How Funeral Sandwiches Became A Southern Staple At Any Get Together

While funeral foods sound (and are) more functional than festive, they are a well-established part of the culinary tradition in many parts of the country, particularly the South. A cheesy casserole known as funeral potatoes is one Southern staple (although it's pretty popular out in Utah, as well), while in Texas, chocolate sheet cake is the funeral food of choice. Every funeral reception needs a main course as well as sides and desserts, though, and here's where funeral sandwiches come in.

The main selling point of funeral sandwiches is that they are so simple that it's not too much effort to whip up a batch to feed a crowd, plus the ingredients are nothing fancy and unlikely to be too expensive. Pretty much all you need are some pre-made rolls (King's Hawaiian are a favorite, not just with Southerners but also in the Amish community) plus some meat for a filling and maybe some cheese and condiments. The small, slider-sized sandwiches are pretty portable, so are well-suited to buffet-style service and can be quickly consumed in just a few bites. Despite the name, however, funeral sandwiches aren't just for sad occasions. These same attributes that make them perfect for funerals (convenient, portable, affordable, etc) have seen them evolve into a popular addition to church potlucks, parties, and even tailgate picnics held throughout the South (and elsewhere).

Here's what goes into a typical funeral sandwich (plus a few variants)

The classic funeral sandwich filling tends to be ham, for reasons we really don't know, although we'd speculate that it may have something to do with the fact that sliced ham is convenient, not too pricey, and pairs well with cheese. The cheese used in these sandwiches can vary with the sandwich maker – Swiss is a classic choice, although some may feel that cheddar is better and there may even be some mavericks out there using pepper jack or havarti. As for the condiments, these may involve mayonnaise, mustard, or anything else that pairs well with cheesy sandwich sliders. Whatever cheese it is has to be melty, though, as funeral sandwiches are typically served baked. (Could "Hamlet's" mention of "funeral baked meats" be foreshadowing?)

The ham, however, isn't strictly de rigueur. Sliced turkey, too, makes for a tasty funeral sandwich filling and you probably wouldn't get kicked out of the wake for bringing roast beef. Corned beef might also be appropriate. One funeral sandwich recipe (courtesy of YouTube) even calls for bologna, eggs, pickle relish, and Miracle Whip. We'd be tempted to call those pre-funeral sandwiches ourselves since that combo almost sounds like it could prove fatal all on its own.