The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Sandwiches

sandwichThe photo here is a reminder that the sandwich you build in that beautiful spot by the waterfall doesn’t have to be a gourmet delight to be super enjoyable.

Sometimes ingredients like these — easily acquired and durable enough to survive in a backpack for a morning of vigorous hiking — make the perfect lunch.

They say that hunger is the best relish, and the combination of fresh air and exercise are enough to make the simplest fare tasty.

But sometimes it’s worth creating a masterpiece of a sandwich, too.

Here are the decisions you have to make.

Build it at home, or in the wilds?

When you build sandwiches at home, you can get a lot more fussy. Slice that fresh, crisp baguette and slather it with Dijon mustard. Cut paper thin slices of pear and pair them with Brie and sliced roasted chicken. Add a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. Wrap the sandwich carefully and encase it in a perfectly-sized rigid plastic container to keep it pristine on the trail.

You’re not going to do that on a fallen log by the river with hands filthy from scrambling up hills and over rocks.

For road trips and occasions when you’re going to be very active or might not have flat surfaces to work on, making the sandwiches first is smart. Think about keeping juicy tomatoes, avocado, or other damp ingredients to add on site, and don’t even consider tuna fish salad.

On the other hand, if you’re going to be out in the heat and possibly squashing your backpack, taking sturdy bread (bagels, baguettes, tortillas) and tough fillings is the smart move. Put them together when you break for a meal. Your sandwiches will be fresher.

Are perishables okay?

If you have a cooler, meat and cheese and veggies are great. If you don’t have a cooler, think about the temperatures you’ll be meeting. You might be better off with non-perishables.

Here are some options:

  • peanut butter, almond butter, and such
  • tuna in a pouch
  • canned cooked chicken
  • canned deviled ham or other meat spreads

Also consider cured meats like salami and hard cheeses — the salt and processing make them a lot hardier than things like sliced turkey.

We’ve heard that you can put hot dogs into a thermos and pour in boiling water. When you stop for lunch, your hot dogs will be hot and tasty. Never actually tried it, but it sounds convincing.

Where’s the flavor?

Fortunately, things like mayonnaise, mustard, salsa, ketchup, and relishes are so filled with preservatives — natural ones like salt, vinegar, and sugar and often chemical ones as well — that you don’t have to worry much about them. That’s good news if you’re going to be using the same ingredients to make sandwiches repeatedly during your trip. Mild flavored meats like chicken and turkey can take on different characters when you add a variety of tasty dressings.

Don’t forget that heat also does wonders for a sandwich. Grilled ham and cheese can be quite different from cold ham and cheese.

And of course vegetables like onions and tomatoes give you a fresh flavor when you create your sandwich. Avocados spread nicely on wraps or on bread and add a buttery flavor and texture. Try less common choices, too: spinach, cucumbers, radishes, zucchini, and jicama all make nice sandwich fillings when they’re thinly sliced. Radishes travel well in a backpack and give any sandwich a peppery bite.

There are lots of other choices for trail food, but sandwiches have some real advantages. It’s said that the Earl of Sandwich didn’t want to leave his card game for dinner, so he asked a footman to put the meat from the meal in between a couple of slices of bread so he could eat while he played. Sandwiches have been a great choice for eating while playing ever since.

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