The Classic Grilled Reuben Sandwich

The Classic Reuben Sandwich

The classic Reuben sandwich is a mouth-watering, savory hot sandwich made with corned beef, Swiss cheese, either Russian or Thousand Island dressing, and sauerkraut, then grilled between slices of rye bread.  There are many variations, for example: 

The Rachel Reuben

The Rachel —  a variation on the standard Reuben sandwich, which simply substitutes pastrami for the corned beef and coleslaw for the sauerkraut. Other versions of the Rachel call for turkey instead of corned beef or pastrami.  In some parts of the United States, these variations are known either a “Georgia Reuben” or a “California Reuben,” which sometimes uses barbecue sauce instead of Russian or Thousand Island.  As you can see, the variations are many.

The exact origin of the famous “Reuben” Sandwich, is not precisely known, but generally falls to one or two seemingly credible beginnings.  One account holds that a Lithuanian-born grocer named Reuben Kulakofsky invented the sandwich and involved members of his weekly poker game held in the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, somewhere around 1920-1935.  According to this account, the hotel owner, Charles Schimmel put the sandwich on the hotel menu, and thus rocketed the now famously-known sandwich to fame!

There are others however, who maintain that Arnold Reuben, a German owner of the once well-known but now defunct “Reuben’s Delicatessen” in New York City, invented the “Reuben Special” somewhere around 1914.  Some New York based magazines of the era have made reference to a “Reuben Special,” and would appear to be referencing Arnold’s creation.

Recognizing that in this day and age, it’s not always possible to accurately determine the origin of something, one thing we do know, is that today, the “Reuben” has become a well-known deli sandwich specialty, and is a regular on the menu of any self-respecting delicatessen or deli-restaurant.  For my recipe, I use the classic ingredients:

The Classic Grilled Reuben Sandwich


The Cast of Characters

Corned Beef
Swiss Cheese
Thousand Island Dressing
Rye Bread (I love marbled rye the best!)


There are tons of ways to make a sandwich, but I do believe proper sandwich construction is a must!  For me, it usually begins with having some corned beef leftovers, and then I will assemble the remaining ingredients for my sandwiches.  You can also purchase corned beef from your favorite deli and have them “shave” it for you, which allows you to stack your sandwich with a small mountain of corned beef if you prefer.

thousandislandrussiandressingFirst, place one or two slices of the swiss cheese on a single slice of the bread.  (Sometimes I like to add a slice or two of horseradish cheddar for a little extra kick.) Next, add the sauerkraut, a generous amount of dressing, followed by the corned beef.  Then, apply an additional amount of thousand island dressing to either the other slice of rye, or on top of the corned beef.  The reason I build it this way is so that when it is grilled, the cheese will melt down a bit causing the dressing and sauerkraut to become one, but the dressing will be infused into the mix as well.  Many times I’ve gotten sandwiches in a deli or restaurant, with too little dressing, which not only robs the sandwich of some of its flavor, but makes it too dry as well.  Whether you use Thousand Island or Russian dressing, it is an integral factor in the overall taste of the Reuben, so don’t skimp!

P1180686P1180687Next, the most important part — the actual grilling process!  I use one of two things to grill my Reubens — either my little George Foreman grill, (a Panini-type grill will work great too!) which is truly wonderful for grilling sandwiches, because it actually grills both sides of the sandwich simultaneously.  The other thing I use sometimes is a black cast iron griddle.  Although you have to turn the sandwich over with this method, the cast-iron process will also give you a nice grilled sandwich when you are done.

If you use something like a George Foreman grill, smear some butter on the outside of one side of the sandwich, and being careful not to spill out its contents, carefully place it on the grill.  (If you don’t prefer to use butter, consider Earth Balance, a healthy, soy-based alternative.) earthbalanceQuickly smear a little butter on the other side which is up, and close the grill.  In just a few minutes you will be enjoying Reuben Sandwich heaven!

Essentially, its the same process for the cast-iron griddle – butter the “down” side and place the sandwich on the griddle, then add butter to the “top” side.  Give it a couple of minutes, then flip the sandwich over.  It shouldn’t take too long.  Make sure the griddle is nice and hot, but not too hot.  Something in the med-high range.  You want to properly brown (grill) the sandwich, but not to burn it.  As far as I’m concerned, the George Foreman does the better job, because the heat from the grill is coming into the sandwich from both sides at the same time; minor draw back to the griddle is only one side is being heated at a time.  Again, it’s essentially Chef’s choice here.

reuben2reuben3Serve with chips and dill pickle slice.

Bon Appetit!

(French fries go really well with it too!)



  1. Do you know Dad, I remember the first time I ever had a Reuben Sandwich. You introduced me to them at the Central Station restaurant , I think it’s Union Station. I can’t remember what had us in Denver we ended up there; I was about 14-15 perhaps. I just remember you convinced me to try it and I was hooked on them from that moment on.

    I don’t remember the first time I had chocolate, chicken, wine or (GASP) even Butter – but I DO remember the first time I had a Reuben and I have you to thank for that.

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