Sunday, July 14, 2013

Southern Tomato Sandwiches

Tomato sandwiches are just a part of being Southern in the summertime. I vividly recall a few summers ago, when C and I were driving through various counties of Alabama as part of my quest to photograph each county courthouse in the state, that we stopped on the side of the road in rural Bibb county and bought a few gorgeous, locally-grown Alabama tomatoes. We then stopped at a tiny gas station (that also served as a quasi-hardware/general store and movie rental), bought a loaf of cheap-ass white bread and a very overpriced jar of mayonnaise, then sat in the car and made tomato sandwiches, cutting the tomatoes and spreading the mayo with Case pocket knives. 

Sure, we could have found a drive-thru and eaten some kind of fast food, but WHY? 

Now, a TRUE Southern tomato sandwich is pretty simple. In fact, you WANT to keep things simple. Soft bread, tart-yet-sweet fresh tomatoes and creamy mayonnaise with just a bit of salt and pepper - that's it! 

From vine to sandwich in about an hour. The tomato was still warm from the sun.
Don't get scared off by my list of dos and don'ts - I'm not trying to be a tomato sandwich Nazi, and no way is THE right way. I don't consider myself an expert, just a Southerner who LOVES a good tomato sandwich! :D

White bread:

  • Do get the cheapest, softest kind. I like store-brand bread. Don't waste your $$ on something like Whitewheat or Wonder Bread (oh, wait - that was a Hostess item). Bunny Bread is a GREAT option. This 'enriched' white bread has no flavor to compete with the tomato - it's basically just a vessel.
  • Don't buy wheat bread, or something with 12-grains and flax seeds. It's healthier, and I DO buy those breads for 'regular' sandwiches, but they have no place in tomato sandwiches. 
  • Don't buy Texas Toast. It's too thick and just throws off the amazing tomato/mayo/bread ratio.
  • Don't toast the bread. I know it seems like a great idea - with the crispiness offsetting the juiciness of the tomato, but don't do it. You actually want to have the bread absorb those amazing tomato juices and flavors. The bread will end up sticking all over the insides of your mouth - it's just part of the experience.
  • Do use a brand like Hellmann's or Bama. Some folks swear by Duke's, but, personally, I'm not a fan.
  • Don't use Miracle Whip. It has that weird fake-sweet flavor and a disconcerting tanginess. The Oatmeal knows what's up.
  • Don't use Miracle Whip. This is so important that it needs to be stated twice. If you make a tomato sandwich with Miracle Whip, please don't comment and tell me that the sandwich tasted horrible. You've been warned.
  • Don't be stingy with the mayonnaise (again, NOT MIRACLE WHIP). Be generous. Slather on a layer that would make a cardiologist weep. You shouldn't be able to see through the layer. If you can see bread crumb texture, add more mayonnaise.

These German Queens were grown by my parents.
  • Do use GOOD tomatoes. The best tomatoes are home-grown. The second best are locally grown tomatoes, purchased off the side of the road or at a farmer's market. The best tomatoes here in Alabama come through anywhere between Straight and Sand Mountains. If you grow your own, German Johnsons are a GREAT sandwich tomato - the size and shape are PERFECT for slices of cheap-ass white bread. FWIW, An ugly, deformed tomato is usually the BEST tomato.
  • Do buy tomatoes that have the correct shape and size. You want a tomato that, when sliced, will will be about the size of a slice of bread.
  • Do use only one slice of tomato per sandwich. The best tomato sandwiches only need ONE slice of tomato. If you make a sandwich with multiple slices of tomato, you run a high risk of biting into the sandwich and pulling out an entire slice of tomato. Plus, it throws off that ever-important ratio. In a pinch, you can do two slices of tomato to fit the bread, but cut them so they don't overlap one another.
  • Don't use hothouse tomatoes. The typical tomatoes sold in most grocery stores are absolutely TERRIBLE. They're usually orange-ish inside (instead of a gorgeous red), super mealy and devoid of any actual flavor. The telltale sign of a crappy grocery tomato is that it will be watery, not juicy. Also, these tomatoes are NEVER large enough to adequately cover a slice of bread. Avoid at all costs.
  • Do slice your tomatoes correctly. You don't need a special 'uni-tasker' knife; you probably have the perfect knife already in your kitchen - a bread knife.
  • Do slice your tomatoes thick enough. About 1/2" - 3/4" is perfect. 1" is a little too big. Anything under 1/2" is just pointless.
Salt & Pepper:
  • Do feel free to season with some salt and pepper. The cheap stuff is fine. You don't have to use a grinder and freshly crack some Tellicherry peppercorns. You don't have to use Himalayan pink sea salt. 
  • Don't try to get fancy and add other spices like garlic salt or cayenne. Stick to JUST salt and pepper. 
It might be hard to fight the urge to add other ingredients like mustard or cheese or pickle slices. Resist the urge. Don't add lettuce or bacon - this is a tomato sandwich, not a BLT. Read the comments here - I'm sure these changes/additions make some damn fine sandwiches, but it won't make a Southern tomato sandwich. Just sayin'. 


Take out 2 slices of cheap-ass white bread. Don't put the bag away, though - you will probably want a second sandwich. Slather each slice of bread with a hefty gob of mayonnaise. 

Using a bread knife, slice the tomato into 1/2" - 3/4" thick slices. Take the best-looking slice (just one!) and place it atop the mayonnaise-slathered slice of bread. 

Yes, these tomatoes really are that red inside.

Season with salt and pepper. Grab the other piece of bread and stick it on top of the tomato slice.

Eat the sandwich over a paper plate or the kitchen sink. The tomato juices will combine with the mayonnaise into a milky pink juice that will run all over your hands and down your arms. Don't worry about slicing the sandwich in half unless you just want to. Wash it down with a cold drink, preferably one in a glass bottle. 


  1. And some times, a slice or two of bacon is good on it too, but nothin' beats a plain ol' mater sammich! I always loved the line in "Harriet the spy" where she talks about her love of tomato sandwiches.

    1. Yes! Harriet the Spy! Now I have to go watch that!

      And of course, Karol Ann, bacon makes just about anything better :)

  2. That is a thing of beauty! I sprinkle my tomato with a little oregano, because that's how my Mom raised me :)

    1. I can't do the oregano, even though I *do* have a ton of it growing outside, though I know it's great with tomatoes. I just can't adulterate my sandwich :)

  3. You bring a smile to my face ,everytime I read your recipes and comments...With this tomato sandwich recipe, I can see You are a true full-blooded southerner with a little spice! Thank you,:)

  4. Preach! this is the best post about any sandwich... EVER. Sorry Lynn, no oregano and ABSOLUTELY NO MIRACLE WHIP! soft bread, good mayo (lots) and a warm tomato, s&p.... sitting at my desk right now drooling... now that's what's for dinner (and lunch). And as an appendix to this magnificent post, please don't refrigerate your tomatoes... who's does that?

    1. DEFINITELY do NOT refrigerate tomatoes - you're right! I'm glad you know what a REAL 'mater sandwich' should be like!

  5. The only thing I have to say, is for some reason, I prefer to load it up with Roma tomatoes instead...

    1. Never have tried Romas, since luckily we are blessed with great 'sandwich' tomatoes here in the South, and not a lot of people grow Romas!

  6. Yesssssss!!

    I'm partial to the bread being lightly toasted, but you make an excellent point about the soft bread soaking up the juices.


    (My MIL once offered to make me a sandwich when I was visiting. I gladly took her up on the offer since I was nursing my baby and was starving. She asked if I wanted mayo on it and I said yes, of course! One bite and I almost gagged- she considered Miracle Whip mayo! I've had a hard time trusting her ever since.)

    1. Ugggggggggggggggh at the Miracle Whip - I don't know of anyone who hates that abomination as much as I do! I think I'd DEFINITELY have trust issues if someone tried to pass MW off as mayo to me!!

    2. When I was a teenager, I had a similar thing happen with my grandmother. We saw each other infrequently enough that I had never eaten a sandwich at her house before, and that vile substance she used on her sandwiches made me question if I was really related to that side of the family.

      (Mostly kidding.)

    3. love of mayonnaise brings families together. passing off miracle whip as edible tears them apart ;)

  7. This post makes up for your admission of preferring unsweetened tea ;)

  8. Wows! I'm from Australia (Melbs) and I have never came across amazing tomatoes like that. Just today I took a bite of a supermarket tomato and was very disappointed. If I find any delish tomatoes that look that size I will def be trying a tomato sandwich with whole egg mayo - YUM!

  9. Julia, this made me giggle, I am a Hoosier and the tomatoes here are fantastic too! Growing up we also ate tomato sandwiches just thought it was because we were poor. I was raised on Miracle Whip, then my epiphany happened around the time I was 11 or 12 was babysitting and was told that there was bologna in the fridge for a sandwich and ALL they had was real mayo yikes!!! But my new love was born right then and there!, not ever a jar of Miracle Whip in my fridge, okay one time when I was making a because it is a salad dressing after all. I can't tell you how many people think that mayo and Miracle Whip are one and the same, just grosses me out ;) Recently had a friend who wanted to make a dip that I make using mayo and she insisted that she could make it with Miracle Whip and I practically screamed at her telling her not to complain to me when it tasted like s....well you know...talked to her later and she bought a little jar of mayo much to my delight! Love tomato sandwiches and even add a slice of havarti now and then.

    1. Yep, Mayo beats Miracle Whip on ANY sandwich, whether tomato or bologna. My tomatoes are getting massive thanks to this heat, so I am likely only weeks away from the first tomato sandwich of the season!