I’m just going to come out and say it; the Cuban sandwich is among the top sandwich options in the world. It’s in my top 10. If you’ve never had one, a Cuban or Cubano is typically a sandwich on a semi crusty, long roll with a soft center that is stuffed with ham, roast pork, pickles, Swiss cheese, and yellow mustard. The sandwich is then pressed in a panini press (also called a plancha) with butter until the crusty outside of the bread is fried and crunchy and the interior fillings are warm and melty.
If you’ve yet to eat a Cuban sandwich, hopefully you’re interested in finding one or making your own now.
The Cuban sandwich likely originated in the Tampa, Florida area in the late 1800s or early 1900s according to the nerds who update wikipedia. The sandwich spread from its beginnings in that area and by the 1960s it was prominent on Miami restaurant menus. Now you can find Cuban sandwiches on menus at sandwich joints all over the place.
There are currently three different versions of the Cuban sandwich that you can find in different areas of Florida, but for some reason, most of the rest of the restaurants serving Cubans around the country are based off the Miami version.
- Miami Cuban: Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard
- Tampa Cuban: Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard + salami (Genoa)
- Key West Cuban: Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard + lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise
For my focus on the Cuban sandwich, we’re going with the Miami version. Keep reading to see how I make mine.
If you’re making Cuban-style bread, you’re gonna need to buy some lard.
Cuban-style rolls are very similar to a white bread sub roll but the fat typically comes from lard instead of butter or oil. The proportion of lard/fat to flour is such that the lard will only contribute a small amount of flavor. This bread does not have the amount of lard flavor that you will find in homemade tortillas.
When you’re making biscuits, lard will often contribute to more flakiness and layering because lard has a higher melting point than butter and that means lard has a longer period of time where it steams and vents to air.
But when baking bread, lard can contribute to a drier and softer bake because of its high (100%) fat content vs butter (about 80% fat).
Cuban rolls are spritzed with water or baked in a high hydration oven to make the outside of the rolls a bit crusty while leaving the center soft. I spray my unbaked rolls liberally with water and immediately place the dough in the oven. This process brings the hydration up to help crust up the outside. The result is a great soft-on-the-inside sub roll, but with a Cuban we’re going to ruin that bread texture and make it something else entirely with a hot sandwich press.
Making Cuban sandwiches? First you're going to need to find some lard. Then you'll need to make these soft, semi-crusty rolls that eventually you'll smash between two hot surfaces. Oh, and you'll need some pork, ham (also pork), mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles!Get Recipe
Freezing tip: if you can’t eat three 15-inch Cuban rolls in a couple of days, wrap one (or two) rolls tightly in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and put it in the freezer. Then when you want to eat Cubans again, pull the frozen bread out and leave it on the counter for 3 hours or so and it will thaw and be almost as good as when it was fresh. I always freeze bread to make sure I don’t waste it.
The mojo marinated roast pork
This mojo marinade is fantastic. I can write more about it, and I will, but if you take anything from this sandwich post, please try this marinade.
My pork cooking technique is highly influenced by Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Cuban-style Roast Pork Shoulder recipe. Go read that run down and recipe if you’re interested. His marinade is slightly different than mine, and I used a different cut and weight of meat with different timing needed. But I was inspired by his technique of wrapping my pork in aluminum and then later unwrapping it with a higher heat in the oven.
The best idea that I got from that recipe was to reserve some of the mojo mixture and use it to coat the meat when serving. The zesty citrus and garlicy tang is fantastic on this pork, and they shine through the Cuban sandwich even when put up against the mustard and pickles. Do not forget to hold some mojo marinade back for slathering on the pork in your Cuban.
Here’s my mojo pork inspired recipe.
One of the major flavors in a Cuban sandwich comes from the dill pickles. The mustard and the pickles are neck and neck for the most intense flavor, and they meld really well together.
I have shared this pickle recipe before, and it’s a good one.
The other stuff
Ham, Swiss cheese and yellow mustard are the last three ingredients we need to make a Cuban inspired sandwich. All three are easy to find and buy at your local market. Other than the mojo roast pork, you could easily make a Cuban just from things you can purchase at the grocery store.
Let us put all the pieces together and make Cuban sandwiches.
I like to layer my Cuban sandwich ingredients in this order from top to bottom (or you can just memorize the gif below):
- top of bread
- yellow mustard
- Swiss cheese
- mojo roast pork
- Swiss cheese
- yellow mustard
- bottom of bread
The most important things in the layering process in my experience is that you must get the mustard directly on the bread (like almost all other times you’d use mustard in a sandwich) and it’s best to get the cheese beside the bread so that it’s closer to the heat source which will help with melting. Everything else in the layering doesn’t really matter that much, but I do like getting the pickles near the melty cheese just in case they try to slip around when you’re biting the sandwich.
The sandwich press
We use a Cuisinart “Griddler” that we got years ago and it works great for pressing sandwiches. You can swap out the flat griddle sides and use the grill panels if you like grill marks. You can also keep it open fully for a flat surface/griddle to grill a steak or some other meat if you wanted.
If you don’t have a panini press, you could accomplish the same task with two cast iron skillets or a flat griddle and a cast iron skillet. Put one over a hot burner on your stove and you can put the sandwich on that pan and then lay the other cast iron skillet on top of the sandwich to provide the weight for the “pressing.”
You will want to spread a little butter on the bottom and top of the bread before pressing. This helps with the browning and will contribute flavor to the outside of your sandwich.
The finished Cuban sandwiches
Here we go, the final results.
Slicing tip: always cut your Cuban sandwiches diagonally. I don’t know why, but everyone does it so I do it too!
Lets be real
Unless you hate mustard or pickles (shout out to Shana), you should really be excited about Cuban sandwiches.
If you’re not a bread baker, the hardest part about making Cubans is the roast pork. Many grocery stores have some sort of cooked pulled or chopped pork which could be a substitute if you wanted a Cuban style sandwich at home in a pinch. So, basically this is very approachable if you were looking for something very flavorful and not terribly difficult to make.
Make more Cuban sandwiches. Check back next week when things might get sloppy.