 5-10 minutes.

  • Sandwich press – Appliances like Panini presses compact the sandwich and toast the bread. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Oven baking – Bake assembled sandwiches on a baking sheet at 400oF for 10-15 minutes to heat through and melt cheese.

Condiments and Sides

A good corned beef sandwich is satisfying on its own, but can also be paired with condiments and side dishes:

  • Coleslaw – A refreshing, creamy cabbage slaw complements the salty meat.

  • Potato salad – Starchy, seasoned potatoes are a classic accompaniment.

  • Pickles – Extra sour pickles are always welcome with a corned beef sandwich.

  • Chips or fries – Crunchy, salty chips or fries balance the hearty sandwich.

  • Soup – A cup of potato, tomato or chicken noodle soup pairs nicely.

  • Fruit salad – For a fresh contrast, enjoy some mixed fruit alongside.

  • Deli salads – Pasta salads, potato salad or vinegary coleslaw.

  • Beverages – Cold brewed iced tea, lemonade, beer, or a Reuben cocktail.

Tips for Leftovers

Got leftovers? Here’s how to keep enjoying your corned beef masterpiece:

  • Store tightly wrapped sandwiches in the refrigerator up to 4 days.

  • Reheat wrapped sandwiches in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes or until warmed through.

  • Microwave individual sandwiches for 30-60 seconds until hot. Watch for bread sogginess.

  • Disassemble and use leftovers for corned beef hash, omelets, baked potatoes, nachos or pizza.

  • Chop corned beef and stir into macaroni and cheese, baked beans, eggs, potato pancakes, or shepherd’s pie.

  • Mix sauerkraut into scrambled eggs, omelets, baked potatoes, or sausage and cabbage soup.

  • Use leftover Russian dressing or mustard as a sandwich spread or veggie dip.

With tender corned beef, crunchy vegetables, and spicy mustard layered between two slices of rye bread, you really can’t go wrong. This sandwich makes for an easy, tasty meal any time of day. Experiment and have fun customizing with your favorite flavors. A perfect corned beef sandwich is sure to satisfy even the biggest appetite!

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