Cuban Sandwich

updated May 31, 2024
Cuban Sandwich Recipe

Here's how you can make the authentic, delicious sandwich at home.

Serves1

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head on shot of two halves of a cuban sandwich resting on top of one another, on a white plate.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

The Cuban sandwich — or “Cubano” — is an institution unto itself. Walk down Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, and you’d be hard-pressed to not find a café selling “sandwich mixto” along with little cups of intense Cuban coffees. This classic sandwich is made with a mix of sliced ham, slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, and dill pickles on Cuban bread slathered with mustard. The whole thing is then pressed to make what is certainly the best ham and cheese sandwich I’ve ever had.

The desire for Cuban sandwiches is the perfect excuse to roast a pork shoulder, just so you can use the leftovers to make this sandwich. I talked with Ana Sofia Pelaez, author of The Cuban Table, before getting down to business and making my first Cuban sandwich, and I’m so glad I did. She told me this: “A great Cuban sandwich has the right balance of citrus marinated pork, sweet ham, and sharp Swiss cheese. The bread should have a delicate eggshell crust and airy interior that gives way under the press. If a little cheese peeks out and crisps on the grill then so much the better.”

Why You’ll Love It

  • It’s classic. This sandwich incorporates all the traditional flavors of a Cubano, roast pork, ham, Swiss, dill pickles, and mustard.
  • It’s pressed on the stovetop. No sandwich press? No problem. We press the sandwich in a skillet on the stovetop, so special equipment needed.
  • It’s quick. Once the sandwich is assembled, it’s pressed for about 4 minutes per side, so lunch is ready in under 15 minutes.

Key Ingredients in a Cuban Sandwich

  • Cuban bread. You can substitute a soft white sandwich or hoagie roll here, but look for one with a crisp crust.
  • Roast pork. Roasted pork shoulder is a key element to this sandwich. The flavors of traditional citrus-marinated, slow-cooked pork pair well with the other ingredients.
  • Ham. Thin slices of ham from the deli work best here. Opt for something sweet like honey ham.
  • Swiss cheese. Swiss cheese from the deli counter or refrigerated section of the grocery store will both work. Look for thin slices for maximum meltability.
  • Dill pickles. You can use pickle chips, or slice your own if you like them extra thin. Avoid sweet varieties of pickles like bread and butter here.
  • Mustard. Cubanos are typically made with yellow mustard, but you can substitute Dijon if you prefer.

Where Does the Cubano Come From?

The origins of the Cuban sandwich can be a bit murky. While the sandwich is often said to have been invented in Cuba, it’s more likely that it was developed in Florida in the communities surrounding the local cigar factories where a mix of immigrant communities and their ingredients were combined to form the legendary sandwich.

Per Florida’s tourism board, records of the Cuban sandwich go back as far as the mid-19th century. It’s the official signature sandwich of Tampa, Florida, which is home to Ybor City, a small Cuban neighborhood that is the unofficial home of the Cuban sandwich, even hosting a huge Cuban sandwich competition every year.

How to Press a Cuban Sandwich

Ana Sofia had a pro tip for getting around a lack of a sandwich press, which some home cooks might not have in their kitchens, since the press is key in making this iconic sandwich. In place of a sandwich press, she says that after smearing the outside of your bread with a healthy layer of butter (essential for the golden crust), “wrap a large can or brick in aluminum foil or use a heavy, cast iron skillet to apply equal pressure” on the sandwich.

Helpful Swaps

  • You can substitute a soft white roll, hoagie roll, or a “soft French” roll with a crisp crust for the Cuban bread. Avoid anything too crusty like a baguette.
  • You can substitute Dijon mustard for yellow mustard.
  • If you prefer a Tampa-style sandwich, add a few slices of Genoa salami.
  • Swap the bread for a savory-sweet variation. Ellen Silverman, no stranger to Cuban cuisine herself, suggested a wonderful variation of Cuban sandwich to me, a Media Noche. “The Media Noche, a variation of a Cubano, is my favorite Cuban sandwich. It is made with Pan de Media Noche, a slightly sweet egg-rich bread instead of the traditional Pan de Agua or Cuban bread used for the Cubano. For me, the sweetness of the bread perfectly offsets the ham, pork, pickles, and melted Swiss cheese. A generous amount of mustard makes for perfection.”
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Cuban Sandwich Recipe

Here's how you can make the authentic, delicious sandwich at home.

Serves 1

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/3 loaf

    Cuban bread (7 to 8 inches), or 1 soft white sandwich or hoagie roll with a crisp crust

  • Yellow mustard, to taste

  • 3 or 4 long slices

    dill pickle

  • 3 thin slices

    roast pork (shoulder or tenderloin)

  • 3 thin slices

    ham

  • 3 thin slices

    Swiss cheese

  • Cooking spray

  • Softened butter (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut 1/3 loaf of Cuban bread in half lengthwise. Spread a thin layer of yellow mustard on the cut sides. Add 3 to 4 long slices of dill pickle, 3 slices of roast pork, and then alternate the 3 slices of ham and 3 slices of Swiss cheese on the bottom half of the bread. Close the sandwich with the top half of the bread.

  2. Coat a skillet, griddle, or sandwich press with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add the sandwich in pan and lightly coat the top of the sandwich with cooking spray or spread it with a little softened butter. Place a heavy weight on top of the sandwich, like a cast iron skillet, to press the sandwich.

  3. Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, 3 to 4 minutes more.