Classic Tuna Melt

This open-faced tuna melt is crunchy, cheesy, comforting, and comes together in just a few minutes with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

An open Tuna melt sandwich on a baking sheet
Tuna melt sandwich

Canned tuna is one of those staples we always have in our house. When money is tight, canned tuna is our go-to. 

Tuna is also a great lean protein source. It’s is rich in protein and contains B-Complex vitamins, Vitamins A and D as well as iron, phosphorus, and healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Tuna cakes? Yup. Tuna casserole? I’ll take seconds, please. But nothing is easier to make and more comforting than a tuna melt sandwich.

With just a few humble ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen- bread, cheese, tuna, mayo, and a couple veggies- you’re well on your way to a filling and satisfying meal.

In our tuna melt recipe, we opt for the open-faced style, but either way- both are tasty. If you’re watching your carb intake, this open-faced tuna melt sandwich recipe can cut your carb intake in half. But really, we just prefer less bread and more tuna and cheese.

Tuna melt sandwich on a baking tray
Tuna melt sandwich

What is a tuna melt

A tuna melt is a kind of hot sandwich containing cheese and a tuna salad mixture, then heated up to melt the cheese. It can be served closed or open-faced.

Other common fillings include pickles, tomato, lettuce, and mustard.

History

To understand how the tuna melt was born, we first need to know how tuna salad came into existence. 

The post-Industrial Revolution brought us the mass production of the three ingredients key to making this sandwich the embodiment of the American working class spirit- canned tuna, pre-sliced bread, and mayonnaise. 

In the 1800s, Americans didn’t think albacore tuna was worth eating and instead used it for bait in fishing or fed it to animals. Canned sardines, however, were very popular and what canned tuna did exist in America at the time was imported and consumed by Italian immigrants.

Overfishing and bad ocean conditions made for a terrible sardine season in the early 1900s, so sardine company executives looked for another local protein located off the California coast at the time- tuna.

In the 19th century scraps leftover from dinner- pieces of chicken, fish, carrots and celery- were mixed with mayonnaise and relish and served on lettuce for lunch. Women started spending more time in public life- at first department stores and then the workforce- and once canned tuna became big, the tuna fish sandwich was a quick on-the-go lunch.

Tuna canning factory in Oregon in 1941. (Library of Congress)

Tuna quickly rebranded itself from an undesirable fish to the go-to lunch counter sandwich. Canneries exploded all over the West Coast, thanks to innovative fishing methods from Japanese immigrants based in LA and San Diego.

Fast forward a few decades to the tuna melt sandwich. Legend has it that it was accidentally invented at a lunch counter in Woolsworth department store in Charleston, SC in the 1960s. A busy cook was cranking out orders when a bloop of tuna fell on a grilled cheese sandwich. He tried it and discovered this delicious combination.

How to make a tuna melt

This tuna sandwich recipe first starts with a great tuna salad, of course. There are lots of variations and ways to make a great tuna salad.

You can use pickles, various relishes like chow chow, and even pickle juice (like we do). Fresh veggies like onion, celery, and carrot are usually added as well as fresh herbs. 

A bowl of Tuna salad next to green herbs.
Tuna salad

For our tuna salad, start by mixing together the following ingredients:

  • Mayo: We use Duke’s, which we will obnoxiously argue is the best mayo alongside Kewpie. We’re not in your kitchen being mayo snobs, so use whatever your preferred mayo is as the binder for this salad.
  • Canned tuna: Canned wild Albacore tuna in olive oil is the best, as the olive oil seems to bring out the tuna flavor. Tuna in water is also good as long as you drain the liquid well.
  • Fresh vegetables: Celery and onion add necessary texture and crunch. Additional veggies that would be great are bell pepper, carrot, and tomato.
  • Pickled things: A scoop of relish as well as a sprinkling of pickle juice adds salty, vinegary goodness.
  • Herbs: Pretty much anytime we can add fresh herbs to something, we do. It’s only going to make it taste more delicious. We added parsley and dill.
  • Seasoning: Good ol’ salt and pepper, baby.

Now that you have your tuna salad mixed together, it’s time to get the sandwich together. Slice French bread at about an inch thick, and lightly toast the slices. Giving the bread a little stiffness helps them hold up the tuna salad.

Next, place the pieces of bread on a baking sheet and dollop with tuna salad. Next, sprinkle with extra sharp cheddar cheese, which we think is a must.

Put in the oven at 400 F and bake until toasted and melted, about 10 – 15 minutes.

An open Tuna melt sandwich on a baking sheet

Classic Tuna Melt

Author: Maddy & JD – Them Bites
This open-faced tuna melt is our crunchy, cheesy, and comforting take on the classic American diner food.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 2 people
Calories 385 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 baking sheet

Ingredients
  

  • 2 (7oz) cans of albacore tuna in olive oil, drained or in water
  • ½ cup mayo
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ white onion, chopped
  • 1 tb relish
  • 2 tb pickle juice or rice vinegar
  • 3 tb fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tb fresh dill, chopped
  • fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
  • 1 ½ cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 – 6 slices of French or Italian bread

Recipe Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 400 F. To make your tuna salad, mix together all of the ingredients except the bread and cheese.
  • Lightly toast your bread slices and place on a baking sheet. Dollop with tuna salad, spreading out evenly. Next, sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
  • Place in oven and bake until melted and toasted, about 10 – 15 minutes.

Nutrition

Calories: 385kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 1gFat: 42gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 25gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 24mgSodium: 577mgPotassium: 11mgSugar: 0.3gVitamin A: 36IUCalcium: 4mgIron: 0.1mg
Keyword Tuna melt, Tuna melt recipe, Tuna melt sandwich, Tuna melt sandwich recipe, Tuna sandwich, Tuna sandwich recipe
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One Response

  1. 5 stars
    These tuna melts came out so good! I grew up making tuna melts all the time, so this really took me back — total comfort food. Can’t wait to make them again!

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