BLT sandwiches on a white counter
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner
Recipe Review

I Tried 4 Popular BLT Recipes and the Winner Has a Brilliant 1-Ingredient Upgrade

updated Sep 2, 2021
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It isn’t summer until you’ve built a BLT. Heavy tomatoes, warm from the sun, are the star of this classic no matter which recipe you choose. But after procuring the highest-quality “T” you can find, the question remains: What ingredients and techniques make for the very best version?

For a sandwich whose main ingredients are in its name, it’s surprising how many variations there are. Would the best BLT be the simplest of the bunch, with little more than bacon, lettuce, and tomato on mayo-slicked bread? Or have we been missing out on the ultimate BLT by failing to add herbs and spice to every layer? I set up a sandwich station in my kitchen to find out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

Meet Our 4 BLT Sandwich Contenders

For this showdown, I looked for recipes that took a clear stance on why theirs was the best. The recipes needed to be true sandwiches (no BLT wraps, for example), and at the very least had to include bacon, lettuce, and tomato, of course. Recipes that called for vegan or turkey bacon alternatives were not considered. This led me to my four finalists: Southern Living, Tia Mowry, Serious Eats, and Ina Garten.

Southern Living’s BLT is the most simple and straightforward of the bunch. The only out-of-the-ordinary upgrade is stirring freshly grated garlic into store-bought mayo.

Tia Mowry’s BLT is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Her maximalist approach to the summery sandwich calls for chewy ciabatta, an herby mayo, and sweet-and-spicy candied bacon.

Serious Eats’ BLT leaves nothing to chance — every single component was meticulously considered. It includes some new-to-me BLT techniques, such as bacon-toasted bread, sub sandwich-style shaved lettuce, and pressed thick-cut bacon.

Ina Garten’s BLT is the subtle sophisticate of the group. Her recipe calls for thick slices of tomato and avocado, long strips of crispy bacon, and tender leaves of lettuce piled high on good white bread.

Credit: Patty Catalano

How I Tested the BLT Recipes

All four recipes were prepared and tasted on the same day. To minimize ingredient variability, I purchased produce on the same day from the same stores and opted for locally grown tomatoes. Specific ingredient brands mentioned within the recipes were honored, and if no brand was specified I used the same one across the board. For example, Serious Eats’ recipe write-up recommends thick-cut Wright brand bacon, so I also used that for any other recipe that recommended thick-cut bacon.

After all ingredients were prepared, I assembled the sandwiches and tasted them immediately. My family also offered their thoughts and opinions, and one BLT sandwich stood out among the rest.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

1. The Maximalist’s BLT: Tia Mowry’s BLT Sandwich

This over-the-top recipe leaves no ingredient untouched. Classic sandwich bread is swapped for chewy ciabatta, store-bought mayo gets an herby upgrade, and the bacon is rubbed with a spicy-sweet seasoning. While the individual ingredients are inspired, when stacked together in a sandwich the beautiful simplicity of a summer BLT is lost. My suggestion? Use just one of these upgrades. Add fresh herbs to the mayo, make candied bacon, or opt for fresh bread from the bakery — but don’t do it all at once.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

2. The High-Effort BLT: Serious Eats’ the Best BLT Sandwich

Serious Eats wrote an entire manifesto on BLTs, scrutinizing every ingredient, technique, and tool. While I appreciate the attention to detail, I spent more time doing dishes than eating the sandwich — and ultimately didn’t feel like the extra effort was worth it. The recipe called for weighing down the bacon with a cast iron skillet, but I personally missed the texture of naturally rippled bacon. It also called for frying the bread in the bacon fat, but I found this left the bread tasting greasy. The tomato was also sliced too thickly, which threw off the delicate BLT balance. Next time, I’ll use less bacon fat, skip the bacon press, and cut the tomatoes more thinly.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

3. The Most Surprising BLT: Ina Garten’s California BLTs

Ina Garten has a way of adding elegance to even the simplest recipes, and I can’t think of a better dish to showcase this talent than a BLT. Upon first glance, I thought Ina’s addition of avocado would be what put her sandwich over the top. But the game-changing ingredient turned out to be the lemon! The fresh lemon juice squeezed onto the avocado seeps into the tomatoes, cutting through the rich avocado and mayonnaise and helping make the tomato the star. Where this sandwich lost a few marks is in its eatability: The thick slices of tomato and avocado and the long bacon rashers were unwieldy and awkward to eat.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

4. The Clear Winner: Southern Living’s the SL BLT

Summer cooking is all about leaning into sun-ripened produce and not making too much of a fuss. Southern Living’s BLT is as easy as they come, and a simple one-ingredient upgrade is what makes all the difference. You’ll grate fresh garlic into store-bought mayonnaise to infuse the spread with its pleasantly pungent flavor. From there, all you need is good-quality white sandwich bread, crisp lettuce leaves (I’ll forever recommend romaine), crisp sizzled bacon, and juicy summer tomatoes. Simply put: It’s the perfect summer sandwich.

Do you have a favorite BLT recipe? Let us know in the comments!