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What Can You Substitute for Corned Beef in a Reuben Sandwich?

by Joanne Thomas, studioD

Unlike the origins of the Reuben, which are up for debate, the components of the classic sandwich are well-established: corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and thousand island or Russian dressing, piled high on rye bread and served hot. If you're craving a Reuben but don't have any corned beef on hand, or perhaps you just want to switch up the ingredients, permit yourself a substitution. Your creation won't technically be a Reuben, but you can certainly consider your sandwich Reuben-esque.

The Rachel

The Rachel is a name given to various versions of the Reuben sandwich featuring substitutions for the classic components. Roast turkey or pastrami is the most common alternative to corned beef in a Rachel, along with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. A sandwich with sausage links in place of corned beef and mustard instead of dressing might also bear the name.

Other Deli Meats

In a Reuben sandwich, corned beef plays the rich, salty, fatty counterpart to oozy cheese, zingy sauerkraut and sweet dressing. For a substitute that fits the part, choose a different deli meat that is also rich and salty, such as brisket or pastrami. Rare roast beef is another option. For a taste that's further from corned beef but still in the deli meat family, try ham, salami, summer sausage or tongue. Turkey and roast chicken don't pack the same flavorful punch, but do nicely complement the Reuben's other fillings. Go for a peppered version, if your deli offers it.


Raid your refrigerator for leftover meats to slice and serve on your Reuben-esque sandwich. Cooked chicken, turkey, ham and bacon are ready to go, or you could reheat a hamburger for a thick, filling sandwich. Slices of leftover meatloaf make a flavorful choice. Spread a scoop of thick sloppy Joe filling onto the bread for a messy, tasty treat.


Several types of fish have an oily, meaty texture and a salty flavor that makes them an excellent stand-in for corned beef. Break off thick flakes of smoked mackerel or trout, preferably peppered, and layer them onto the sandwich. Canned tuna and salmon also work well. Mix the fish with capers or chopped olives and a little dill for a more complex flavor.

Vegetarian Options

Vegetarian and vegan products that are designed to resemble deli meats, often made of seitan or tofu, are the most obvious choice to replace corned beef in a Reuben sandwich. Cooking slices of such products with a dash of liquid smoke and cracked black pepper might infuse them with a meatier flavor and make them less bland. If you're not keen on fake meat, enjoy a grilled portobello mushroom, thick slices of ripe avocado, sliced hard boiled eggs, or perhaps a fried egg.

About the Author

A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.

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