Most of the time, I embrace sogginess — an overly maligned texture in food, I’d argue. I relish the way the chocolate wafers of an ice cream sandwich yield to my teeth, and how torn bread turns into a squishy, broth-soaked sponge in a bowl of beans. I even love a pie with a soggy bottom; it feels comforting, somehow.
But the one place most people, myself included, seem to agree that sogginess doesn’t belong is in a sandwich. Though that statement deserves a caveat: There’s a big difference, of course, between the intentional dunking of a hoagie roll in marinara sauce and the displeasing gumminess of tuna salad-stuffed white bread that’s sat in a lunch bag for too long.
The single best way to avoid a soggy sandwich is to eat it immediately. But that’s not always possible, and with offices reopening and warm weather around the corner, the prospect of a packed lunch is once again looming. Picnics, hikes, day trips, or just a desire to avoid another fast-casual chain salad all mean plenty of opportunities for soggy sandwiches. But according to sandwich experts, it doesn’t have to be this way: the key is mastering both assembly and storage.
When you’re making a sandwich that must be packed, start with slightly drier bread, like a crusty baguette or toasted sourdough or rye, says Jeff Strauss, owner of the Los Angeles sandwich shop Jeff’s Table. Then — and this is crucial — mind your spread. Things like mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, vinegar, and red pepper spread add moisture to a sandwich, unlike oil-based spreads like mayo, which don’t seep into bread as much.
That doesn’t mean going without those flavor boosts, though: To ensure optimal texture and taste, throw those water-based condiments in squeeze bottles and add them right before you eat. You can even go a step further and keep every sandwich element separate, ready to be quickly assembled in the park or on the trail. “But,” Strauss acknowledges, “not everybody wants to do that.” No matter how or when you assemble it, he recommends packing sandwiches in parchment or foil — basically anything except plastic, which doesn’t breathe at all.
Ben Gollan, a sandwich lover who runs sandwich tours through his New York-based company A Man and His Sandwich, gets a little more granular with his sandwich construction, all to avoid that dreaded dampness. “Soggy sandwiches that are the bane of my existence,” he says. To avoid them, you could do what his mom did and store wet ingredients like sliced tomatoes away from dry ingredients. Or you could follow Gollan’s own sandwich construction philosophy.
Consider the sandwich as a top half and a bottom half, Gollan says. He likes to put wet ingredients on the top half because although they touch the slice of bread, gravity does the job of drawing them downwards and not letting them soak in. He puts dry ingredients like cold cuts on the bottom half of the sandwich. “You’re creating this meat protection layer on the bread, which is going to help stop those juices from peppers or whatever from dripping down onto the bottom base,” he explains.
You’ll lose a little control over all of this if you’re buying a sandwich that you know will have to sit for a while before eating, but you can still choose wisely. On those occasions, Gollan generally goes for an Italian sandwich with cold cuts, banh mi, or a bagel sandwich (the denser texture of a bagel is particularly helpful for avoiding sog) and steers clear of juicier options like Philly cheesesteaks and meatball subs, which are both quick to soak.
But if those approaches are all a little too fussy for you, perhaps the answer is to instead channel Strauss, who sees a little romance in the occasional soggy sandwich. “Like cold pizza the next morning or cold Chinese food, sometimes you gotta embrace where life takes you,” he says. “Keep that soggy stuff off until the last minute — and if you can’t do that, learn to love what you’re gonna get.”
Marie Assénat is an illustrator based in Paris. She loves to draw silly things and enjoys making her own sandwiches with a good baguette.