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A classic tuna melt recipe makes an easy and satisfying lunch or dinner option for busy days. Loved for generations, you just can’t beat the toasted, open-faced sandwich that includes tuna salad, sliced tomatoes, and melted cheese. Since it’s prepared with canned tuna (or “tuna fish”), the affordable meal comes together in just minutes! Serve the sandwich with a side of potato chips, French fries, pickles, a cup of tomato soup, or a simple green salad.

Close up side shot of a tuna melt recipe stacked on top of each other

Tuna Melt Sandwich

A tuna melt sandwich is a hot sandwich that includes bread, melted cheese, and tuna fish. There are obviously endless ways to prepare these ingredients, but we happen to think that this particular method is the absolute best! The open-faced sandwich is topped with the tastiest tuna fish salad, vine-ripened tomato, and melted, gooey cheese. It’s flavorful, it’s simple, and it’s the most perfect rendition of the old-fashioned favorite.

Why This is the Best Tuna Melt Recipe

Ask any home cook and she probably has her own favorite version of the classic tuna melt. This is the easy recipe that I grew up with, and it’s been well-loved by many friends and family members over the years. There are three essential components that make this easy tuna melt the absolute tastiest, so let’s break them down…

Overhead shot of hands holding a tuna melt sandwich

The Bread

First, let’s start with the bread. There are two keys to avoiding a soggy tuna melt sandwich:

  1. Use a thick-sliced hearty bread such as a crusty loaf of artisan French bread or baguette, Italian bread, sourdough bread, or this homemade No-Knead Bread. English muffins (shown here) are another great option, since they’re sturdy and those little nooks and crannies soak up any extra juices from the sandwich toppings.
  2. Toast the bread or English muffin before adding the toppings. Once it’s fully-loaded, you’ll stick the sandwich back under the broiler to melt the cheese, but the bread on the bottom will not get mushy or soggy.

The Tuna Salad

Next, the star ingredient of this open faced tuna melt: the tuna salad! I keep it simple with just a handful of basic ingredients that let the canned tuna fish and the mayonnaise shine. Here are a few tips for perfect tuna salad every time:

  • Use solid white albacore tuna in water. I prefer StarKist or Bumble Bee brands, and I do not recommend chunk light tuna for this recipe. The solid white albacore tuna has a mild taste, and the large, firm chunks hold their shape better than chunk light.
  • Drain the tuna really well. Squeeze out as much liquid as you possibly can, or you will end up with watery tuna salad.
  • Use high-quality mayonnaise. I don’t mess around with light or low-fat mayonnaise when making tuna salad. Instead, pick a flavorful, full-fat mayo with the best, simple ingredients. Duke’s brand is my favorite, but Hellman’s is also a good option.
  • Start with a small amount of mayonnaise and slowly add more, if necessary. The amount of mayonnaise in a tuna salad recipe is really a matter of personal preference. It’s very easy to add extra, but it’s hard to take it out, so start with about ½ cup, stir everything together, and then mix in more mayo as you see fit.
Stirring together tuna fish salad

The Best Cheese for a Tuna Melt

That’s right — tuna and cheese goes together! Perhaps we’re breaking every rule about pairing seafood with cheese, but in this classic sandwich it just works.

So what is the best cheese for a tuna melt? That’s another topic of hot debate! I grew up with either sharp cheddar or American cheeses on my tuna melts, but you can certainly substitute with almost any cheese that you have on hand. You can even mix-and-match two different cheeses for an extra-melty, extra-gooey, extra-cheesy experience. Other good options include provolone, Swiss cheese, Gruyere, Havarti, mozzarella, Colby, Pepper Jack and Monterey Jack.

Open Faced or Closed?

Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but I always make a tuna cheese melt open-faced. It’s easy to assemble, there’s no need to flip it over on a griddle or grill, and you can use English muffins! If you like a grilled tuna melt recipe that’s closed — like a grilled cheese sandwich — that’s fine, too! Just add a top layer of bread, put a slice of cheese on each side, stuff with tuna salad and tomato, butter the outsides, and grill until golden brown.

Toasting English muffins

Ingredients for an Easy Tuna Melt

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for our favorite tuna melt recipe. As always, specific measurements and complete step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Canned tuna fish: use solid white albacore tuna in water.
  • Mayonnaise: pick a high-quality, full-fat brand for the best flavor. We like Duke’s mayo.
  • Celery: gives the tuna salad a little bit of savory, fresh crunch.
  • Pickle relish: I like sweet relish, but dill pickle relish will also work.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the tuna salad.
  • Thick white bread or English muffins: pick a hearty, crusty vehicle that won’t get soggy or flimsy under your sandwich.
  • Tomatoes: an optional ingredient that adds fresh flavor to the open-faced sandwich.
  • Cheese: we like either sharp cheddar or American cheese, but just about any variety of good melting cheese will work.
Slicing tomato on a cutting board

How to Make a Tuna Melt

This easy tuna melt recipe comes together in less than 30 minutes — perfect for busy weeknight dinners or simple weekend lunches!

  1. Make Tuna Salad. In a large bowl, stir together the drained and flaked tuna, mayonnaise, celery, relish, salt and pepper.
  2. Toast Bread. Toast the bread or English muffins in a classic toaster or on a baking sheet under the broiler.
  3. Assemble Sandwiches. Top each piece of bread or each English muffin half with the tuna mixture, then tomato slices, and finally cheese.
  4. Broil. Pop the open-faced sandwiches under the broiler or in the toaster oven on the “Broil” setting for about 3-6 minutes, until the cheese melts.
  5. Serve. Enjoy the open-face sandwich with a fork and knife, or dig in with your hands!
Close up side shot of a recipe for a tuna melt served with grapes, pickles, and French fries.

What to Serve with Tuna Melts

Keep it simple and serve the sandwiches with a side of potato chips or French fries and pickles — diner style! If you like, you can add a cup of tomato soup, a simple green salad, carrot and raisin salad, three bean salad, or fruit salad to offset the warm, creamy tuna.

Side shot of the best tuna melt recipe served on a dinner table

Make Ahead

Tuna melts are best when enjoyed fresh and warm. If you’d like to prep ahead, you can make the tuna salad in advance and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Storage

Leftover tuna melt sandwiches can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days. It’s important to note that the bread will likely get soggy as the sandwich sits, so it’s best when enjoyed right away. If you’d like to reheat the tuna melt, place it in a 350°F oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is gooey and the tuna salad is warmed through.

Tuna melts stacked on top of each other

Classic Tuna Melt Recipe Variations

  • To add even more flavor to the tuna salad, try mixing in fresh herbs like dill, chives, tarragon, or parsley, a dash of garlic powder, a squeeze of lemon juice, crushed red pepper flakes, scallions, capers, a dollop of Dijon mustard, or minced red onion.
  • Instead of using English muffins or white bread, try making the tuna melt with a toasted bagel, leftover hamburger or hotdog buns, croissants, or a baguette.
  • Tuna Melt Panini: make the sandwich closed (rather than open-faced) and press it on a grill pan or panini press. Don’t forget to butter the outside of the sandwich or brush with olive oil.
  • Wrap or Quesadilla: use flour tortillas instead of bread, and toast the wrap or quesadilla on a griddle or in a skillet.
  • Tuna Bacon Melt: it might not be as traditional, but everything’s better with bacon, right? Add a couple of strips of cooked, crispy bacon to each sandwich.
  • Tuna Avocado Toast: this is your “fancy tuna sandwich recipe!” Top the toasted bread with sliced or mashed avocado in addition to the tuna salad, tomato, and cheese.
Overhead shot of tuna melt on a white plate with fries and grapes

Tips for the Best Tuna Melt Recipe

  • Use solid white albacore tuna in water. This variety of canned tuna fish has a mild flavor, and the large, firm chunks hold their shape nicely.
  • Drain the tuna really well, squeezing out any excess water before preparing the tuna salad.
  • Pick thick, hearty slices of bread or English muffins that can stand up to the tuna and toppings. Flimsy, thinner breads will quickly become soggy or will fall apart under the weight of the other ingredients.
  • Toast the bread or English muffins before assembling the sandwiches. This helps to avoid a soggy base.
  • Omit the tomato, if you like. It’s an optional ingredient, and the sandwich is delicious even without the added veggies!
Tuna melts on a white plate

More Recipes with Canned Tuna

Square side shot of tuna melt stacked on a cutting board

Tuna Melt Recipe

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 25 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 550 kcal
This classic tuna melt recipe is an easy, affordable, and satisfying lunch or dinner that's ready for the table in less than 30 minutes!

Ingredients
  

FOR THE TUNA SALAD

  • 3 (5 ounce) cans tuna fish in water, drained really well and flaked (we like solid white albacore tuna in water)
  • ¾ cup finely diced celery
  • ½ cup mayonnaise (we prefer Duke's brand mayo)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sweet pickle relish (or sub with dill pickle relish)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste

FOR THE MELTS

  • 8 slices thick white bread or 4 English muffins, split
  • 2 tomatoes (about 1 lb.), sliced ¼-inch thick (optional)
  • 8 slices sharp cheddar cheese (or sub with provolone, Swiss, American, or other favorite cheese)

Instructions

  • Prepare tuna salad by stirring together tuna, celery, mayonnaise, pickle relish, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
  • Arrange bread or English muffins on a rimmed baking sheet. Place about 6-inches from the broiler and toast until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  • Spread about ½ cup of tuna salad over each slice of toast, top with sliced tomato, then the cheddar. Broil 6-inches from the heat until the cheese is melted and starting to brown, about 3-6 minutes.

Notes

  • Use solid white albacore tuna in water. This variety of canned tuna fish has a mild flavor, and the large, firm chunks hold their shape nicely.
  • Drain the tuna really well, squeezing out any excess water before preparing the tuna salad.
  • Pick a hearty bread or English muffins that can stand up to the tuna and toppings. Flimsy, thinner breads will quickly become soggy or will fall apart under the weight of the other ingredients.
  • Toast the bread or English muffins before assembling the sandwiches. This helps to avoid a soggy base.
  • Omit the tomato, if you like. It’s an optional ingredient, and the sandwich is delicious even without the added veggies!
  • To add even more flavor to the tuna salad, try mixing in fresh herbs like dill, chives, or parsley, a dash of garlic powder, a squeeze of lemon juice, a dollop of Dijon mustard, or minced red onion.
  • Instead of using English muffins or white bread, try making the tuna melt with a toasted bagel, leftover hamburger or hotdog buns, croissants, or a baguette.
  • Tuna Melt Panini: make the sandwich closed (rather than open-faced) and press it on a grill pan or panini press. Don’t forget to butter the outside of the sandwich or brush with olive oil.
  • Wrap or Quesadilla: use flour tortillas instead of bread, and toast the wrap or quesadilla on a griddle or in a skillet.
  • Tuna Bacon Melt: it might not be as traditional, but everything’s better with bacon, right? Add a couple of strips of cooked, crispy bacon to each sandwich.
  • Tuna Avocado Toast: this is your “fancy tuna sandwich recipe!” Top the toasted bread with sliced or mashed avocado in addition to the tuna salad, tomato, and cheese.

Nutrition

Serving: 1tuna meltCalories: 550kcalCarbohydrates: 32gProtein: 33gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 79mgSodium: 1088mgPotassium: 487mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 1025IUVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 263mgIron: 3mg
Keyword: open faced tuna melt, recipe for tuna melt, tuna melt, tuna melt recipe, tuna melts
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in October, 2020. The photos were updated in June, 2022.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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