With All Due Respect, You're Wrapping Your Sandwiches Wrong

Wrapping is a game changer for hot and cold sandwiches, but you've got to do it right.

<p>Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez</p>

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Put a bunch of cooks in a room to debate the art of sandwich making, and you can pretty much rely on them hashing out a familiar set of topics: which cheeses have the best meltability, the ideal bread to use and whether to toast it or not, ratios and quantities of fillings, stacking order, and the ideal condiments for each and every bread-bound creation known to humankind. But one technique that is mission critical to a vast number of sandwiches often gets overlooked: the need to wrap them after assembly and before digging in.

It's easy to ignore this fundamental sandwich technique—when you get a wrapped sandwich from a deli or restaurant you might assume the only reason it’s swaddled in paper and/or foil is to make it easier to eat on the go. But the wrapping of a sandwich often delivers culinary benefits so important that it's well worth wrapping them when making them to eat at home. For certain sandwiches—including hot ones like bacon, egg, and cheese and cold ones like pan bagnat—the wrapping isn’t optional, it’s essential.

Tap Into the Benefits of Wrapping Hot Sandwiches

There are a few desirable things wrapping a sandwich helps accomplish. For hot sandwiches, a few minutes in a tight wrapper is enough to trap heat and steam, softening the bread, further melting the cheese, and fusing all of the elements into a more cohesive whole. Take the bacon, egg, and cheese as an example. Part of the BEC’s appeal is how the fluffy eggs, crisp bacon, and cheese meld together and glue to the tender roll holding them. “Wrapping ensures that the cheese melts fully and the interior steams slightly, which softens and warms the sandwich just enough,” writes Serious Eats contributor Tim Chin, who makes wrapping a final step in his BEC recipe even for those who are only carrying it from the kitchen to the breakfast table. “The wrap is the reason why a deli-style BEC stays hot, stays gooey, and has a unique texture.” You could make a BEC without wrapping it, or you could improve it by about 200% by taking the time to wrap it and let it sit for several minutes before digging in.

Like the BEC, there are a bevy of other hot sandwiches that benefit from the quick wrap and steam: the chopped cheese, the pork roll, the Italian meatball sub, and many more. Wrapping keeps the sandwich hotter for longer and guarantees that the cheese—the glue holding the sandwich’s contents together—melts properly. It also steams the bread, softening it just enough that it’s pillowy and tender, not cold and stale tasting.

For both hot and cold sandwiches, wrapping can also compress the sandwich, further unifying the fillings while making the finished creation easier to eat. The pork roll’s cohesiveness is crucial—the pro move for eating it involves dipping the sandwich in a side of ketchup, an act that's made far more manageable by first gluing and squishing all the layers together. And the chopped cheese—a New York bodega classic loaded with ground beef, American cheese, sliced onions, tomatoes, and lettuce—relies on the compression and steaming courtesy of a tight wrapping to properly melt the cheese and bind the fillings.

Some Cold Sandwiches Like to Be Wrapped Too

Now consider cold sandwiches, like the muffuletta. Packed with a briny, tangy olive salad and an assortment of cold cuts, the New Orleans classic is noticeably more flavorful when you wrap it and let it sit for an hour or more to give the bread a chance to soak up all the juices from the olives and pickles. Likewise, pan bagnat—the famed Provençal sandwich that’s essentially a Niçoise salad between bread—reaches its true heights only after its filling has had time to settle and intermingle.

Often these cold sandwiches are not only wrapped but left to sit with a weight on top to ensure sufficient compression and cohesion (some hot sandwiches are pressed with weights also, and because they're softer from the heat, the weight has a more profound effect on the degree of compression). As Daniel notes in his recipe, pan bagnat literally means “bathed bread” in French, but for the bread to truly bathe you first have to give the sandwich a moment to luxuriate in those irresistible Niçoise drippings. While you wouldn’t want to use a weight on them, wrapping, slightly compressing, and refrigerating cream-filled Japanese fruit sandwiches creates an even layer of cream, helps the cream and fruit set into one another, and makes slicing and eating the sandwiches much less messy.

When Should—and Shouldn’t—I Wrap My Sandwich?

The big question, then, is how to decide if a sandwich needs wrapping. There are no hard rules about when (or when not to) wrap, but if maximum melt, softness, cohesion, soaking, or marinating are important to the sandwich, it’s probably a good idea to do so. Most sandwiches built on sliced sandwich bread are more prone to sogginess, as they lack the thicker, sturdier crust of rustic loaves, so think twice before wrapping these, especially if the filling is particularly moist. We’d steer clear of wrapping tuna or chicken salad on soft bread, for example. Toasted or griddled bread can help offset some of the moisture, but there’s no guarantee the sandwich won’t sog with time, so use your judgment before you start wrapping.

The next time you consider the many ways to improve your sandwich, don’t sleep on this too-often-overlooked step: wrapping and resting. It’s the easiest and most cost-efficient way to make your sandwich exponentially more delicious. All you need is a piece of foil—maybe some parchment—and just enough patience to wait a few additional minutes before taking a bite.

Read the original article on Serious Eats.