The 15 Best Ingredients To Upgrade Your Roast Beef Sandwich

Quick, think of your favorite roast beef sandwich. Off the bat, you likely envision ribbons of meat stacked between delectable bread. Maybe it's served hot at a local restaurant or with cold cuts from a corner deli. Heck, maybe it's the one your mom made for you as a child. It's a sandwich you've eaten countless times for lunch, dinner, and at nebulous points afterward or in between. And no matter what time you eat it, it never disappoints.

That's what roast beef can do. Calling it a classic sandwich meat is an understatement — roast beef is nothing short of iconic and takes on various forms in cities and regions across the United States. But, when that special sandwich enters your mind's eye, odds are the roast beef is not alone. Perhaps it comes slathered in mouthwatering gravy or topped with melty cheddar cheese. Condiments and vegetables can't be forgotten, either, nor can the bread on which it all sits. The truth is there are numerous ingredient additions that can elevate roast beef from tasty to absolutely crave-worthy, and we've picked out the very best.

1. Au jus

Au jus — the very name sounds like a sigh of relief or an exaltation of joy. This delicious dip is found alongside a number of exemplary roast beef sandwiches, including those from Defonte's in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, and Fiore's House of Quality in Hoboken, New Jersey. The latter sandwich topped our ranking of best subs in New Jersey, and this savory dip is a big part of the reason why.

Though somewhat similar in flavor profile, au jus differs from standard gravy in taste and, most notably, thickness. The term French term quite literally means "with juice," and that's essentially what it is — juices from the cooked meat simmered down to concentrate flavor. Since it's still kept loose, though, it's perfect for dipping and bringing both moisture and added layers of beef flavor to your favorite roast beef sandwich. You might want to let the professionals do their thing with this ingredient, but this rich au jus recipe is worth a try if you've got the time.

2. Mustard

With all respect to mayo, mustard just might be the best sandwich condiment out there. In fact, it's probably quicker to name the deli meats that mustard doesn't go with than those it does. When it comes to roast beef, this condiment is a match made in heaven. Mustard's inherent tanginess brings out roast beef's savoriness in a way that makes it a virtual must-add to any cold-cut sandwich you're throwing together.

You can't really go wrong with whatever type of mustard you choose, either. Dijon is great if you want a little extra acidic kick, while brown mustard brings more heat to the proceedings and plays perfectly with roast beef. Even good ol' yellow mustard is a possibility here, though we'd recommend something with a bit more heft, spice, and texture to get the most out of your condiment addition. Opt for whole grain varieties if available.

3. Mozzarella

Mozzarella is secure on the Mount Rushmore of cheeses in part because of how well it works on sandwiches. You'll hardly find an Italian cold cut combo without at least a sliver of the fresh stuff. It's incredibly mild in flavor, but texturally makes whatever it graces — be it a sandwich, pasta bake, or even a sliced tomato — more palatable.

Moisture is the key factor with this addition. Roast beef is known for being on the drier side of the sandwich meat spectrum. While mozzarella might not pack much in the flavor department, it's got enough water content to make your entire sandwich experience a bit smoother. Even the pre-packaged stuff brings a bounciness that contrasts well with the springy chewiness of the roast beef. If you don't believe us, we'll happily defer back to Fiore's or any of the other countless sandwich shops that add hunks of fresh mozzarella atop their roast beef sandwiches. Good enough for them, good enough for us.

4. French rolls

There's a reason many of the roast beef sandwiches you'll order come on French rolls. These light, fluffy bread pillows are the perfect consistency for layering on gobs of sliced roast beef. They're also perfect for absorbing all the extra moisture from the beef or whatever sauce you opt to dip it in. It's why crusty rolls work better for drip beef sandwiches.

But, where the inside is soft, the outside is sturdy enough to withhold the weight of the meat (as well the toppings you grace your sandwich with). And aside from holding things together, that crunchy crust supplies a little more textural contrast to the meat. We're all about upgrades here, obviously, but roast beef on a French roll is a perfectly passable sandwich in our opinion. French rolls work beautifully for the ultimate Italian beef sandwich, which is loaded with drippy beef and toppings, so it'll serve your roast beef well, too.

5. Rye bread

Bread selection is vital when it comes to sandwich-making, and rye might be the most well-known sandwich bread out there. It's the bread of choice at iconic delis like Katz's in New York City, and though it's practically synonymous with pastrami and corned beef, it pairs with roast beef almost as seamlessly.

The choice of whether or not to toast your rye bread is up to you, but we can't resist a little extra crunch when we can get it. When you toast it, you'll also taste a bit more of the key ingredient that gives rye bread its unique flavor: caraway seeds. They're both earthy and tangy, giving the bread a slightly sour feel that just flat-out works with any kind of beef you can think of. Toast or no toast, be sure to lather on a thick spread of mustard on each slice before stacking your roast beef.

6. Gravy

What can we say about gravy that hasn't already been said? It's a staple of hot roast beef sandwiches the world over, in part because — like au jus — it's made with the drippings of the very meat it's coating. That kind of flavor layering would be good enough on its own until you remember gravy's thick, velvety texture that turns your sandwich into a meal you might need a nap to recover from. If you're adding this to your roast beef, be sure to have a knife and fork handy in case things break down (or just eat it open-faced).

This is an ingredient most sandwich shops do extraordinarily well, but if you're roasting your own beef for sandwiches, it pays to make the gravy right in the pan. Not only will this ensure you scrape up every last bit of dripping and fond for your gravy, but it'll also save you an extra dish during cleanup.

7. Sweet peppers

Peppers aren't necessarily the first vegetable that comes to mind when you think of topping a sandwich, yet they always tend to make things better. They're normally teamed with onions (we'll get to those in a minute) and presented as a mixture for Philly cheesesteaks or paired one-on-one with sausages at your local Italian feast. In both instances, the nightshade's sweetness mixes with the fattiness of the given meat to create a medley of flavor (and probably enough drippings for at least a handful of napkins).

Sauteing peppers brings out their sweetness, especially if you're using bell peppers. They can also be pickled (we'll get to that shortly, too), and some varieties are best used fresh — think banana peppers or Jimmy Nardellos. They also add the crunch you might normally look for in lettuce but without the fear of wilting under the weight of the other ingredients. If bite's not what you're after, try roasted red peppers for an added bit of oily smokiness that'll bring your roast beef to life.

8. Caramelized onions

If you thought peppers were sweet, wait until you try a spoonful of caramelized onions. Cooking these alliums down releases a syrupy sweetness that practically tastes like it was made to top meat between bread. It's not uncommon to find caramelized onions on burgers, so it figures that roast beef is a natural next step.

Want to try your hand at them? Fortunately, there's really only one tip you need for caramelized onions: take your (sweet) time. To get the onions as soft and sweet as you want them, you'll need to cook them down for at least 30-40 minutes. You can go longer, too — some chefs and restaurants will caramelize their onions for hours. It all comes down to preference (and convenience, at least for most home cooks), but no matter how much time you give them, caramelized onions are the perfect sweet veggie topping for your roast beef.

9. Giardiniera

If you're fresh off binging "The Bear" and have done your deep dive into all things Italian beef, you've probably got a jar of giardiniera ready to go in your refrigerator. For the uninitiated, giardiniera is a mixture of vegetables like carrots, peppers (hot and sweet), cauliflower, and green beans pickled in vinegar and preserved in oil. Though this version differs from traditional Italian giardiniera, it's renowned as the perfect spicy sandwich topper in the city of Chicago and beyond.

Though Italian beef sandwiches and roast beef sandwiches are not the same, pickled vegetables and beef are a match made in heaven. The acidity from the vinegar helps cut through the savoriness of the beef, the oil provides moisture and flavor, and the hot peppers (if included) pack a zesty heat that'll make you keep going in for bite after delicious bite. You can buy a jar at most grocery stores, but spicy Chicago-style giardiniera is easy enough to make at home and will taste miles better than almost any store-bought versions you'll find.

10. Yellow cheese

We might as well cut straight to the chase with this one: Melted cheese just belongs on sandwiches. In fact, there might not be a better sandwich ingredient in the universe. Whether it's a classic grilled cheese, tuna melt, or your favorite cheeseburger, there's just something about the way cheese clings to meat and melts into bread. Though American cheese is better at actually melting (and a fine choice for this application), cheddar actually packs the tangy flavor we absolutely love pairing with roast beef while still remaining melty. It complements the meat's juiciness without overpowering it, much like on a classic burger.

We're not alone, either. Roller Roaster in Coney Island, NY — home to one of the best roast beef sandwiches in NYC — is well-known for including melty cheese (ahem, cheez) on its roast beef sandwiches. If cutting a cheese block or melting down slices feels like too much work, you can always opt for cheese sauce or spread, much like Arby's uses on its signature roast beef sandwiches. No matter what version or consistency of yellow cheese you select, you're coming out a winner.

11. Red wine vinaigrette

Okay, so who got the big idea to treat a roast beef sandwich like a salad? The answer is Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn, for one of the best roast beef sandwiches in the Big Apple. One of its signature sandwiches, The Jawn, comes packed with freshly roasted beef, three types of cheese (mozzarella included), mayo, onions, romaine, and, you guessed it, red wine vinaigrette.

The main thing we're adding with this ingredient is, of course, acidity. If you didn't know by now, roast beef is quite savory, so a little extra zing is always welcome. Aside from acidity, though, red wine vinaigrette also has the added benefits of being slightly saccharine and bringing even more moisture — two characteristics we clearly love for our roast beef sandwiches. If you think about it that way, it basically checks all the boxes as a dressing you'd want to pair with beef.

12. Sausage

You might think we're crazy for this one, but would you say the same about some of the best spots for Italian beef in Chicago? Well, you might, but hear us out. Seeing that Italian beef and roast beef are different, but as implied from some of the other ingredients on this list, if it goes well on the former, it'll go well on the latter. Several places famous for Italian beef offer combos that include sausage in those sandwiches, so we'll take it.

If it sounds like too much for you, that's fair. Sausage and beef are both heavy types of meat, rarely seen together outside of the occasional meat lover's pizza. Frankly, pairing them on a sandwich sounds like a cardiologist's nightmare. But, we always love a little extravagance from time to time, so why not load up your roast beef with a little extra meat? We promise not to take your blood pressure afterward.

13. Russian dressing

We've noted ingredients that add acidity, sweetness, and even more meat to your roast beef sandwich, but now it's time for a little creaminess. Russian dressing is commonly found on a classic Reuben sandwich because of how well its piquant flavor complements the sharp flavors of Swiss cheese and corned beef.

Roast beef might not be as sharp as corned beef, but it benefits just the same from Russian dressing's slight heat and smooth sweetness. It's also a cinch to make at home and, stop us if you've heard this before, will taste unfathomably better than any bottled Russian dressing you'll come across. It's also customizable to your liking — celebrity chef Bobby Flay's tangy twist on Russian dressing uses Greek yogurt as a base, and you can increase the heat factor by adding hot sauce, jalapeno peppers, or other spicy ingredients like horseradish. 

14. Horseradish sauce

Sometimes it's just better to cut out the middleman. Russian dressing is fantastic, but what if you want all the fire-breathing spice without the overt sweetness you get from ketchup?

Enter horseradish sauce, which places the central focus on its namesake root for the peppery sauce of roast beef's dreams. Like Russian dressing, it coats the meat beautifully, but with more emphasis on horseradish's spiciness that works so well with beef. There are countless variations of this sauce, but almost all include some kind of creamy base like sour cream, mustard for even more tang, and lemon juice or vinegar. Horseradish remains the star of the show with this condiment, but if it's not quite enough for you, you can even roast your beef with a horseradish crust. All that extra spiciness and texture might render the sauce moot, but we wouldn't mind a little on the side for dipping.

15. Coleslaw

How about adding a little more crunch? Coleslaw to the rescue! It's been silently slipped onto your deli sandwich plate for years (alongside the requisite pickle spear), but maybe you've never thought to actually use it. Well, the next time you order or make a roast beef sandwich, you should change that. The crunch of the cabbage, creaminess of the mayo, and acidity from the vinegar work in concert for an ideal complement to roast beef.

And just like any condiment, coleslaw is totally adjustable based on your tastes. Want things a little sweeter? Use a different kind of vinegar or throw some honey or sugar into the mix. Looking to change up the crunch? Include some matchstick carrots, fennel, or even apple chunks to alter the flavor profile and make things a little livelier. We'll go out on a limb and say that no matter how you customize your coleslaw, it'll take well to your roast beef sandwich.