Tuna Melt Sandwich
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The classic tuna melt sandwich is a diner staple you can make at home! Filled with homemade tuna salad, juicy tomatoes, and melty cheese, this sandwich always hits the spot.
Every once in a while, I get a mad craving for a tuna melt.
I can’t really say why, but there’s something about those creamy, crunchy, gooey sandwiches that is so satisfying.
Good thing that tuna melts are SO easy to make at home.
I actually don’t know why we seem to reserve them for visits to the local lunch counter. For a fraction of the cost, you can whip up lunch for the whole family!
A tuna melt sandwich served up with an ice-cold lemonade or iced tea? Perfection.
Ingredients for tuna melts
Grab the following ingredients to whip up this easy tuna melt recipe.
Tuna – You’ll need two standard-size cans of tuna.
I like to use tuna that is marked as sustainable and using safe catch methods. Look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council on the labels.
Make sure to fully drain the tuna and break up any large chunks.
Mayonnaise – You can use either regular or low-fat mayonnaise.
Celery – Chopped celery adds that classic crunch to tuna salad.
Pickle relish – For a bit of tangy flavor, I add pickle relish to my tuna salad. Use your favorite relish variety, or chopped dill pickles.
Red onion – Finely chopped red onion adds bite to the sandwich. You can also use shallot instead for a stronger flavor.
Tomato – Use a ripe slicing tomato for these sandwiches. I like to use tomatoes that are sized so I can put two tomato slices side by side on the sandwich.
Don’t like tomato? Leave it out!
Sliced cheddar cheese – Since a tuna melt is basically a fancy grilled cheese sandwich, you can’t forget the cheese! I like sharp cheddar, but you can use mild or extra-sharp.
Sandwich bread – You’ll need 8 slices of bread to make the full recipe.
For open-face sandwiches, use 4 slices.
Salt and pepper – Season the tuna salad to taste. Remember that canned tuna does have some sodium, so don’t add too much salt right away. Taste and adjust as needed.
Butter – I use butter on the bread for these sandwiches, but you can use mayonnaise instead if you prefer. Make sure the butter is soft enough to spread on untoasted bread, otherwise your bread might rip as you’re spreading.
How to make a tuna melt
To make this tuna melt sandwich recipe, we’ll first make the tuna salad.
Drain tuna and add it to a mixing bowl. Use a fork to break up any large chunks; it will break apart further when mixing the other ingredients in.
Add the mayonnaise and stir well to evenly coat the tuna.
Stir in the diced celery, red onion, and pickle relish. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
From here, you can store the tuna salad in the refrigerator, or continue on to make the sandwiches.
Butter 8 slices of bread on one side and set aside.
Using rustic breads means the slices are not always evenly sized. Make sure to match up bread slices as best you can so the sandwich fillings do not fall out.
Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. (A Blackstone griddle is great for cooking all the sandwiches at once!)
Place two slices of bread butter-side down on the pan. Scoop a few tablespoons of tuna salad onto each slice, carefully spreading to the edges.
Top with slices of tomato, then top with cheese slices. If needed, break the cheese slices into smaller pieces to evenly top the sandwiches. Place another slice of bread on top, butter-side up.
Cook the sandwiches until golden brown on the bottom.
Very carefully, using two spatulas if needed, flip the sandwiches and cook the other side until golden and cheese is melty.
Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining ingredients.
Slice tuna melt sandwiches and serve with potato salad, pickled green beans, or sliced fruit!
Make it spicy – Stir in a tablespoon of chipotle in adobo or add hot sauce to taste.
Make it sweet – Instead of celery, swap in diced apple.
Make it open-face – An open-face sandwich is a great option for tuna melts. Simply leave off the second piece of bread and cook the sandwiches in an oven-safe pan. Once the bread is nicely browned, broil sandwiches in the oven until the cheese is melted.
Make it not tuna – Swap in cooked diced or shredded chicken for the tuna, or use flaked cooked salmon.
What can I use in a tuna melt instead of mayo?
If you don’t like mayonnaise or need to avoid eggs, you have a few alternatives. Try tuna melts with plain greek yogurt, sour cream, dijon mustard, mashed avocado, or ranch dressing.
Some alternatives are thicker than mayonnaise, while others are thinner, so adjust quantities based on your substitution.
What’s the best bread to use?
While you can make a tuna melt using standard packaged sandwich bread, I recommend using a rustic-style bread that will hold up better to the ingredients.
Sourdough is my favorite, but you can also use ciabatta, rustic whole grain, or rye.
Don’t use breads that are very soft or tender, like brioche, which can fall apart easily due to the sandwich juices.
What kind of cheese should I use for a tuna melt?
You want a melty cheese! Cheddar is classic, but you can also use Swiss cheese, provolone, pepper jack, colby, or your other favorite melty cheese.
Sliced cheese is quick and easy, but you can also use shredded cheese, which will melt a little quicker and can be more evenly distributed on the sandwich.
Can I make tuna melts in advance?
Tuna melts are best when they are hot, crispy, and gooey! That being said, you can definitely make the tuna salad in advance and cook the sandwiches when the mood strikes.
Store the tuna salad in an airtight container and place it in the refrigerator. It will keep for 3-5 days.
Tuna salad can be frozen for up to 1 week, but mayonnaise can sometimes separate once thawed, affecting the texture of the dish. I recommend keeping it in the refrigerator and using as soon as you can, rather than freezing.
Make sure that you do not allow tuna salad to sit out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
Next time the craving hits, skip the restaurant and make these delicious tuna melts at home!
Tuna Melt Sandwich
- 10 ounces canned tuna, drained
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 rib celery, diced
- 1 tablespoon pickle relish
- 1 tablespoon minced red onion
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 8 slices sourdough bread
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 4 slices cheddar cheese
- Place drained tuna in a mixing bowl and break up any larger pieces with a fork. Add the mayonnaise and mix well to evenly coat the tuna.
- Add the celery, pickle relish, and onion, and mix well. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
- Butter one side of each piece of bread and set aside.
- Heat a sauté pan or griddle over medium. Add bread, butter side down. (The number of sandwiches you can make at once will depend on the size of your cooking surface.)
- Scoop a few tablespoons of the tuna mixture onto the bread. Top with sliced tomato, cheese, and a second piece of bread, butter side up.
- Cook for 3-5 minutes, until bottom is golden brown. Carefully flip sandwich and cook another 3-5 minutes, until other side is golden.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients. Slice sandwiches and serve warm.