A BIG sandwich for the big game: stuffed rye sandwich

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Bill Shankly

Whether you see football as a sport, hobby, religion, or societal bane, you have to admit the association between football and good eatin’ is a big plus. Any sport where planning the tailgating menu is as important as knowing the players is A-OK in my book.

While I’ve never attended a professional football game, I do watch a game or two on weekends. I’ve watched the Patriots since I was a kid, and I know someone who knows someone who dated Doug Flutie, of “Hail Mary pass” fame.  That fateful Halloween night when the Pats’ winning streak was broken as my daughter was ringing doorbells and saying “Trick or Treat,” I was right behind her asking, “What’s the score?”

Nowadays I find I can’t keep up with the players’ names or teams as much anymore, but I still enjoy the chance to spend time with my husband, David, and taking time to find fun/comforting food to eat in the living room, where we can shout “Go, go, go!” or “”No, no, NO!” as needed.

One of our favorite football foods is “The Big Sandwich.” That’s what we call it, honestly.

“Hey, hon, what do you want for football on Sunday?”

“How about The Big Sandwich?”

“Oooh, sounds good to me!”

A big chunk of sandwich, heavy on the salami and onion. A big puddle of yellow mustard for dipping; chips, and a cold beer. The tang of the rye, the cool creamy spread with a little bite from cayenne pepper. A touchdown, the kicker whiffs the extra point, and Howie Long is the cutest thing on 4 wheels.

Life on Sunday afternoon is good.

Ready to make your own big sandwich? Hop up on the tailgate, and let’s go.



First, let’s make the spread for inside the bread. It needs time to let the flavors work together as a team, so we make it first.

In the bowl of your mixer combine:

2 packages cream cheese (8 ounces each), softened
2 tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Beat on medium speed until smooth, scraping the bowl occasionally. You can most definitely tailor this spread to herbs and spices that you like, increasing this one and decreasing that; it’s very flexible. You can even use a purchased cream cheese spread, as long as its flavors will enhance the meats and cheeses you choose.

Football is an honest game. It’s true to life. It’s a game about sharing. Football is a team game. So is life.

–Joe Namath

Transfer the spread to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight.

Using your favorite method, by hand or machine, prepare a hearty rye bread dough through the first rise.

Here I’ve used our Dark Pumpernickel bread mix. Our Caraway Rye Bread recipe, baked as one large loaf, would also be great for this sandwich. In fact, any hearty, hearth-style bread will work well for this. Regular soft sandwich loaves just don’t have what it takes to hold up all of the ingredients, so go for something sturdier.

Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off of the goal.

–Vince Lombardi

Shape the bread into a long loaf, but not too skinny. Actually, think football shaped, just not as pointy.

Bake the loaf in a preheated 350°F oven until its center registers between 190°F and 200°F on an instant-read thermometer. This will take around 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your bread.

Cool the bread completely. Using a long, sharp serrated knife, remove the top inch of the bread. The crisp outer crust will help cradle the fillings; and the warm, pickle-y scent of the rye bread is mouthwatering.

Break out your “grip and rip” technique and pull the inside of the bread out, leaving a 1/2” shell all around, and a 3/4” shell on the bottom.

If my mother put on a helmet and shoulder pads and a uniform that wasn’t the same as the one I was wearing, I’d run over her if she was in my way. And I love my mother.

–Bo Jackson

Here’s a closeup of how much shell you should have left after removing the soft, bread-y insides. It’s fine if you have slightly thicker and thinner spots; you just need a good front line to hold the fillings.

DON’T THROW THE INSIDES AWAY!  Toast them for croutons, dry them for bread crumbs, or just nibble as you work.

Remove the cream cheese spread from the fridge. If you need to, give it a quick zap in the microwave to make it soft and spreadable again.

Generously spread all of the cream cheese mixture around the bottom and sides of the hollowed-out shell. Don’t forget to spread filling on the “lid” of bread that you cut off, too. That’s going back on later.

You want a nice, thick coating; you should barely be able to see the bread through the filling in a few spots.

If your bread is smaller and you feel that adding all the spread would be overkill, break out the leftover bread you pulled from the center and have a little bread/spread fest.
“You guys, line up alphabetically by height.”

Bill Peterson

Now for the fun. Start layering your favorite cold cuts, sliced cheeses, and veggies into the bread.

**You’ll need about 6 to 8 slices of meat or cheese per layer. Choose the ones you like best, it’s really up to you**

First up for me, ham. Make sure that your fillings go up the sides, too, not just into the bottom of the hollow.

Next, American cheese. Usually I’m a white cheese girl, but I like the color contrast that the yellow cheese brings here.

I added turkey, tomato, and Swiss to the lineup. Er, pileup.

And I finished with onion and salami slices, topped off with the cream cheese-smeared bread lid.

“Most football teams are temperamental. That’s 90% temper and 10% mental.”

–Doug Plank

Time to put the squeeze on your sandwich. Place a large plate or tray over the sandwich and add a nice, heavy weight. A jug o’ peanut butter works quite well. Leave the sandwich to set under the weight for about an hour. Any longer than that and you’ll want to do your squeezing in the fridge.

When you’re ready, remove the weight and cut the sandwich in half the long way, then into chunky wedges. Be generous, skinny wedges will fall apart too easily.

Need a refresher about what all the layers are? Here’s a list:

Dark pumpkernickel bread

Cream cheese spread


American cheese



Swiss cheese

Vidalia onion slices


Serve your sandwich with potato chips, crisp pickles, and an icy cold beer. This sandwich can be tailored with your choice of meats and cheeses; even the bread and spread can be changed to your tastes. This version* won rave reviews from my husband; PJ’s and Andrea’s, too. But definitely experiment and create your own super sandwich!

*No recipe, just use what you like best!

“Sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.”

–Knute Rockne, All-American

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. Beth

    Thanks for remembering us fanatic football fans, MaryJane. My homemade pizza is traditional in this household on Super Bowl Sunday, but this sandwich does look good (although I’m not so sure about the cream cheese). Go Steelers!
    Hi Beth,
    You could definitely change the cream cheese spread to something you enjoy, like boursin. Have fun for Super Bowl. Gotta stick with my dad’s favorite though, so Go Packers. 🙂 ~ MaryJane

  2. Elaine

    Hey MaryJane!

    I remember eating “the big sandwich” at your house! – they are super yummy! and an easy treat for Sunday game day watching…or movie marathon watching… or not watching anything… great idea for the blog!
    Thanks honey! Hugs to everyone. 🙂 ~ MaryJane

  3. Peggasus

    Wow, that looks great! Like a muffaletta, but without all those nasty olives. This will be great at our tailgates next year!

  4. zestforfood

    This sounds fabulous…like a muffaletta.

    Oh, btw, your first quote, by Bill Shankly, refers to what I call (and what really is) “real football”, but what Americans call “soccer”. Shankly is a legend in Liverpool.
    *blush* Thanks for letting me know. I thought it was one of the best football quotes I came across, never realized it was the other kind of football. In sentiment thought, you could replace “football” with the sport or contest of your choice, and it would still ring true. Black Friday Shopping comes to mind. 😉 ~ MaryJane

  5. "SoupAddict Karen"

    Oh, MaryJane – you just totally answered the head-scratching question of what to serve for the Super Bowl. And … I have a KAF gift card burning a hole in my wallet for some pumpernickel stuff I’ll need. Serendipity at its best. This is going to rock the party!
    Whooop, whooopp, raise da roof, raise da roof! Sounds like a party to me! What time should we all show up?
    😉 ~ MaryJane

  6. milkwithknives

    Oh, dear! That looks so incredible! There’s nothing like a really good, well done sandwich, is there? I’ve got a loaf of sourdough rising up in the fridge as we speak (type), and that will definitely be sturdy enough for this enterprise. I know this is nerdy, but I love the cheap, cat food-looking tuna fish mixed with mayonnaise and spread on sourdough toast. I’ll see what else I can come up with for this, though sharp cheddar springs immediately to mind. Thanks for a winner! I’m excited!
    Kindred souls… I love the tuna too. With pickles and yellow mustard no less! Maybe a little American cheese, and grilled. Totally different sandwich, but sooo good. I’ll have to try it as layers in the Big Sandwich.
    Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

  7. maryjobo

    Oh YUM! That’s my idea of a sandwich. but I’m surprised that there’s no liquid at all added to the cream cheese mixture–wouldn’t a tablespoon or two cream or half and half make it easier to spread without tearing the bread?
    Hi Maryjobo,
    If you found the cream harder to spread, you can absolutely thin it down just a touch. I made this a few different times, and found room temperature cheese spread just fine. Enjoy! ~ MaryJane

  8. rxbus

    Wow! Sounds terrific. Being from California, I’d be tempted to have a layer of guacamole or at least sliced avocados in there somewhere. Definitely trying it soon.

  9. nikzup03

    so, with the spread… could i sauté some spinach and turn it into spinach dip?
    ooh, I bet you could. Just make sure it’s not too wet, so the bread will sog up too fast. ~ MaryJane

  10. Debbie

    We make something similar for most football Sundays..and vary the meats/cheeses so we don’t get tired of them.

    Our favorite that I’ll make for Super Bowl is: Extra large loaf of dark pumpernickle bread..hallowed out and spread with Russian Dressing. First a layer of turkey breast…then some swiss…a layer of cole slaw (don’t use too much mayo)…then some rare roast beef…swiss….some thinly sliced brisket….the swiss and a last bit of cole slaw. We press it under something heavy also for a short time…..and cut into wedges to eat. My husband likes a bowl of Russian Dressing on the side to dip his sandwich into after each bite.

    Go Steelers!
    I LOVE the Russian dressing idea and the cole slaw. Can’t have a pulled pork sandwich without the slaw on top, but never thought of putting it in other sandwiches. Thanks for sharing Debbie! ~ MaryJane

  11. Debbie

    nikzup03..I have a very east hot spinach dip that I serve with baked pita chips.

    1 brick cream cheese, 1 container sour cream, 1 envelope onion soup mix, 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar & 1 pkg. thawed chopped spinach (from the freezer section) *squeeze out till nearly dry.

    Mix everything in a bowl and transfer to a 2 qt baking dish. Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes.

    The last 10 minutes of baking cut up pita pockets into wedges and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and serve with the dip.

    This is one of our go to football Sunday snacks. Hope you like it.

  12. sherri11258

    Wow…I’m not a rye fan, but this sandwich looks spectacular! I bet my husband would love it. I especially love how the big dark loaf looks rather football-shaped itself! 🙂

  13. gpyrocat

    I have a recipe similar to this that we love but I like the sound of the cream cheese, so I’ll be trying this soon. What really made me grin though was your comment about Howie Long. He’s been “my thing” for ages. I even have a locker room photo of him as my screen saver, courtesy of my hubby.
    OH, color me jealous!! He’s just soooo cute, and those shoulders. *sigh* ~ MaryJane

  14. Beth

    So – I’m not the only one who drools over Howie Long, I see. MaryJane, I’ve never gotten to his shoulders – I can’t get past his face with that crewcut!! (We married women should be ashamed of ourselves).
    Oh Beth, if we didn’t look, we’d be dead! Howie may have the shoulders, but my honey has pulled pork BBQ and a nice tickle-y beard. He’s a keeper! ~ MaryJane


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