Classic Tuna Melt

Homemade Toasted Tuna Melt Sandwich
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4 sandwiches

Some people say that the beloved diner and deli classic known as a tuna melt is a tuna sandwich topped with cheese and warmed on a griddle. Others say that it's clearly a grilled cheese sandwich with a tuna salad upgrade, especially since the legend holds that the first tuna melt was the result of a busy fry cook in Charleston, South Carolina, spilling tuna salad onto a grilled cheese sandwich. Either way, it's a retro combination that we've always loved, one that's soared back into popularity in recent months as we look for tasty, satisfying, warm meals that we can make with items on-hand in the pantry and fridge.

The signature elements of any Tuna Melt are bread, cheese, and tuna salad.

Although there are fans of open-face tuna melts on English muffins, most devotees insist on it being a closed sandwich assembled between two slices of sturdy sandwich bread and griddled until the cheese melts and the bread crisps. Most people butter the bread out of habit, but others insist that the key to perfect pan-toasting or griddling is to spread the outside of the bread with mayonnaise. Butter adds flavor, but mayo creates a picture-perfect, golden-brown finish on the bread, ensuring that every bite will crunch.

Next comes your go-to cheese for grilled cheese, which can be sliced or shredded.

The perfect tuna salad is in the eye of the beholder, but for a tuna melt, it should be moist enough to bond with the bread and melting cheese, but yet not so goopy that it spills out. Recipes used to state the amount of tuna in the number of cans, but over the years the sizes and contents of the cans have changed so much that it's no longer a reliable measurement, not to mention the advent of tuna in pouches. However you buy your tuna (water-packed, oil-packed, or dry-packed), open enough containers to yield 1 cup of drained, flaked tuna for this recipe.


Tuna Salad

  • 1 cup drained tuna, flaked with a fork

  • ¼ cup finely diced celery (or other crunchy raw ingredient, such as bell pepper or apple)

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion (or other oniony thing, such as scallions or shallots)

  • 2 - 3 tablespoons drained pickle relish (sweet, savory, or sweet-hot, or use chopped pickles, capers, olives, or other pickled vegetables)

  • 1 tablespoon pickle brine (or other acidic liquid, such as lemon juice, olive brine, interesting vinegar, or hot sauce)

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (smooth or wholegrain, or another seedy mustard, such as Creole or spicy brown; avoid yellow ballpark mustard)

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (such as chives, tarragon, basil, dill, or parsley)

  • ¼ - ⅓ cup mayonnaise

  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  • 8 large slices of your favorite sturdy sandwich bread

  • Soft butter or mayonnaise for the outside of the bread

  • 8 slices or 4 ounces (1 cup) shredded cheese


  1. Stir together everything in a bowl, mixing it well, leaving the mayonnaise for last. Add mayonnaise a spoonful at a time, just enough to bind everything together. The salad should hold its shape on a spoon. (You can make the tuna salad up to three days ahead. Store covered and refrigerated. Drain off any accumulated liquid and stir well before using.)

  2. Cover one side of each bread slice with butter or mayonnaise, spreading it all the way to the edges. Turn the slices over and cover with cheese, either sprinkling it or tearing the pieces to fit. Top with tuna salad.

  3. Close the sandwiches and cook on a griddle or in a large skillet over medium-high heat until deep golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per side, pressing lightly with the spatula. Serve immediately.

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