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.
Spray on the vinegar.
Ask chefs the easiest way to improve food, and chances are they'll say to use more acid. Vinegar, lemon juice – anything tart keeps flavors from feeling flat and balances saltiness, sweetness, or fattiness. But Michael Voltaggio of Ink.Sak has a problem with pouring on vinegar: "When the bread gets wet, it's like it's eating itself from the inside!" So he uses one of those mini spray bottles from a drugstore to spritz vinegar onto his sandwiches, delivering flavor without sogginess.
Credit: Photograph by Nick Ferrari