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When garden tomatoes are at their juiciest, this classic eat-it-over-the-sink sandwich—with its mayo-gilded drips—is a must.

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Credit: Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Recipe Summary

active:
5 mins
total:
5 mins
Servings:
1
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It's probably safe to say that most Southerners with tomatoes in their garden (or with generous friends who grow tomatoes) mark the official beginning of summer with their first tomato sandwich. It's a delicious kickoff to a season of produce goodness, a ritual enjoyed often and with great enthusiasm while tomatoes are at their peak. It's one of the simplest sandwiches you can make, and to enjoy a true taste of summer in the South, you really do need to keep it simple.

Of course, there are embellishments you can add if you want (more about that later), but the basic formula of soft white bread, mayonnaise, tomatoes, salt, and pepper produces a Southern ideal. The bread soaks up the yummy tomato juices, which mingle with the creamy mayo, but it doesn't get soggy because you eat this yumminess right away, and quickly. The sandwich is so irresistible, you might just gobble down two in a row. It's shockingly easy to do. 

What Kind of Tomato Is Best for a Southern Tomato Sandwich?

The most important thing is that you start with a good, fresh, beefsteak tomato from the garden or the farmers' market. You're not going to get the same sort of intense joy from a grocery store tomato, which typically lacks the same level of juiciness, sweetness, and flavor complexity.

Beefsteak tomatoes are the big guys, the ones you might sometimes call slicer tomatoes; a slice of this kind of tomato should cover a piece of sandwich bread or a hamburger bun. You can go with heirloom or conventional tomatoes; either type will be delicious.

ingredients for tomato sandwich overhead
Credit: Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

What Kind of Bread Is Best for a Classic Southern Tomato Sandwich?

Soft white bread is what you want here. Baguettes and artisanal boules are beautiful loaves, and whole-grain bread is downright delicious, but they're not right for this kind of sandwich. Squishy white bread from the bread aisle, not the bakery section, is the right choice. The softness marries perfectly with the juicy-meaty texture of the tomatoes, so preferably leave the bread untoasted.

Note that some white sandwich bread is very sweet (from lots of added sugar), so for the best flavor—bread that truly complements the tomatoes—look for brands such as Sara Lee, which contains just 2 grams of added sugar per serving. 

What Is the Best Mayonnaise for a Southern Tomato Sandwich?

If you really want to go for the most luxe, top-notch experience, try making your own homemade mayo. (It's easier than you think, and it tastes fantastic.) Short of that, Duke's gets the gold star for its supreme creaminess and balanced flavor with a hint of tang and loads of savory richness.

white bread slices with mayo spread on one slice
Credit: Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Our Top Tip for the Best Southern Tomato Sandwich 

With something this simple, quality ingredients are of course key. We've already discussed those crucial garden tomatoes, the best bread, and the right mayo. To make all of those elements come together in perfect harmony, you need to season the tomatoes to enhance their flavor and juiciness. We recommend placing the slices on a paper towel, sprinkling with generous amounts of kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper, and letting them hang out for 3 to 5 minutes. Some of the juices will soak into the paper towel, but don't worry—there will still be plenty to run down to your elbow as you take a bite. That brief hang time allows the seasonings to permeate the tomato (making it taste like tomato to the 10th degree) and really gets the juices going. 

two tomato slices with salt and pepepr
Credit: Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Possible Embellishments for a Classic Southern Tomato Sandwich

Trust us: The simple recipe below is a thing of beauty, the sandwich you'll crave all your life.

If you want a little more oomph, however, you can try adding some very thinly sliced Vidalia onion for crunch and additional savory notes. You can even soak that shaved onion in cider vinegar for a minute for a puckery pickled onion effect. Or chop some basil and stir it into your mayo for an herbal punch.

In place of kosher salt, you could try smoked salt, seasoned salt, or garlic salt, and you could replace the black pepper with crushed red pepper flakes. You could even dust the mayo-coated bread with a little grated Parmesan. Before you try any of these adornments, though, try the classic, simplest version; you're going to be hooked.

tomato sandwich drippings on a plate
Credit: Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Arrange tomato slices on a paper towel; sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Let stand until tops of slices are beaded up with juices, 3 to 5 minutes.

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  • Spread one side of each bread slice with 1½ tablespoons mayonnaise. Arrange tomato slices on mayo side of one bread slice; top with other bread slice, mayo slice down. Enjoy immediately.

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