You deserve sophisticated PB&J: How to turn a lunchbox staple into a truly irresistible treat

There’s a meme that’s been circulating online for about five years in which a photograph of a plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich is captioned with the phrase, “Well chef, I made a dough walnut spread with a grape relish reduction paired with a bun brioche.”

This is, of course, a play on the now-cliched way in which contestants from shows like “Chopped” and “Top Chef” present their creations (especially those built with everyday ingredients). ) to judges. But the truth is, there are few things I love more than a gourmet PB&J.

I mean this. While I’ll never turn down the Jif, Smucker’s, and white bread combination that was a cornerstone of my childhood, there’s something both inherently nostalgic and indulgent about a “grown-up” version of this iconic sandwich.

Related: Let’s Grill Every Sandwich, From Ham and Cheese to Peanut Butter and Honey

Why is this great news for everyone? A PB&J is one of the easiest dishes to dress or dress to suit your personal preferences.

Are you vegan? Awesome – the PB&J is a classic vegan treat. Allergic to peanuts? No problem, just take cashew or sunflower butter. Can’t get enough cheese in your daily diet? Then add melted brie, raclette or ricotta (cashew milk or other) to the mixture.

To help you get started, here are some simple tips for turning your PB&J from ho-hum into a truly irresistible treat:

best bread

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have a place in my heart for supermarket white bread sleeves that are so soft you could probably compress the whole loaf into a ball the size of a toddler’s fist. However, better bread is probably what will make the biggest difference in creating a better PB&J (especially once we get to the toasting part).


Want more food writing and recipes? Subscribe to “The Bite, Salon Food’s newsletter.


Have fun with it! Hearty sourdough is a nice complement to sweet berry jams. Grain-wrapped breads mimic the nutty taste of PB. Soft potato bread and sturdy pretzel breads are ingenious choices.

Get the right nut butter and jelly (or jam!)

In Cincinnati, there’s a gigantic specialty grocery store called Jungle Jim’s that offers an absolutely kaleidoscopic array of jams and jellies, from delicate citrus marmalades to almost onyx plum preserves. Everyone brings something different to a sandwich, so think beyond grapes and strawberries the next time you hit the supermarket. Bonus if the jam you choose still has some wonderful chunks of canned fruit in it.

Likewise, there are a ton of specialty nut butter choices on the shelves these days. Fix and Fogg offers Smoke and Fire peanut butter made with sweet smoked paprika, New Mexico Hatch peppers, cayenne pepper, natural manuka smoke and sea salt. Italian brand Arachidella offers a spread of crispy peanuts made with good quality extra virgin olive oil. There is something for every taste !

Supplements and supplements

Here is another opportunity to develop your culinary creativity. Fresh fruit, especially crisp pear or apple wedges, berries, and sweet banana slices, make a great addition to your sandwich. Go old fashioned and add a layer of salted potato chips or crushed pretzels. Cheeses like manchego, raclette, brie, or cashew milk ricotta are surprisingly amazing with peanut butter and jam. The bacon (or vegan bacon) might be a little overkill, but this is the occasion.

Grill it

Okay, in my quest to make the ultimate peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I’ve only come across one non-negotiable step: you have to toast the sandwich. To borrow a phrase from Salon Food contributor Maggie Hennessy, “grilled sandwiches have punctuated my life like crisp applause.” Slightly warming the peanut butter and jam and crisping the bread takes your sandwich from a lunchbox staple to something truly special.

More sandwich recipes we love: