Anyone can make a good sandwich. But think about what's changed since the 18th century's 4th Earl of Sandwich put meat between bread, reputedly so that he could eat while gambling on cards (or working – it's still a matter of contention). Sandwiches have since traveled the world, bringing us treasures like Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches, made with grilled pork, pâté, and pickled veggies on a baguette, and Puerto Rican-style jibarito sandwiches of garlic mayonnaise, meat, cheese, and veggies between slabs of flattened, fried green plantains. Sandwich technology took off beyond the earl's imagination – who could have believed the first grilled cheese was anything other than a gift from heaven or space?
At the center of lunchtime innovation are the savants of sandwichery, the deli masters and nerds who obsess over optimum condiment ratios and ingredient-layering strategies. We called a few of our favorites from sandwich shops around the country – Tommy Habetz of Bunk Sandwiches in Portland, Oregon; Michael Voltaggio of Ink.Sack in Los Angeles; Chuck Kelsey of Cutty's in Brookline, Massachusetts; and Tyler Kord of New York City's No. 7 Sub – to get their secrets for taking any sandwich to the next level. Put their wisdom to use, and your lunch (or brunch) today can be good enough to make old nobility jealous.
How to mix and match flavors
Most great sandwiches have one thing in common: elements that contrast with each other in flavor or texture like a rivalry. Think of a BLT: chewy bacon has to share the stage with crisp lettuce; creamy mayo gets slapped around by tart tomato. When building a sandwich, make sure everything between the bread has a frenemy that balances it. Got something fatty? Add something acidic or fresh. Something salty? Add sweet. Crunch should go up against something soft. Whatever the ingredients, they need a little tough love. Use this chart as a guide. Add to it as you try new ingredients.