This is the Ultimate Rueben Sandwich recipe! Seared slices of corned beef piled with sautéed sauerkraut, melty Swiss cheese, and tangy homemade Russian dressing, all slow-grilled between two slices of hearty rye to sandwich perfection.
Oh, my Gosh! This is our all-time favorite hot sandwich, and this is the best Rueben ever! It takes a few extra steps to make, but it is totally worth the effort.
Why this Rueben Sandwich Recipe Works
When I was in college (way back in the 20th century), I worked for a time at an 1890's-themed restaurant called Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor. Farrell's required every employee to learn every role - from dishwasher on up - so as I worked my way up to Waitress, I spent some serious time as a grill cook. There I learn some (poorly kept) trade secrets about how to make the best classic Rueben sandwich ever.
Pro-Tips for a Perfect Rueben
They key to making a perfect Rueben lies in the order in which you assemble the ingredients. Stack it wrong, and you'll have a sloppy, wet mess. Stack it right, and you'll be rewarded with Rueben sandwich perfection.
To accomplish this, you need to create a solid barrier between the sauerkraut and the bread, with cheese lining (preferably) both sides, with per-warmed meat and sauerkraut sandwiched in between.
It's important to heat the cold ingredients before assembling the sandwich. The whole idea of grilling a sandwich is to melt the cheese and fuse the flavors. It's difficult to melt cheese when it is sitting up against a wall of cold sauerkraut and corned beef. Warm sauerkraut and corned beef doesn't drag down the internal temperature of the sandwich like cold does, so the sandwich doesn't have to cook longer than necessary.
Heating the cold ingredients first also improves their flavor, and how they interact with the other ingredients. Searing the corned beef before assembling the sandwich adds a hint of caramelization to the meat (always a good thing!) as it heats. Likewise, sautéing the sauerkraut removes some of the extra moisture, avoiding having it slog into your sandwich.
What's in a Rueben Sandwich
- Corned Beef: We often use leftover St Patrick's Day corned beef, but deli sliced corned beef works perfectly fine. Try to buy a high-quality corned beef for the best results.
- Sauerkraut: We recommend using a mild, Bavarian-style kraut for making this Rueben sandwich recipe. (We are lucky enough to have a nearby German deli, and get fresh kraut for our sandwiches there.)
- Avoid using strong-flavored, "probiotic health" krauts. They can overpower the rest of the ingredients and leave a weird flavor to your sandwich. This is all a matter of taste, though; use your favorite sauerkraut.
- Swiss cheese: If you are going to the trouble of making an Ultimate Rueben like this one, do yourself a favor and get some good Swiss cheese. (Like our sauerkraut, we buy our Swiss at our local German deli.)
- Generally, the higher the fat and/or moisture content of a cheese, the better it will melt.
- If you like a very melty Swiss on your Ruebens, Gruyere is a good choice. Gruyère is a firm yellow Swiss cheese with very few small holes.
- Rye bread: Use any good quality rye bread. Avoid using thin, floppy, mass-produced rye bread: it doesn't stand up well to the filling and grilling process. If you have a local bakery that will slice it thick for you, all the better. Marbled rye makes a particularly attractive sandwich.
- Russian Dressing: Russian dressing - the creamy, slightly spicy old-school classic - is the traditional choice for Rueben sandwiches. You can use a store bought dressing, but it only takes about 10 minutes to mix up a batch of our delicious homemade Russian dressing.
- Onions: (optional) For this Rueben sandwich recipe, we recommend using red onions to sauté with the sauerkraut. They bring another layer of flavor and complement the sauerkraut in the sandwich.
How to Make the Ultimate Rueben Sandwich
Place all of the dressing ingredients in a blender cup (or in a mixing bowl, using an immersion blender) and pulse until smooth. (Or you can use store-bought Russian or Thousand Island dressing.) Set aside.
Squeeze the sauerkraut out as much as possible. You can do this by pressing it into a sieve or colander, or you can just squeeze it out with your hands.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter begins to sizzle, add the red onion and sauté it for about 2 minutes, until it just begins to soften.
Add the squeezed-out sauerkraut and mix well, then stir until most of the moisture in the sauerkraut has evaporated. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
In the same skillet, quickly sear the corned beef. Do not leave it in the pan too long, or it will dry out.
The way you stack a Rueben makes all the difference.
For each sandwich:
- Slather one side of each piece of rye bread with Russian (or Thousand Island) dressing.
- Blanket each slathered bread side with Swiss cheese.
- Add the warm, prepared sauerkraut on one side, and the seared corned beef to the other.
- Put the two sides together.
Preheat an electric griddle to 300°F (150°C), or heat a heavy skillet over medium-low. Evenly coat each outside sandwich face with a thin layer of butter.
Place the assembled sandwich on the preheated griddle or skillet and cook for about 5 minutes per side.
Remove from heat and serve immediately, with a service cup of Russian dressing on the side.
- Corned Beef: You can also make this sandwich with pastrami, turkey, or even turkey pastrami. (In this case, it is technically a Rachel instead of a Rueben.)
- Swiss cheese: Mozzarella and Provolone both make decent substitutes for Swiss in this sandwich.
- Russian Dressing: Thousand Island makes a good substitute for Russian, although it will make the overall sandwich slightly sweeter.
Rachel: Adaptations vary wildly, but generally, a Rachel sandwich is pastrami or turkey pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing.
Cowboy (or Redneck) Rueben: This is a fun one, although I hesitate calling it a Rueben: beef brisket, provolone or cheddar, coleslaw, and BBQ sauce.
For frying Rueben sandwiches, we recommend using an electric griddle or skillet if you have one. Ruebens require a longer cooking time than many grilled sandwiches, so it is important to keep a close eye on the temperature. You can certainly make Ruebens in a regular skillet (and we have, many times) but an electric skillet definitely makes things easier.
Ruebens are hearty and very filling; so if you make a platter full for a family dinner, you may have a half of sandwich or so leftover.
For a tasty, unique breakfast or snack, slice cold, leftover Ruebens into long, thin fingers, as wide the sandwich is high. Fry the rectangular pieces in a non-stick or cast iron skillet with a little butter over medium heat until they are toasted on all four sides.
Serve the Rueben fingers with a fried egg, dipping them into the egg as you go. Delish!
More Hot Sandwiches
Classic Reuben Sandwich
Make the Dressing
- Place all of the dressing ingredients in a blender cup (or in a mixing bowl, using an immersion blender) and pulse until smooth.You can also use store-bought Russian or Thousand Island dressing. (More about How to make Russian Dressing)
- Squeeze the sauerkraut out as much as possible. You can do this by pressing it into a sieve or colander, or you can just squeeze it out with your hands.Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter begins to sizzle, add the red onion and sauté it for about 2 minutes, until it just begins to soften.Add the squeezed-out sauerkraut and mix well, then stir until most of the moisture in the sauerkraut has evaporated. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
- In the same skillet over medium-high heat, quickly sear the corned beef. Do not leave it in the pan too long, or it will dry out.
- For each sandwich:• Slather one side of each piece of rye bread with Russian (or Thousand Island) dressing.• Blanket each slathered bread side with Swiss cheese.• Add the warm, prepared sauerkraut on one side, and the seared corned beef to the other.• Put the two sides together.
- Preheat an electric griddle to 300°F | 150°C, or heat a heavy skillet over medium-low. Evenly coat each outside sandwich face with a thin layer of butter.Place the assembled sandwich on the preheated griddle or skillet and cook for about 5 minutes per side.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately, with a service cup of Russian dressing on the side.
Nutritional facts were calculated using 3 tablespoons of prepared Russian dressing per sandwich.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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