American Tuna Melt Recipe: An Elevated Tuna Sandwich Recipe (Plus the Story Behind It) by Ann Marie Patitucci

Seafood Sandwiches
a month ago

American Tuna Melt Recipe: An Elevated Tuna Sandwich Recipe (Plus the Story Behind It)

According to legend (and a writer named Warren Bobrow), the tuna melt originated at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Charleston, S.C. Bobrow claims that around 1965, at the Woolworth’s on King Street, an order came in as follows: “I‘ll have a grilled cheese sandwich, white bread with a smear of mayo and slices of American cheese.” The “ladies” began work on his order and others when a freshly made tuna salad fell off a shelf and landed on the cooking grilled cheese below ... and the tuna melt was born! I suppose we can choose to believe the legend or not. Personally, I love the story! (Thank you, Woolworth’s!)

A tuna melt consists of some kind of tuna salad mixture topped with cheese that is melted between two slices of bread. There are often other toppings/layers inside the sandwich like tomatoes, pickles or a specialty mustard. These melted sandwiches are sometimes served open-faced. I happen to love avocados so I’m likely to add avocado slices to mine, though they are not exactly a traditional element.

Tuna melts are a common menu item at American dinners. There’s just something about that combo of toasty bread, soft tuna mixture and melted cheese. Good news, though! Tuna melts also easy to make at home. You can cook them on the stovetop or a griddle. Some tuna melt sandwich recipes even include using your broiler.

Tuna melts are great for lunch and even make a simple, light dinner. Bonus: if you end up with extra tuna mixture, you can store it in an airtight container stored in your refrigerator. When you’re ready to make another tuna melt, you’ll have the tuna mixture ready to go, making it even easier and quicker. There are many variations on the tuna melt recipe. Here’s a great one, with room to make it your own by adding different items under the cheese. Serve this hot tuna melts with the side dish of your choice: a salad, potato chips, fresh vegetables, etc.

Cuisine: American 
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 2 tablespoons minced green onion
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, crumbled)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (just a pinch!)
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Helmann’s Read Mayonnaise with olive oil)
  • 2 cans (6 ounces each) solid white tuna, well drained and flaked
  • 8 slices Italian loaf bread (or French or sourdough), sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 8 tomato slices, sliced thinly (optional)
  • 1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened

Here’s how to make it

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the green onion, parsley, tarragon, lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, black pepper and mayonnaise. Add the drained tuna. Use a fork to break up the tuna flakes and then combine all the ingredients.
  2. Cut eight slices of bread. Divide the tuna mixture evenly onto four bread slices. Top the four slices with cheese and tomato slices (or any other ingredients you’d like), if desired. Spread one side of the remaining four bread slices with butter. Place bread slices, buttered side up, on top of the cheese.
  3. Heat a large griddle or two skillets on medium heat. Place the sandwiches, buttered side down, onto the hot griddle/skillets. Gently spread butter on the bread slices on top. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until nicely browned on the bottom side.
  4. Use a sturdy spatula to lift up the sandwiches and carefully turn them to the other side. Cook for another 3 minutes or until the second side is also browned. Serve hot.

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Fun story behind a yummy recipe!
Melissa Vickers
Ah, this brings back memories from my college days at UGA in the early 70s. There was a little lunch counter diner just across the street from campus that I'd eat lunch at often. There was an elderly woman who worked there who could make the best tuna melt sandwiches. Not sure what made them special, other than just feeling like a little comfort food from home away from home! I remember she knew my grandfather, who owned and ran a bakery there in Athens. Ah, the memories!
Ann Marie Patitucci
What a wonderful memory! Thanks for sharing it, Melissa Vickers !
Nan Chul Shin
Really love this recipe. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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