Ham’s Restaurant Turkey Reuben

Is this a Turkey Reuben or a Rachel?


Read Time: 8 minutes

Today we’re reaching back to resurrect a sandwich from the past.

Before we married, my wife and I used to frequent a small chain restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC called Ham’s Restaurant in the late 1990s. Ham’s was a North Carolina-based chain that ended up closing locations in the early 2000s with their last location shutting down their griddle and fryers in 2022.

My memories of Ham’s are centered around the food and beer. I remember enjoying homemade chips served with “house-made ranch”, hot wings, and a bunch of sandwiches that they had on the menu. I had just started enjoying craft and import beers and Ham’s had a small but decent draft menu for 1997.

The sandwich that my wife and I both enjoyed the most was the Ham’s Restaurant Turkey Reuben and that’s what I’m going to write about and recreate.

This is not my photo. This is also not a Turkey Reuben. This is Ham’s regular Reuben and it’s a photo from Karina H. shared on Yelp. I just shared because I can’t find a Ham’s Restaurant Turkey Reuben photo anywhere!

What is this sandwich?

This is a Turkey Reuben which is a sandwich that is sometimes called a “Rachel” on restaurant menus. At its base, it is a Reuben sandwich which is typically composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing but instead of the corned beef, we substitute sliced turkey. In a Rachel, the sauerkraut occasionally gets swapped out for cole slaw, and the Russian dressing is often switched to Thousand Island dressing.

You can see that I used “occasionally” and “often” in that last paragraph to describe the ingredient swaps because you can find turkey-focused Reuben sandwiches that might have sauerkraut and some that might have Russian dressing. It’s all dependent on the restaurant and their choices. If you check the Wikipedia page for Reuben > Rachel sandwich you will see that they do not mention swapping the Russian dressing for Thousand Island dressing so things might be a bit weird.

If it’s listed as a “turkey Reuben,” it should have turkey but if it’s named a Rachel on the menu, it will likely say the word turkey in the description. Hopefully, it has a description, otherwise, it’s easy to ask about the components of the sandwich. If you’re concerned, double-check with your server because according to Wikipedia sometimes a Rachel could have pastrami?

How did a Turkey Reuben get the name Rachel?

A Reuben likely got its name from a man named Reuben Kulakofsky. It’s not fully known where the name Rachel came about but some speculate that it got its name from a song from 1871 called “Reuben and Rachel” but there also was a novel with the same name that was published in 1799.

Ham’s Restaurant Turkey Reuben

The turkey Reuben at Ham’s was the sandwich my wife and I ordered most often. They also had a turkey sandwich with cucumbers and Swiss cheese on a toasted croissant, but we’ll save that sandwich for a future blog post.

A screenshot of an old online Ham’s Restaurant menu. Under 9 bucks for a sandwich with homemade chips!?

Our recollections of the Ham’s Turkey Reuben are certainly clouded with nostalgia, but we both have fond memories of our experiences at Ham’s so I wanted to give it a go to recreate the sandwich. Plus, I don’t think anyone else has attempted to copycat this particular recipe so my efforts could help the sandwich and possibly memories of Ham’s live on for a little bit longer.

For some reason on my last trip to visit Ham’s in Greensboro, NC in 2016 I took a photo of the menu but nothing else.

First, we need some rye bread.

Rye bread

A Reuben or Rachel needs a good rye bread loaf. My recipe makes a fairly dense slice that fries up and toasts really well on a griddle or pan with butter. Just because it’s called “rye bread” doesn’t mean it’s only made from rye. My recipe is a mixture of about 70% white flour and 30% rye flour.

One thing to remember is that when you introduce other grains/milled flour like rye, it is very likely to rise slower than regular white bread flour. There are ingredients that you can use or add to your dough mixture that can assist in building gluten.

After an hour of initial rise, shape the dough into a 4×8-inch loaf pan.

King Arthur Baking has a good blog post with 5 tips for making rye bread. One of them is to mix your rye flour with white flour (which is what we’re already doing) and then another tip mentions adding vital wheat gluten which they state will help rye bread rise. King Arthur sells their own vital wheat gluten and Bob’s Red Mill sells vital wheat gluten that you might be able to find at specialty grocery stores and online.

You don’t have to slice these loaves, but it does make them pretty. Make sure to slice AFTER the egg wash.
Slicing after the egg wash makes sure the bread inside the slices isn’t quite as brown and shiny as the rest of the loaf.

A rye bread loaf is another one of those types of bread that I think really benefits from being painted with an egg wash just prior to baking. The egg wash helps the bread to brown and gives the exterior crust a nice shiny appearance.

Rye bread doesn’t produce really tall, fluffy loaves, but it’s perfect for a Reuben.
The crumb of each slice is a tiny bit loose, but not loose enough to lose any Thousand Island dressing.

This is a good rye bread recipe that will not return huge slices. You need to have a bit more patience with this loaf than other white bread loaves and depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you may need to allow the dough a bit more time to rise than other bread that you have made. But the end result is worth it.

2 hours and 55 minutes
Rye sandwich loaf

This rye loaf is sturdy and flavorful. Perfect for your next patty melt or chicken schnitzel sandwich.

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Thinly sliced smoked turkey

We bought sliced, smoked turkey from the deli in the grocery store for this sandwich. If you’ve followed for a while you’ll know that I love roasting my own turkey breasts and slicing them. I do own a meat slicer that I use occasionally to thinly slice meat but since I was fully committed to trying to replicate a Ham’s Restaurant Turkey Reuben, I felt it would be much easier to just buy sliced turkey like Ham’s was likely doing.

Thousand island dressing

Reuben sandwiches will typically have Russian dressing or a Thousand Island-style dressing. The Ham’s Restaurant turkey Reuben went with Thousand Island so that’s also what I made.

If you’re reading a sandwich blog, you probably know this, but a version of Thousand Island dressing has become what is often known as special sauce at a lot of burger joints across the United States.

Taking photos of a sauce is not the easiest thing in the world.

Thousand Island wasn’t always known as a sandwich sauce though. I remember it being a very popular salad dressing option in my house in the 1980s when the grocery store dressing section was quite a bit smaller than it is today. It took some burger restaurant or possibly a chain like In-n-Out—out of California—to introduce Thousand Island or a very close equivalent as a very well-known and popular sauce used on cheeseburgers.

10 minutes
Thousand Island dressing

A tangy and sweet dressing or spread that is perfect for your next Turkey Reuben or chef salad. This is also a great dip for fried and fried onion rings.

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Cole slaw

A regular Reuben sandwich has sauerkraut, but often a Rachel will substitute that for cole slaw. Ham’s Turkey Reuben included coleslaw and unlike most of my other coleslaw recipes on this site, theirs had carrots.

I didn’t create a whole new recipe for the Ham’s coleslaw because I made it very similarly to my Eastern NC slaw recipe, but I did buy a “coleslaw mix” to make this which is just a blend of green cabbage, red cabbage, and thinly sliced carrots.

It’s also not that easy to stage photos of cole slaw.

Feel free to use a shortcut and buy a “coleslaw mix” of vegetables and add your own dressing made from mayonnaise, vinegar, and seasonings. That’s what I did. I included exactly what I used and the process needed for this slaw in the full Ham’s Turkey Reuben recipe below.


Homemade chips and ranch dressing

I did not make chips and ranch dressing for this blog post or during my time eating any of these sandwiches. But you should believe me when I say, I’m not a stranger to homemade ranch or chips that have been fried in my house. If you really want to recreate a Ham’s Restaurant experience you might want to go these extra steps.

If you do want to fully recreate Ham’s homemade chips, you would just want to season them with salt and ground black pepper. The seasoning blend on my chip recipe is quite a bit different from how Ham’s seasoned their chips.

1 hour and 5 minutes
Crispy seasoned potato chips

Crispy fried chips seasoned with Bounded by Buns seasoning blend #1. These are crispy, flavorful and great on the side of your next sandwich.

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My homemade ranch is better than the ranch dressing they made at Ham’s Restaurants anyway. Their “homemade” version just meant that they used Hidden Valley brand ranch dressing powder and mixed it with mayonnaise and possibly buttermilk or sour cream. I don’t want to toot too many horns, but my ranch recipe is great (don’t skip the MSG).

10 minutes
Homemade ranch dressing

The valley isn't so hidden, when you know the secret recipe. This recipe allows you to vary the consistency of the final product.

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Turkey Reuben grilling process

A Reuben, Turkey Reuben, or Rachel should be griddled or pan-fried in butter. The cooking process crisps up the outside of the bread and helps to warm the interior ingredients. One tip for helping to melt the Swiss cheese is to place a cover over the sandwich while it cooks.

Cooking a sandwich in a pan with a lid creates a steamy hot environment that will help to heat up the interior of the Turkey Reuben and melt the cheese. If you’re using a large pan, you can use a pan/pot lid but if you’re cooking on a griddle I have found that it works just fine to cover the sandwich with a metal bowl. Just be careful removing the bowl when it’s time to flip the sandwich or remove it from the heat. The bowl will get very hot.

If you’re only cooking one sandwich, a large pan with a lid is probably the way to go because the lid should be much easier to handle without burning yourself.

There’s a very good chance that there isn’t a sandwich under this bowl and I took the photo as an example for reference. But you’ll never know!
A Reuben could be griddled in oil but butter is better.
I typically melt butter on the griddle and lay the Turkey Reuben on top of the bubbling fat.
You can either spread butter on the second side or remove the sandwich and add butter to the hot pan before adding the second side.
If you are cooking a Reuben on a griddle you will need to cook low and slow to make sure that the interior gets warmed through.

Turkey Reuben sandwich build process

This order of the build process can differ, but this is how I build my turkey reubens. The following list is from top to bottom of the sandwich.

  • rye bread slice
  • thousand island dressing
  • Swiss cheese
  • coleslaw
  • sliced turkey
  • Swiss cheese
  • thousand island
  • rye bread slice

The animated image here might help explain this list a little more. Once the sandwich is fully built it’s time to cook or griddle the exterior of the sandwich in butter. The main factor to consider in the build is to make sure the cheese slices are on the top and/or bottom of the stack inside the bread to help them get hot and melty.

Sandwich build process in action.

Ham’s Restaurant Turkey Reuben recipe and photos

Here are a whole bunch of photos of this sandwich with a full recipe below. As you can see I made quite a few test versions throughout the process and I think we got our recipe nailed. Or at least my wife thinks we did. Even if you’ve never heard of Ham’s Restaurant before, this is still a really good sandwich to have in your arsenal.

When I made this sandwich for my wife, she was very excited at how close I got to her memory of the Ham’s Turkey Reuben.
I did not make homemade chips for this sandwich but I sort of wish I did.
You might need to use the pan lid or bowl over griddle trick to get the cheese to melt during the cooking process.
You can roast or smoke your own turkey breast for this sandwich but the meat really does need a deli slicer for the textural similarity to Ham’s.
Serve your Turkey Reuben the Ham’s way with chips. Not pictured, homemade ranch dressing.
If you’re a big fan of turkey sandwiches like I am, you should bookmark this recipe.
Reubens need to be sliced on the diagonal according to the government. Don’t break the law!
A handful of Rachel. Don’t tell anyone named Rachel that I posted this.
Ham's Turkey Reuben (Rachel copycat) view printable page for this recipe

A throwback copycat from Ham's Restaurant, a small chain formerly located in North Carolina and Virginia. This recipe is attempting to be a faithful recreation of their Turkey Reuben; keeping it alive since the restaurant chain has closed all remaining restaurants.


Ingredients:

Thousand Island dressing
  • 12 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
  • 2 teaspoons white onion, finely minced
  • 12 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of ground black pepper
Cole slaw
  • 14 ounces cole slaw mix (or 1/2 head of shredded cabbage + 1/4 cup shredded carrot)
  • 12 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 1 teasppon kosher salt
  • 14 teaspoon black pepper
Turkey Reuben assembly and cooking
  • 2 tablespoons butter (split in two)
  • 2 slices of rye bread
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons Thousand Island dressing (from above)
  • 1 or 2 slices of Swiss cheese
  • 4 or 5 slices of deli smoked turkey
  • 14 cup cole slaw (from above)

Directions:

Thousand Island dressing: in a medium-sized bowl, combine all Thousand Island dressing ingredients and mix to combine. 

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Cole slaw: add the cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage to a large bowl. If you have a food processor, don't forget that some have a shredding feature. Use that to shred if you can. It makes things quick. 

Add mayonnaise, sugar, apple cider vinegar, yellow mustard, celery seed, salt, and black pepper to your bowl and mix with a spoon to combine everything thoroughly. 

You shouldn't need any extra salt, but you should taste the slaw to see if it needs anything else at this time. 

Store in a container in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Sandwich assembly: heat a large pan or griddle over medium-low heat. Wait five minutes for the pan to be hot.

Spread butter on one side of one piece of rye bread and then place that butter side down on the hot pan/griddle. Add Thousand Island dressing on top of the bread and then add a slice of Swiss cheese.

Pile four to five slices of turkey on top of the cheese.

On top of the turkey, add a generous amount of cole slaw, and top the slaw with the second slice of Swiss cheese (if using). Spread Thousand Island dressing on the second slice of bread and lay the bread on top of the Swiss cheese with the dressing facing down on top of the cheese. 

Spread a little more butter on top of the top slice of bread and cook the whole thing for 2 or 3 minutes and then flip. Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes and then flip again. At this point, you want to cook the sandwich, flipping back and forth until the bread looks nice and brown but not burned, so you might have to flip it another 2 or 3 times. 

Once the bread is browned to your liking, remove it from the heat and serve the Turkey Reuben sandwich.

The slaw and dressing bring a lot of sweetness to the sandwich that works great with savory turkey and Swiss cheese.
You can make this sandwich without toasting in butter, but it makes a huge difference.

Check back next week

Next week I will be adding a creamy mustard sauce to my pork and greens. Or maybe I will be adding creamy greens to a mustardy pork? You’ll just have to come back and find out.


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