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. This is the Ultimate Rueben Sandwich recipe!
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 Recipe Works
My Sandwich Making Cred
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.
Sandwich Stacking Secrets
The order in which you assemble the ingredients in a grilled sandwich is critical, and Ruebens are no exception. Stack it wrong, and you'll have a sloppy, wet mess. Stack it right, and you'll bite into a handful of heaven.
The trick is to create a solid barrier between the sauerkraut and the bread, with cheese lining (preferably) both sides, and the meat and sauerkraut sandwiched in between.
Another trick is to sauté the sauerkraut before adding it to the sandwich. This removes some of the extra moisture while it raises the temperature of the sauerkraut.
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 doesn't drag down the internal temperature of the sandwich like cold does, so the sandwich doesn't have to cook longer than necessary.
Seared Corned Beef
Like sautéing the sauerkraut, searing the corned beef before assembling the sandwich is key. Doing so also adds just a hint of caramelization to the meat (always a good thing!) as it heats.
What Goes into this Recipe
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
★ 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.
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.)
★ Sauerkraut: We recommend using a mild, Bavarian-style kraut for making Ruebens. (We are lucky enough to have a nearby German deli, and get fresh kraut for our sandwiches there.)
We suggest avoiding the use of 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.
Mozzarella and Provolone both make decent substitutes for Swiss in this sandwich.
★ 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.
Thousand Island makes a good substitute for Russian, although it will make the overall sandwich slightly sweeter.
★ Onions: (optional) For this Rueben 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
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.
Sauté the Sauerkraut
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.
Sear the Corned Beef
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.
Fry the Sandwich
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.
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.
FAQs & Expert Tips
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!
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Classic Reuben Sandwich
- 1 Electric Griddle or heavy skillet
- 1 Spatula
- 8 ounces sliced corned beef
- 6 ounces sliced Swiss cheese
- 4 slices rye bread
- 1 cup sauerkraut
- ¼ small red onion thinly sliced (optional)
- 6 tablespoons Russian Dressing or Thousand Island Dressing
Homemade Russian Dressing
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon creamy horseradish
- 2 teaspoons sweet pickle juice
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 clove garlic coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt & pepper to taste
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)
Sauté the Sauerkraut
- 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.
Sear the Corned Beef
- 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.
Fry the Sandwich
- 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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