14 Creative Ways To Upgrade Classic Sandwiches

For people who love to eat, few things are as universally cherished as a classic sandwich. Simple, versatile, and endlessly customizable, sandwiches are a staple of diets around the globe. However, the same old sandwiches can get boring after the hundredth time of eating them. So, it pays to know some creative ways to upgrade classic sandwiches.

From the iconic BLT to the humble grilled cheese, we have some amazing twists to take your sandwich-making skills up a gear. We'll explore creative combinations of ingredients that will transform your perception of the humble sandwich. Discover the art of balancing flavors, experimenting with unexpected ingredients, and incorporating global influences to breathe new life into age-old classics.

Whether you're a keen home cook looking for some new inspiration or your cooking skills don't stretch far past sandwiches, we have some great ideas for you. Never again will you have to struggle through a boring sandwich. Get ready to upgrade your lunchtime experience with these 14 creative ways to upgrade classic sandwiches.

Add avocado to your grilled cheese

Millennials are often mocked for their love of avocados, but there are few things this versatile fruit can't do. One simple way to upgrade a classic grilled cheese is simply by adding avocado. Avocado's appeal lies in its unique combination of creamy texture and mild, nutty flavor. When nestled between layers of melted cheese and crisp bread, avocado adds a richness that elevates the overall experience.

Texture is key in a grilled cheese, and avocado contributes a smooth, buttery consistency. It complements the softness of melted cheese. Creamy avocado keeps the sandwich from feeling overly dry, so each bite is indulgently moist. Flavor-wise, avocado brings a delicate, earthy taste that doesn't overpower the other ingredients. Its subtle notes provide a refreshing balance to the richness of the cheese, enhancing the overall taste profile. Avocado's natural creaminess also serves as a pleasant backdrop, allowing the flavors of the cheese and bread to shine through. If you feel it needs an extra punch of flavor, a light drizzle of hot sauce is another nice addition. Or you can throw in some sliced tomato for freshness.

Upgrade a BLT with fried green tomatoes

Replacing ripe red tomatoes with fried green tomatoes in a classic BLT sandwich introduces a delightful twist to this iconic dish. Fried green tomatoes are essentially unripe, firm green tomatoes that are sliced, coated in seasoned cornmeal or breadcrumbs, and then fried until golden brown. This cooking method gives them a crispy texture on the outside while maintaining a slightly tangy and firm interior.

When incorporated into a BLT, fried green tomatoes add crunch and a subtle tartness that regular tomatoes lack. It adds extra texture to the sandwich, while the tartness of the green tomatoes cuts through the richness of the bacon and mayo, adding a refreshing zing to every bite.

What's more, fried green tomatoes bring a depth of flavor that regular tomatoes lack. The frying process caramelizes the natural sugars in the green tomatoes, creating a slightly sweet and savory taste profile. This enhanced flavor profile gives you something that's really special, with just one change in ingredients. Using fried green tomatoes in a BLT also offers a nod to Southern cuisine, where this preparation method is particularly popular. It brings a touch of regional authenticity to a beloved classic, appealing to those looking for a taste of traditional Southern flavors.

If you're looking for a vegetarian alternative to a BLT, the fried green tomatoes bring enough to the sandwich to leave out the bacon altogether. Or you could use a store-bought veggie bacon.

Use kimchi instead of sauerkraut in a Reuben

Substituting sauerkraut with kimchi in a classic Reuben sandwich is a perfect way to upgrade it. Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine, made by fermenting vegetables — usually napa cabbage and radishes — with a blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. This fermentation process gives kimchi its distinctive tangy, sour, spicy flavor.

Incorporating kimchi into a Reuben sandwich brings a complex layer of flavors. It's similar to the sauerkraut that it replaces it perfectly as it has a tangy fermented taste. However, the natural heat from the chili peppers in the kimchi adds an unexpected kick. It's also a little more pungent than sauerkraut, and this adds depth to the Reuben, nicely balancing its flavors.

The use of kimchi in a Reuben also pays homage to the global fusion of flavors in modern cuisine. It blends the traditional elements of a Reuben with Korean cuisine, resulting in a sandwich that marries the best of both worlds. What's cool is that it's a simple like-for-like substitution, so it's easy to do. Just replace the sauerkraut with kimchi in your favorite Reuben recipe, and you're good to go.

Modernize a club sandwich with vegan meat

In recent years, you might have noticed a significant rise in the number of people adopting vegan diets, either for ethical reasons, health concerns, or environmental consciousness. As such, people are reimagining traditional recipes to accommodate this dietary shift. One such classic — the club sandwich — is easy to bring up to date using plant-based meat alternatives.

There are all kinds of plant-based or vegan meats you could use in a club sandwich. Creating your own vegan deli slices or bacon alternatives at home allows for complete control over ingredients and flavors. Various recipes are available, using marinated tofu, seitan, or tempeh. You can use seasonings such as liquid smoke, tamari, and nutritional yeast to enhance the taste, providing a satisfying umami flavor reminiscent of traditional deli meats.

For those with busy schedules or limited culinary expertise, store-bought vegan meats offer a convenient option. A wide array of vegan deli slices, bacon, and plant-based chicken or turkey alternatives are readily available in grocery stores. These products have evolved significantly in terms of taste and texture, often providing a remarkably similar experience to their animal-based counterparts.

By incorporating vegan meat alternatives into a classic club sandwich, you can enjoy the familiar layers of toasted bread, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and creamy vegan mayo without compromising on taste or ethics. This adaptation not only caters to the growing vegan demographic but also lets everyone make more environmentally conscious food choices.

Upgrade the nut butter and jelly for a grown-up PBJ

Elevating a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich involves delving into various nut butters, high-quality jams, and potentially even the addition of fresh fruit. Ditching traditional peanut butter opens the door to all kinds of other nut butters. Almond butter offers a slightly sweeter and nuttier flavor compared to peanut butter. Cashew butter has a creamy texture and a mild, buttery taste. Or you could try less common nut butters, such as pecan butter or macadamia nut butter.

When it comes to jelly, moving beyond standard grape or strawberry opens up a realm of possibilities. High-quality fruit preserves or artisanal jams made with real fruit and less sugar can bring something wonderful to the mix. Raspberry preserves offer a sweet-tart punch, while apricot jam adds a complex sweetness. Fig preserves are not only fancy but taste great.

Then, adding fresh fruit to your PBJ introduces a layer of freshness and texture. Sliced bananas provide natural sweetness and a creamy consistency, contrasting the nutty spread. Strawberries or blueberries impart a burst of juiciness, and thinly sliced apples add a refreshing crunch. Experimenting with these variations not only enhances the taste but also adds a touch of gourmet flair to a childhood classic.

Make meatball sliders instead of a meatball sub

Transforming a traditional meatball sub into meatball sliders brings a playful twist. The key distinction lies in the size and presentation. While a sub features larger meatballs nestled in a lengthy roll, sliders consist of smaller, bite-sized meatballs served in miniature buns — or one regular meatball in a small bun. Not only is this a novel upgrade, but it also offers several practical advantages.

You could choose to make several types of sliders instead of one type of sandwich — especially for an event rather than just for lunch. This gives you, and any guests, a chance to try a wider range of foods. You can also choose to explore variations on the theme, trying different sauces, cheeses, and garnishes, tailoring each slider to a specific flavor profile. From traditional marinara and mozzarella to tangy barbecue sauce and pickled jalapeños, the possibilities are endless.

Then, there's the option to use vegetarian or vegan meatballs. Plant-based alternatives — whether store-bought or homemade — crafted from ingredients like mushrooms, lentils, pea protein, seitan, or tofu replicate the taste and texture of traditional meatballs. This means you can easily cater to a range of dietary requirements if you're cooking for a crowd.

Try a crispy cauliflower po' boy

A po' boy, originating from Louisiana, is a classic sandwich typically filled with either fried seafood like shrimp or oysters or roast beef. But, when crispy cauliflower steps in as the star of the po' boy, it's a 21st-century upgrade to this iconic sandwich. The cauliflower is usually battered or breaded and fried until golden brown and crispy. The crispiness of the cauliflower complements the softness of the sandwich roll — and who doesn't love something battered or breaded?

But what about flavor? Cauliflower's mild taste is a blank canvas for seasonings and sauces. Its neutral nature lets it absorb the flavors of accompanying condiments, making it an adaptable choice for those looking to experiment with different taste profiles. Plus, the cauliflower's natural sweetness pairs well with the savory and tangy components often found in po' boys, so the flavors are well-balanced.

Using crispy cauliflower in a po' boy also offers a vegetarian or vegan alternative to the traditionally meat-heavy sandwich. It aligns with the contemporary shift toward plant-based eating while retaining the essence of the po' boy sandwich's indulgence.

Add Indian flavors to your egg salad sandwich

Introducing Indian flavors like garam masala to an egg salad sandwich upgrades it with global flavors. It gives what can be a fairly boring dish a new vibrance. Garam masala — a quintessential spice blend in Indian cuisine — includes ingredients like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, and coriander. It's a nice alternative to curry powder, which isn't actually used in authentic Indian cooking.

Garam masala brings depth to the egg salad, adding warm, earthy, aromatic notes that contrast the cool, creamy texture of the egg. Part of the beauty of incorporating Indian flavors into an egg salad sandwich is the fusion of cuisines. Egg salad is a familiar choice for many Americans that's upgraded by including an Indian spice blend. You could even take it further by adding crunch from toasted nigella seeds or crispy onions or using naan bread in place of a standard sandwich loaf.

Add figs to a grilled cheese

Incorporating figs into a grilled cheese sandwich is a flavorful upgrade that brings sweetness to the classic dish. When sliced and added to a grilled cheese, figs introduce a natural sweetness that gives contrast and balance to the savory, salty cheese.

Experimenting with different types of cheese further elevates this upgraded grilled cheese. The bold flavors of blue cheese are delicious paired with the sweetness of figs. The creamy texture of blue cheese complements the softness of the figs, which blends and balances the creamy, salty, and sweet notes. Brie, on the other hand, has a mild, buttery flavor that complements the natural sweetness of figs. Since it's soft and creamy, brie melts effortlessly, creating a gooey filling that envelopes the fig slices. This combination gives you a truly indulgent grilled cheese experience, with figs adding a touch of sophistication to the overall taste.

Figs in a grilled cheese sandwich not only introduce a sweetness but also provide a slight crunch due to the fig seeds. It's always nice to have a range of textures in food, and this crunch certainly brings something to the grilled cheese party. And that's a party you want to be invited to.

Put potato chips in a classic ham and cheese

Sometimes, you don't want a fancy meal, just a crunchy, salty upgrade. So, why not add potato chips to your ham and cheese? Adding potato chips to a ham and cheese sandwich introduces an irresistible crunch and a burst of flavor. The crispy texture of the chips contrasts wonderfully with the softness of the ham and cheese.

Potato chips provide an unforgettable crunch and add a layer of saltiness, pumping up the flavor. What's more, you can experiment with various chip varieties and flavors to customize your sandwich just the way you like it. Classic salted potato chips offer a straightforward salty crunch, while kettle-cooked chips provide a heartier texture.

For those who enjoy a spicy kick, jalapeno chips are perfect — or barbecue-flavored chips can add a sweet, smoky element to the sandwich. We also love the complex tanginess that sour cream and onion chips bring. You can also explore other types of chips, such as sweet potato chips, vegetable chips, or corn chips. Each option has its own texture and flavor profile.

Add marinated shiitakes to your banh mi

A banh mi sandwich is a well-known part of Vietnamese cuisine. Traditionally, it features a protein element — often pork — along with pickled vegetables, cilantro, cucumber, and spicy mayo, all encapsulated within a crispy baguette. By substituting marinated shiitake mushrooms for the meat, you get a fresh take on the banh mi. Shiitake mushrooms are renowned for their rich umami flavor and meaty texture. When marinated, these mushrooms absorb the savory, salty, and aromatic qualities of the marinade, making them a hearty, flavorful focal point of the sandwich.

Marinated shiitake mushrooms bring depth and complexity to the sandwich. Their meaty texture rivals the traditional protein. Plus, shiitakes offer an earthy umami essence that harmonizes beautifully with the fresh crunch of the pickled vegetables and the vibrant notes of cilantro and cucumber. Banh mi sandwiches started as a fusion food — blending some of Vietnam's traditional flavors with the bread brought by French colonizers. So, it's particularly adaptable, and there's no reason why it shouldn't move with the times with a meat-free upgrade.

Switch Swiss cheese for blue cheese in a Cuban

A Cuban sandwich traditionally features roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami, all pressed between slices of Cuban bread. The marriage of flavors and textures in a Cuban sandwich is renowned for its satisfying balance of salty, savory, and tangy elements.

Swapping Swiss cheese for blue cheese in a Cuban sandwich introduces a bold and distinctive twist. Blue cheese, known for its intense flavor and crumbly texture, transforms the sandwich into a gourmet experience. The sharp and tangy notes of blue cheese really elevate the sandwich.

Blue cheese's creamy texture, when melted, creates a luxurious contrast against the crusty bread and the hearty meats. Its intense, slightly piquant taste infuses the sandwich with a robust flavor. This addition not only amplifies the richness of the sandwich but also offers a sharpness that lingers on the palate. This is one Cuban sandwich that you won't forget.

By incorporating blue cheese, the Cuban sandwich gains an upscale appeal, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a more sophisticated flavor profile. This simple substitution introduces a gourmet twist to the beloved classic.

Try eggplant bacon and add avocado for an all-veggie take on a BLT

Like the idea of a BLT, but want to make an all-veggie alternative? Well, we have some ideas for you. It's simple to switch the regular bacon for homemade eggplant bacon. And we also love to add avocado because, why not?

Eggplant bacon is made by thinly slicing and seasoning eggplant before baking or frying until crispy. It's a smoky, savory alternative to bacon. This bacon alternative not only provides a satisfying crunch but also brings a subtle smokiness and depth of flavor. The earthy eggplant taste is an upgrade rather than a meat replacement. This plant-based alternative caters not only to vegetarians and vegans but also to those looking for a healthier choice without compromising on taste.

Avocado's mild, buttery flavor and creamy texture complements the eggplant bacon beautifully. It balances out the rich smokiness of the eggplant bacon. For those following a plant-based diet, swapping traditional mayonnaise for vegan mayo provides the same creamy base without the use of eggs, ensuring the sandwich remains entirely plant-based.

Upgrade a NY-style bacon, egg, and cheese with crispy onions and chili jam

The classic New York-style bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich is a beloved breakfast staple that combines crispy bacon, a fried egg, and melted cheese, typically served on a roll or bagel. And, sure, it's a classic, but that doesn't mean it can't be upgraded.

Adding crispy onions and chili jam to this iconic sandwich elevates its flavors and textures. Crispy onions provide some much-needed crunch among the softness of the other ingredients. The onions' subtle sweetness and deep savory notes complement the saltiness of the bacon and the richness of the egg and cheese, further balancing the flavors.

Chili jam introduces a layer of complexity with its sweet, spicy notes. Its "swicy" sweet and spicy heat brings a lot to the table. Its sweetness contrasts with the salty bacon and creamy cheese, while its spiciness adds a gentle kick. While you might not want to tell the most diehard New Yorker about this unconventional upgrade, we think it's worth a try.