How do you properly build a sandwich?

Do mustard and mayo go together? What goes on the bottom, and what goes on the top pieces of bread? Are there proper ratios to follow for condiments? Does it even matter?

I will now, not at all answer any of these questions. 

I got the grill out on Feb 29, and even though it’s still very much winter in the Yukon (approx 2 months left at least) we decided we needed to have  a BBQ. A friend brought some beautiful homemade moose burgers, and we also grilled up a PC meatless for the missus and some hot dogs for the kids. 

Noemie’s incredible Moose Burger

As I was putting together my hamburger sandwich, and watching others do so, it dawned that everyone has their own particular way of putting it all together. All restaurants, fast food or otherwise, do too. Even small sandwich shops and gas stations all do it a little differently. Is there a best way, or is it all just relative to preference? I noted my own preferences, where they came from, and how they developed, and then picked up my proverbial surfboard, and proceeded to surf the internet to research the opinions of other sandwich enthusiasts around the globe.

Now before I relay my findings, I want to set out my own personal preference. There is definately some discrepancies between hot sandwiches like hamburgers, and cold ones like a big ol dagwood, but in my version there are a few absolutes. 

  1. Any cheese must be meat adjacent
  2. Liquid condiments must touch bread
  3. Vegetables should not be separated by meat

When I make a hamburger, I like to use a hybrid of the McDonald’s and wendys methods. The bottom bun has mustard, onions and occasionally relish. Meat goes on top of that, and cheese on the meat. Pickles go on cheese. Top bun has mayo (or some type of aioli), then tomatoes, and lettuce over the tomato. 

Construction process

When I make a cold sandwich, it’s a little different. The bottom piece gets butter or margarine. Meat goes on that, cheese on top of meat. Pickles on cheese. Top half gets mayo, mustard, tomatoes and lettuce. 

Now, even I am conflicted about my cold sandwich construction. I prefer my mustard and mayo separate, but I also like some butter touching the meat because I’m apparently endeavoring to be 300lbs. I also think for cold cuts, if you are using pickles you shouldn’t also use tomatoes, and vice versa, but I often do it anyway. You could take mustard out of the equation completely, but sometimes you really need it.  Also, what’s the lettuce even doing? Is it just for looks? It barely adds anything but a protective barrier from mayo to meat. There’s got to be a better way!

There’s got to be a better way!

Consequently, I’ve been trying my hand at a lot of Bahn-mis lately and I think their construction is pretty spot on perfect. Paté on bottom, then meat, then pickled carrot and daikon, top half, mayo, hot sauce, cilantro, peppers. It’s pretty birlliant. I cant think of way to improve on that, and it eliminated mustard and tomato questions. But I digress. 

A giant Bahn Mi I made the other day. Follow on instagram for more of this type of thing

While doing my e-research, I found something interesting. It turns out that the internet is full of dum dums with mediocre options about inane things, and there are constant and never ending battles being fought all over  with all caps swords and meme sheilds. 

Dear reader, I do not want to add to the fight. I just want to talk. My medicore options about inane things are not set in stone. I am no absolutist. I am just a vessel upon a journey of self discovery that enables me to eat as many sandwiches as possible while musing their intricacies and ignoring my children. Your methods are your own and I am merely a source for exploring new ideas and/or validating old ones. That said, if you spread mustard directly on to cheese, as one internet commenter advocated, I think that is gross.

There are other people online saying that condiments should go directly on the meat, not on the bread. There are those who will die on the hill of tomato on the meat or the bread side of the lettuce. and there are thoughtful people who have actually meticulously tried to figure out the perfect balance of what goes where in your mouth when you take a bite. The only concensus i’ve found, and surprisingly I agree with, is that the best ingredient on a sandwich is this: restraint.

How I typically show restraint. Here’s my birthday sandwich from last year.

Look, I love a giant dagwood. Those who know me know I make a special enormous version for myself on my birthday every year, and will continue to do so. For your everyday sandwiches though, opulence can be the enemy. How many condiments do you need? How many vegetables? Tomato AND pickle? Honestly, though they are both sandwich staples, it might be best to just pick one..or better yet, just switch them for something else with acidity. Try some pickled beets, like those weirdos down under. 

Ultimately, after going through other blogs, opinion pieces, and some truly awful subreddits, I have decided to put together an try to implement a new optimal construction method for both hot and cold sandwiches. There is absolutely nothing scientific about it. It’s just some loose ratios that only slightly alter my preferred methods. It’s mostly guidelines for maximums on flavours and textures. Each ingredient of course holds multiple properties (for example, pickels can be crunch, acid and heat depending on the variety you use), but you can ignore certain properties of an ingredient if that allows it to better fit the ratios. 


Flavours:  2-3 fats, 1 heat, 2 salts, 2 acids,  

Textures  2 sauce 2 crunch (these can be pushed to 3, but must be equal)   

Examples from bottom up. 

Fat, Sauce, (mayo or butter) 

Salty (meat, or whatever)

Salty, Fat (cheese)

Acid (pickle or tomato)

Crunch (lettuce)

Heat, Cunch (onion)

Fat, sauce (mayo or butter)

Avacado, ham cheese, pickled carrots, spinach, onion tomato and mayo

In this example I used onions for heat. You could swap that for a spicy mayo, or a mustard, but then you still need a second crunch element, unless you want pickles to fill that role (but not all pickles are up for it). Also, the order isn’t set in stone. But I think my 3 principles still apply. 

  1. Any cheese must be meat adjacent
  2. Liquid condiments must touch bread
  3. Vegetables should not be separated by meat (pickles are not vegetables)

Like I said, none of this is scientific, I’m just another internet dum dum with an opinion. I’m sure there are plenty of ways this could go very wrong. And aren’t pickles and mayo also salty? Sure. Whatever. I also think if you add tomatoes, you should salt and pepper them which adds salt and heat. I’m not trying to make hard and fast rules here. 

I also made this Big Mac with moose burgers. It doesn’t fit in with my theme here, I just wanted to show you. I call it a Large Mark

In the end, sandwich stacking is personal. I think these ratios when paired with these guidelines really work for me. They’ll probably work for you too, but maybe not. It’s open enough to fit the preferences of most individuals. It takes all kinds however. If you are one who prefers to squirt ketchup directly on top of your hamburger, that’s of course your business. Just please don’t be offended if I look away.    

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1 Comment

  1. […] ratios in construction, go back a few posts and you’ll find my guide to sandwich architecture. ( Mayo,mustard is all good, but a bit of italian salad dressing is a nice condiment if not a bit on […]

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