Most of the time, I embrace chaos—a very insidious texture in food, I would argue. I enjoy the way the chocolate chips from my ice cream sandwich give my teeth to my teeth, and how shredded bread turns into a squishy sponge soaked in gravy in a bowl of beans. I even like a pie with a soggy bottom; It feels comfortable somehow.
But that seems to be the one place where most people, myself included, agree that fungi don’t belong in a sandwich. Although this statement deserves a warning: There is a huge difference, of course, between deliberately dunking hoagie rolls in marinara sauce and the annoying gummies of white bread stuffed with tuna sauce that have been kept in a lunch bag for far too long.
The best way to avoid a soggy sandwich is to eat it right away. But that’s not always possible, and with offices reopening and warm weather around the corner, the prospect of a packed lunch looms again. Picnics, hikes, day trips, or just wanting to avoid the salad of another quick, casual chain all mean plenty of opportunities for wet sandwiches. But according to sandwich experts, it doesn’t have to be this way: The key is to master both assembly and storage.
When you’re making a sandwich that needs to be packed, start with a slightly drier bread, such as a crispy baguette, toasted sourdough, or rye, says Jeff Strauss, owner of Los Angeles sandwich shop Jeff Table. Then – and this is extremely important – consider your spread. Things like mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, vinegar, and red pepper add moisture to the sandwich, unlike oily foods like mayonnaise, which don’t leach into the bread as much.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do without those flavors, though: to ensure optimum texture And the Taste, throw those water-based seasonings into squeeze bottles and add them right before you eat. You can even go a step further and keep each sandwich item separate, ready for quick assembly in the garden or on the driveway. “But, not everyone wants to do that,” admits Strauss. No matter how or when you assemble them, he recommends packing sandwiches in parchment paper or foil—basically anything except plastic, which doesn’t breathe at all.
Ben Golan, the sandwich lover who runs sandwich tours through his New York company A Man and His Sandwich, gets a little more subtle with his design of sandwiches, all to avoid that dreaded damp. “Soggy sandwiches are the bane of my existence,” he says. To avoid them, you can do what his mom did and store wet ingredients like sliced tomatoes away from the dry ingredients. Or you can follow the philosophy of creating your own Gollan sandwich.
Consider the sandwich half top and half bottom, Golan says. He likes to put the wet ingredients in the top half because even though they’re touching the slice of bread, gravity does the job of pulling them down and not letting them soak. Place dry ingredients such as cold cuts on the bottom half of the sandwich. “You’re creating this meat protection layer on the bread, which will help prevent those juices from peppers or anything from dripping onto the bottom base,” he explains.
You’ll lose a little control over all of this if you’re buying a sandwich knowing you’ll have to sit for a while before eating it, but you can still choose wisely. On those occasions, Golan generally goes for an Italian sandwich with cold cuts, a pan mi, or a bagel sandwich (the denser texture of a bagel is especially helpful in avoiding euphoria) and steers clear of juicy options like steak and meatball, which are both quick to marinade.
But if these methods are all a little tricky for you, perhaps the answer is instead to channel Strauss, who sees a little romance in the sometimes soggy sandwich. “Like cold pizza the next morning or cold Chinese food, sometimes you have to accept where life takes you,” he says. “Keep these things wet until the last minute—and if you can’t do that, learn to love what you’re going to get.”
Marie Asenat Painter based in Paris. She loves to draw silly things and enjoys making her own sandwiches with a good baguette.