In honor of National Sandwich Month, this Culinary Classic article features a classic sandwich.
Though there is no direct trail to an inventor of the BLT, it appears to have developed in the early 1900s in the United Kingdom and United States as part of the rise in popularity of what were known as club sandwiches. Such sandwiches were built on the foundational ingredients of lettuce, tomato, and then other ingredients—turkey, bacon, or ham, for instance.
What you put into your BLT can be as important as the order in which you put it together. Furthermore, a real and traditional BLT doesn’t take off on flavor tangents. It’s all pretty well defined in our collective consciousness: bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, salt, and black pepper.
In order to make the perfect BLT, start with bread, preferably toasted. A good bread selection is a semolina bread with a sesame-seed crust. The purity of the bread flavor combines with the lush crunch of toasted sesame seeds to yield a bite that is tender, crusty, and aromatic all at the same time.
Toast the bread over an open fire—on the grill or over a burner on your gas stove top (it’s just not the same with an electric grid). A slight char on the bread is a wonderful flavor enhancer and complements the smoky flavor notes of the bacon.
You need well-smoked bacon—cured or uncured is your choice. You will find no better cured and smoked bacon than Lobel’s Double Hickory Smoked Slab Bacon. Or, if you prefer an uncured variety, try Lobel’s Fruitwood Smoked Uncured Bacon, which is lighter on the palate without sacrificing a harmoniously intense smoky flavor.
In the sandwich, the bacon should be touching the other major flavor determinant: the tomatoes. The contrast of smoke and saltiness against the fruity, lush flavor of the tomato are the fuel that powers this gastronomic rocket.
It used to be that a truly great BLT was a seasonal delicacy. A BLT in December with anemic, cardboard-like tomatoes is an absolute no go. Absolute bliss is a great BLT on a mid-summer afternoon. On such a day, heavier fare makes you logy, while lighter fare doesn’t sustain. But a BLT, that’s a humdinger on a hot day. Add a cool beverage—especially something that has an acid edge, such a fruited iced tea, iced black tea with lemon, or a young white wine, balances the richness of the sandwich handsomely.
A big, thick slice of a very red-ripe Beefsteak or variously colored heirloom tomato gives a BLT substance. It lends acid and sweetness, and a blast of juiciness to cut the rich and salty overtones. Smaller, yet nicely sweet Comparé tomatoes are a fine alternative.
Here again personal tastes rule. Lettuces with a lower water content lend a nicely concentrated flavor and complementary crunch. Try Romaine for a robust sandwich or Boston bib for a lighter-bodied feast.
Every element of a great BLT contributes its own flavor and texture. The mayonnaise you use is no exception. It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that a significant portion of a BLT’s appeal lies in its sodium and fat content. The fat and salt from the bacon adds different flavor elements than the fat content of the mayo, which comes from oil and egg yolks.
Salt and Pepper
Salt and pepper are always at their very best when freshly ground. For great BLT, finely ground is also key so the seasonings meld smoothly with all of the other flavors. Maldon Sea Salt is ideal because of its simple, pure saltiness. A robust black pepper is best when ground on the spot, compared to dulled-down pre-ground pepper.
Putting it all together is the crowning glory of an incredible BLT with flavor against flavor in just the right order.
- Place 2 pieces of the toasted bread side-by-side on a preparation surface.
- Spread mayo on both facing sides of the bread.
- Add salt and pepper to taste on the piece of bread on your right, and then add slices of tomato.
- Place bacon strips on top of the tomatoes.
- Put the lettuce on top of the bacon.
- Top everything with the other slice of toast.
Is a BLT one of your favorite summertime sandwiches? What sides do you most enjoy with a BLT? What beverage? What’s your favorite type of bacon to use? Are you a purist, or do you put your own custom twist on a BLT?