This incredibly easy tuna melt recipe takes your already delicious tuna salad to the next level with a toasted bun and melted cheese. Make extra tuna salad for leftovers because I guarantee one sandwich won’t be enough.
When I announced I was looking for no-cook recipes after demolishing my kitchen, my friend Lacey, also known as The Military Money Expert®, mentioned she makes an excellent tuna melt. She was generous enough to share her recipe.
Originally from New Zealand, I’m only learning about tuna salad now in my 30s (tuna salad is a very American dish.)
Since I’ve fallen in love with tuna salad, I was eager to make my first-ever tuna melt. Wow, it didn’t disappoint.
Lacey’s recipe produces a fragrant sandwich with a tangy tuna salad. Balanced with melted cheese, there’s a mixture of textures keeping you interested (the sliced cucumbers are my addition because they deliver a generous crunch).
Let’s learn in this recipe how you can make a tuna melt for dinner today.
Tuna sandwich vs. tuna melt
What’s the difference?
A tuna sandwich is typically served cold. It’s a sandwich with tuna inside (most commonly tuna salad) and can be open-faced (a single slice of bread) or closed (2 slices of bread). The bread is usually not toasted. There may be cheese but it’s usually not melted.
You commonly find tuna sandwiches in the prepared food aisle of your grocery store. You can also order a tuna sandwich at a cafe or deli.
A tuna melt is a tuna sandwich that is served hot and typically has toasted bread and melted cheese. There are 2 main kinds of tuna melts:
- Open-faced tuna melt made with a slice of toasted bread and topped with a heaping of tuna salad and cheese. The cheese is melted under a broiler. If desired, the open-faced tuna melt can be “closed” with a second slice of toasted bread.
- A closed tuna melt is fried on both sides as if it were a grilled cheese sandwich with tuna salad inside. There are variations on this type of tuna melt, such as cooking the sandwich on the griddle, in a panini press, or in the oven.
NOTE: Lacey’s recipe is closer to the open-faced type of tuna melt except it has 2 slices of toasted brioche bun (looks like a burger). You could modify it to use rye or sourdough sliced bread to make the closed “grilled cheese” tuna melt.
What to put in a tuna sandwich
Tuna sandwiches and tuna melts have 4 main components:
- Tuna salad
Varying each component can create dozens of tuna sandwiches and tuna melts. Let’s walk through some ideas on different sandwiches you can make.
You can use all kinds of bread for your tuna melt. These are the most common: burger/brioche bun, hot dog bun, English muffin, bagel, flatbread, croissant, crescent rolls, tortilla, sourdough bread, rye bread, baguette, and pita bread.
Your choice of bread will make your tuna melt closer to a sandwich or could transform it into a wrap, burrito, quesadilla, taco, or even a pizza!
TIP: For a low-carb option, try a lettuce wrap. A sheet of sushi seaweed could work too. It might be challenging to melt the cheese without softening the lettuce wrap so you may need to heat the cheese over the tuna salad in a broiler before wrapping in lettuce.
For non-sandwich variations, you can eat the tuna salad over a bed of pasta, quinoa, or nachos with cheese melted on top. You could add tuna salad as part of a quiche filling.
RELATED: Get more ideas on how to serve tuna salad here.
For a tuna sandwich with no mayo: replace the mayonnaise with yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or crème fraîche. Or you could use this simple vinaigrette (omit the garlic since the recipe already has garlic powder).
TIP: If substituting mayo, add 4 tablespoons of sauce first. Then add one tablespoon at a time to avoid a tuna salad that’s too runny (in case your yogurt or cottage cheese is wetter than mayonnaise).
Lacey recommends sliced muenster cheese for this recipe. You can also use havarti, provolone, Swiss, mozzarella, American cheese, mild Cheddar, Gouda, or your favorite cheese that melts well. Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano would work well too.
Tuna sandwich toppings
Toppings and mix-ins are your chance to design a creative sandwich.
Tried and true favorite toppings on tuna melts include crispy bacon, sliced avocado, sliced soft-boiled or hard-boiled egg, sliced tomato, tender lettuce leaves, sauerkraut, pickles, cucumber slices, chopped jalapeno, and caramelized onions.
Adding freshly chopped herbs, such as dill, basil, thyme, and chives, would taste fantastic.
More exotic toppings include fries or potato chips, diced carrots, kimchi, sliced olives, alfalfa sprouts, sautéed mushrooms, and pineapple chunks.
And for the finale, you can add sauces for an extra kick: tartar sauce, aioli, hot sauce, salsa, ketchup, or horseradish.
Tips for success
- If you check out the tuna salad recipe, you might notice that my tuna salad is different from Lacey’s. Lacey’s version uses less mayonnaise and no lemon juice. Why does her variation work?
- Less mayonnaise = drier tuna salad. This is great for avoiding soggy bread.
- The fat from the melted cheese prevents the sandwich from being too dry.
- The dill relish replaces the lemon juice’s acidity.
- Serve the sandwich with a wedge of lemon if you want to add a last-minute squeeze of lemon brightness.
- How to scale the recipe: This recipe is designed for 2 people because it’s the optimal number of sandwiches you can fit in a skillet.
- If you want to make a sandwich for 1, halve the ingredients and proceed with the recipe accordingly.
- If you want to make more than 2 sandwiches, you can make double or triple the tuna salad. You can either toast the bread in batches of 2 sandwiches at a time in the skillet until you’ve toasted everything. Or you can use a griddle for greater surface area so you can toast more bread at once. Or you could toast the bread in the oven, toaster oven, or the grill.
- Assemble the sandwich when you’re ready to eat it. The less time the tuna salad sits on the bread, the less soggy your tuna melt will be.
- You’ll likely have leftover tuna salad from this recipe. Store the leftovers in the fridge and make another tuna melt the next day. Or check out these ideas for what to eat tuna salad with.
Easy tuna melt with cucumber on a brioche bun
- Chopping Board
- Mixing Bowl
- Frying Pan
- 12 oz. (340 g) tuna, canned
- 6 tablespoons (85 g) mayonnaise, use as much as desired
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) relish, dill relish or sweet relish
- 2 tablespoons (20 g) onion, red onion or shallot is ideal
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) Salt, sea salt, optional
- ½ teaspoon (2 g) Black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 tablespoon (5 g) Oregano, dried
- 1 tablespoon Garlic Powder, optional
- 2 burger buns, brioche buns or hearty sliced bread
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) butter
- 2 small Cucumbers, Persian cucumbers are best
- 4 slices cheese, sliced muenster or provolone
- Gather the ingredients.
Prepare the tuna salad
- Drain the tuna. Leave the tuna in the strainer to remove as much water as possible.
- Finely dice the red onion. Thinly slice the cucumbers lengthwise.
- Mix the drained tuna, 5 tablespoons of mayonnaise, relish, onion, salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder in a mixing bowl until well combined. The tuna salad is ready.
Toast the bread
- Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium heat. Melt the butter in the pan.
- Once the butter has melted, add the bread to the pan, mayonnaise-side down.
- Once the buns are golden brown, remove them from the pan. Set aside.
Assemble the sandwich
- Add the cheese to the top bun. There's 3 ways you can do it: A) If you don't mind cold cheese, place the slices of cheese on the warm bread. B) If your pan isn't nonstick, add the top buns back to the warm pan with the mayo-side facing up. Add the sliced cheese on top of the bun. C) If your pan is nonstick, add the cheese to the warm pan and put the top burger bun over the cheese. The residual heat from the pan will melt the cheese.
- While the cheese is warming up, scoop the tuna salad onto the bottom bun. Place a generous heaping.
- Add the sliced cucumbers on top of the tuna salad.
- Check on the cheese. If melting in the pan, carefully move the top bun and place over the cucumber tuna salad.
- Enjoy your tuna melt!
- If I’m making it for my hubby, I add a little finely chopped jalapeno and two splashes of hot sauce.
- Sometimes I like to eat the last of the tuna with crackers as a snack. In that case, I add a little horseradish to give it a kick.
Can you make this in advance?
A cold tuna sandwich can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it. It might not taste as fresh but it’ll be fine for a brown bag lunch.
However, I wouldn’t make a tuna melt in advance because tuna melts taste best hot with melted cheese.
It’s best to make the tuna melt when you’re ready to eat it. If you must make it in advance, you can prepare the tuna salad separately. Then toast the bread and melt the cheese over the bread and tuna salad just before serving.
How to store leftovers?
Store the leftover tuna salad separately from the bread and toppings. You can find instructions on how to store leftover tuna salad here. Store uneaten tuna and tuna salad in the fridge.
Can you freeze it?
You can freeze the tuna salad component of the sandwich. But I wouldn’t recommend freezing the assembled tuna sandwich (and especially not a hot tuna melt) in the freezer because the bread will dry out in the freezer. It’ll be a mess when you thaw the sandwich.
If you want to freeze the sandwich, freeze the components separately.
Freeze the tuna salad in an airtight container. Separately, freeze the bread in a bread bag. Thaw the tuna salad in the fridge. The bread can defrost at room temperature.
Drain any liquid the tuna salad might have released after defrosting. Assemble the tuna melt by toasting the bread and melting the cheese in a skillet or oven. Add the tuna salad to the bread and serve with toppings.