Food & Drink

We Tried the Controversial Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich, and It's Shockingly Good

peanut butter sandwich
Tony Merevick/Thrillist

Over the weekend a (six-year-old, actually) "recipe" from The New York Times was reposted by The Gray Lady's social media coven and promptly went viral for at least the second time in its relatively long lifespan. The article was a cheeky -- or as cheeky as the Times gets, I guess -- look at the surprisingly divisive peanut butter and pickle sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like. The re-post promptly tore this nation apart like nothing since... well, actually something seemingly tears our nation apart every day, but more importantly: every wretched soul on the internet had an opinion on the sandwich, one way or another. Such is the fertile soil that hot takes are made of. 

Some contended the combo is a tangy, savory ambrosia of the gods stuck between two slices. Others condemned it as a scourge on humanity and the first of four fabled sandwiches of the Apocalypse. The opinions of the Interweb were cleaved in half. Whatever. 

The point is, someone at Thrillist HQ needed to try it to find out. I volunteered myself as tribute, mainly because I'm indifferent to pickles, and I wanted to expense lunch. The Times describes the sando medley with phrases like "The vinegary snap of the pickles tempers the unctuousness of the peanut butter, and it’s an unusual pantry sandwich for when luncheon meats leave you cold," which is pretty much the most New York Times way to describe a basic latch-key kid sandwichm and I'm not sure if they are in on the joke or not.

At any rate, I needed to see if all this unctuousness was indeed as unctuous as they describe. 

peanut butter
Tony Merevick/Thrillist

The construction

Right off the bat, I knew if I was going to actually eat something as intrinsically bunk sounding as a PB+P, I would have to do it my way. While the Times calls for "bread-and-butter" pickles, or "commoner pickles," as they no doubt called them in their own heads, I went for a jar of McClure's spears -- a Detroit institution, and quite possibly the best pickles on this or any planet. 

As far as my own relationship with pickles is concerned, I am more or less ambivalent. I won't take the pickles off my burger if it comes that way, but I also wouldn't consider myself a fan. More often than not, most of my pickle consumption comes via pickleback shots, and even then I'm in it more for the sweet, hangover-busting electrolytes than anything else. So a higher quality pickle just made sense to me. Despite the fact that I am, myself, decidedly a commoner. 

Their recipe also didn't call for toasted bread. But that's how I make my own peanut butter and jellys, and I'd be dammed if I didn't apply my own sandwich-making alchemy to this new creation. So I toasted my bread, sliced my spears, applied a layer of PB and also made a duplicate sandwich for our News Editor and overall trustworthy human being Tony Merevick. I've leveraged his taste buds before, and -- like any millennial worth their artisanal sea salt -- I simply can't reach a decision without someone else validating my thoughts. 

The conclusion

Frankly, the sandwiches looked gross as shit. Like big, sopping wet slices of an underwater sea creature, bleeding stale green juice over an otherwise delicious-looking PB sandwich -- the kind that Mom used to make. However, as every teen movie since the early 1980s has taught us: we shall not judge books nor people nor sandwiches by their gross-ass covers. 

When Tony bit into his sandwich (I waited for him to do it first, obviously) he whispered a simple "Oh boy" to no one in particular... I think he was talking to the sandwich, which he was clearly enjoying.  

When I did the same, I realized what he was "Oh boy-ing" about: this disgusting garbage sandwich was actually... good. And not just "good for a pickle sandwich" good. It was genuinely enjoyable. The crisp, sour and tangy taste of the pickles cut through the savory, sweet unctuousness (thanks for the new word, guys!) to create flavor combo not unlike the way pickles complement the taste of a ketchup-laced cheeseburger, without overpowering it. I happened to say "oh boy" myself. 

I managed to snag four or five passersby to dip into what we were slinging, and 4/5 genuinely enjoyed the bites they had. And I'm pretty sure that fifth guy was just having a bad day. I wish there was more analysis to be had here, but it's really just a simple flavor combo that creates a refreshing, juicy (in a good way!) texture to your textbook peanut butter sandwich. 

My advice: If you even kind of like pickles and peanut butter, is to try it for yourself. But don't rest on the Times' recipe laurels. Customize your sandwich to your own personal predilections. Spring for the expensive pickles. Share your sandwich with a friend. While The NY Times got what they wanted from their jokey post (a shit-storm of reactions, pretty much) they did actually teach at least one person (me) a valuable lesson: at least half of the people on the internet have no sense of good taste. 

Honestly, I thought that number would be a lot lower.  

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. His favorite weird sandwich combination is the jelly bean and squid ink on rye. Follow him: @wilfulton.