Skip to main content

How to Make a Cuban Sandwich, According to Chefs

cuban sandwich bite
Mark Livingston/Getty Images

A South Florida creation dating back to the turn of the century, the Cuban sandwich (also known as the Cubano) is a flavorful spin on the classic ham and cheese. The Cubano often includes creative additions and ingredient swaps, but at its essence, this grilled sandwich involves Cuban bread, thin-sliced ham, roasted pork, deli pickles, and a hearty swipe of mustard. It’s a handheld masterpiece that appeals to all flavor centers … and if you’re armed with the following seven useful tips from pro chefs, the Cuban sandwich can be easily re-created in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Pay attention to the marinades used for your pork and pickles.

The rich umami of roasted pork and the bright tang of pickled cucumbers are crucial to the Cuban sandwich’s appeal, so it’s important to get your brines, marinades, and cooking times right. Chef Lisa Toro of The Liquor Store in Memphis, Tennessee uses a “12- to 16-hour seasoned and roasted pork shoulder” for her Cuban sandwiches, allowing the slow marination process and gentle roasting to infuse the pork with as much flavor as possible.

Chef Julian Medina of Latineria in New York City tells us that “the key ingredients to an amazing Cuban sandwich are the pork and the pickles. Marinate the pork shoulder for two days in a mix of garlic, fresh herbs and olive oil, then slow-roast it so the meat gets a nice sear all around it. For the pickles, make [a brine] with rice vinegar, dill, and chiles de Arbol for a tart and spicy aspect.”

Don’t skimp on the quality of cheese.

Look, we get it. The cheese counter is a notorious money vortex, and it can feel a bit silly to drop big bucks on a block of dairy that’s intended for a sandwich rather than a cheese board. But when it comes to a well-executed Cubano, quality cheese is a must-have. And according to culinary director Tom Berry of the soon-to-open Mariel in Boston, MA only one type of cheese will do: “Cave-aged Gruyere maketh a Cubano.”

cuban sandwich
Hann Leon Photo/Getty Images

Feel free to play around with the mustard.

A traditional Cubano includes yellow mustard, but depending on your flavor preferences, blending different mustard styles can result in a tastier sandwich. “Mix together two parts classic yellow mustard with one part Dijon and one part whole-grain mustard for a slightly more complex mustard flavor without straying away from what makes this a Cubano,” recommends Chef Dillon Misonznick of Spicy Boys in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t find proper “Cuban bread,” look for bread with high egg content like a brioche

In an ideal world, a Cuban sandwich would always be built on Cuban bread, a version of white bread considered a regional specialty of South Florida. ““You must use real Cuban bread, or it’s not a Cubano! What makes Cuban bread unique is the use of all white flour and lard,” insists restauranteur Joe Santos of Havana 1920 in San Diego.

But if you’re unable to find Cuban bread at your local grocery store or bakery, Chef Alfredo Noguiera of Cane & Table and Cure in New Orleans offers a solid alternative: an egg-based bread with a lightweight texture. “Go for a bread that is more of brioche, which is typical for a style [of the Cuban sandwich] called ‘medianoche’,” Noguiera tells The Manual.

Thoroughly “lubricate” the bread before pressing.

The Cuban sandwich gets its crispy crust and rich melted cheese from a pressing process somewhat akin to the one used for paninis. As with any other grilled sandwich, the bread used for a Cubano must be prepped prior to its placement on the press, an endeavor requiring a fat-based “lubricant.” “Traditionally, margarine is used to toast the bread,” explains Misonznick, “but you can kick it up a notch by mixing some fresh pork lard with the margarine.”

Press each slice of bread individually before assembling and pressing the sandwich.

The textural contrast of crunchy bread and soft fillings proves a major selling point of the Cubano. In the interest of emphasizing that aspect of the sandwich, Chef Michael C. Brown of Barrel Republic in San Diego puts in some extra time at the press: “I like to press each side of the bread individually, then add the additional ingredients, then press again to get a nicely compressed sandwich.”

cuban sandwich press
Chuck Kahn/EyeEm/Getty Images

Let the sandwich press “do its thing.”

Don’t have a sandwich press at home? Luckily, there’s an easy shortcut to getting your Cubano perfectly griddled: “If you don’t have a sandwich press, you can press the sandwiches between two hot cast iron skillets,” suggests chef and butcher Rusty Bowers of Pine Street Market in Atlanta, Georgia.

Whether you’re using a traditional press or a MacGyver-ed version, resist the urge to interfere with the process. “Once you have all the good quality ingredients down, it’s all about the press. You want to lightly press the sandwich instead of forcing the press. Place [the Cubano] on the sandwich press and let it do its thing. You don’t need to force it shut; the press will happen naturally,” states Chef Michael Beltran of Chug’s in Miami.

If you want to try making a Cubano at home, this recipe provides a clear road map to a traditional and satisfying Cuban sandwich:

The Butcher’s Cuban Sandwich Recipe

(Created by Rusty Bowers, Pine Street Market, Atlanta, Georgia)


  • 2 7-inch bread loaves (Bowers prefers ciabatta)
  • 4 slices of mild sharp Cheddar or Swiss cheese
  • 6 oz shredded pork
  • 6 slices of ham
  • 2 oz butter, at room temperature
  • Cucumber pickles, to taste
  • Mustard, to taste (Bowers prefers hot honey mustard)


  1. Preheat the sandwich press to medium.
  2. Slice the bread lengthwise and spread mustard on the open-cut sides.
  3. Place two slices of cheese on each bottom slice of bread. Top with an even layer of pork and ham. Top the meat with pickles and the top half of the bread.
  4. Brush each side of the bread with butter. Place the sandwiches in the press and grill until the cheese is melted and the bread browns, approximately 8-10 minutes.
  5. Let the sandwiches rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Editors' Recommendations

Taylor Tobin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
Chef Andrew Carmellini Tells You How To Make Restaurant-Caliber Dishes At Home
restaurant quality recipes at home insalata di rucola with prosciutto san daniele

With many restaurant dining rooms still shuttered throughout the United States, food lovers are eagerly seeking out ways to get their hands on chef-caliber meals, even if their only options involve rolling up their sleeves and becoming good friends with their home kitchen appliances. If this sounds like a familiar situation, then you’ll be glad to know that we’ve rounded up a few useful tips on how to upgrade your home-cooked eats, all courtesy of a critically acclaimed toque: Chef Andrew Carmellini, whose celebrated restaurants include Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, and Little Park in New York City, Rye Street Tavern in Baltimore, and San Morello in Detroit.
Don’t underestimate the value of high-quality ingredients.
When asked for the number-one piece of advice he’d offer to home cooks looking to up their games, Carmellini had an immediate response: “It’s cliché, but spend the time and a little more money on the best ingredients. You don’t have to do much to make you [feel like] like a star [in the kitchen] if you’re using high-quality products. Things like authentic prosciutti (I like Prosciutto di San Daniele and Prosciutto di Parma) can elevate a salad or pasta dish instantly.”

Consider buying directly from restaurant suppliers.
One intriguing side effect of rampant restaurant closures is the fact that some meat and produce suppliers, who traditionally only sold their wares to restaurant kitchens, are now willing to directly sell to individuals. Carmellini views this development as a positive for home cooks, telling us that “in most cases, restaurant suppliers will have better inventory than retail [stores]. If you’re buying fresh cheese and produce, [going through a supplier] is usually better.”
Farmers’ markets are great shopping destinations -- as long as you’re willing to do your due diligence. 
Farmers’ markets get a lot of credit for featuring carefully sourced local produce, cheese, and meat, and it’s mostly well-deserved. That said, Carmellini recommends doing a bit of research about your market vendors to ensure that you’re getting the freshest possible products: “Farmers’ markets are always a smart move, but be aware of the policies of your local market. Sometimes, I see farm stands that sell produce that they don’t grow or that come from other parts of the country. Right now, from the end of August through October, is the best time of the year to cook. [Keep an eye out for] stone fruit, tomatoes, beans, and lots of veggies.”
Keep these two secret weapons in your fridge and cabinet.
According to Carmellini, he always keeps two very specific ingredients on-hand for home cooking purposes: “Dried Italian oregano on the branch and Grana Padano cheese. You can find the oregano at any good Italian food store. They dry it in the sun, and it smells so floral and strong. Grana is my go-to everyday cheese when cooking Italian food. Finish a pasta with it or grate it over salads.”

Read more
How to Make Wine in an Instant Pot (Yes, It’s Possible)
how to make wine with instant pot recipe

An Instant Pot can make almost anything, but did you know that it can be used to make wine at home?

Instead of getting out a giant bucket,  a bunch of grapes, and something to cover your feet so you can stomp on fruit, making wine in your Instant Pot gives you the satisfaction and feeling of making fresh wine without worrying about a giant mess (or dying those tootsies purple ).

Read more
How to Make Your Own Homemade Peanut Butter
homemade peanut butter

Peanut butter is a healthy, delicious staple in the best of times, but now that people are focusing more on shelf-stable items that are also good for you (or bad for you, we’re not here to judge, and we’d be lying if we said we hadn’t stocked up on cheeseballs and Totino’s Pizza Rolls), the classic sandwich spread has taken on a whole new level of importance. If you are looking to try your hand at maybe making your own with all those new cooking skills you’ve been mastering (move aside, Fieri, there’s a new mayor of Flavortown), the thing you might not know is you only need a few ingredients and a blender and boom, you’ve got yourself a batch of creamy peanut butter (or chunky -- again, not judging).

In order to help in your quest to become the next great quarantine chef, we reached out to a pro to get her recipe for how to make peanut butter at home. This recipe comes to us from chef Sara Bradley of the Freight House in Paducah, Kentucky. Bradley uses an in-house peanut butter (recipe for that here) as a basis for a decadent and delicious pie topping. While you can do that as well, you can also make the peanut butter and use it for, well, whatever else you would use peanut butter for. (We’re fans of a classic peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich, but hell, go crazy – it’s quarantine, there are no more rules).
Freight House Peanut Butter

Read more