The Bodacious BLT

The simplest ingredients make a standout summer sandwich. 

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato come together to create summertime sandwich perfection. But with just three ingredients, each one must be the best. I’m not a chef by any means, but after making 3,483 BLTs over 52 summers, I’ve learned a thing or two. In my book, that means applewood smoked bacon from Niman Ranch or Nueske’s, Bibb lettuce, and Hanover tomatoes. Like any self-respecting Southerner, my mayo of choice is Duke’s. 

Let’s start with the bread. There’s a time and a place for a chewy baguette or a hearty seeded multigrain—but this is neither the time nor the place. A BLT calls for a soft crust, so a white pullman loaf is ideal, and it’s better for sopping up excess juices.

There’s a good reason you won’t catch me eating a BLT in February. Peak-season summertime tomatoes are a must. For the perfect BLT, they’re worth the wait. Some people like theirs sliced thick, but I go for super-skinny slices, using my special serrated “tomato knife,” reserved for this purpose. The bacon should be exceptionally meaty and fried to a crisp.

Mayo can be divisive. Sure, there are legions of Hellman’s fans, but the subtle superiority of Duke’s is all about vinegar: Hellman’s only uses white vinegar in its recipe, while Duke’s adds apple cider too. It makes a meaningful difference. 

Some might prefer a shake or two of salt and pepper, but my go-to is Borsari, a simple, seasoned sea salt infused with the perfect blend of pepper, plus garlic, rosemary, basil, and nutmeg courtesy of Noni Borsari’s secret Bolognese recipe. I’m never without it and happily season my tomatoes with this magical mix. It’s a staple in my kitchen.

Making sure your BLT is sturdy is important, otherwise you’ll face “tomato slippage” when you take a bite. For a slip-proof sammie, build it in this order: swipe a dollop of mayonnaise on the bread, then add the bacon, which will provide the traction needed to hold the tomato slices on top. Add the tomatoes and a few shakes of Borsari (or salt and pepper). Lettuce comes next, followed by a second slice of bread, also slathered in mayo. One bite of this winning combination is a flavor party like no other. 

To die-hard BLT fans, variations are heretical, but can nevertheless make for some seriously good eating. Just don’t veer too far off script. I once had a Shrimp BLT at Paulie’s in Houston, and while that sandwich was a religious experience, in retrospect, it wasn’t a BLT. It was a shrimp po’ boy incognito.  

If you prefer to order your BLT off the menu, we’ve found a handful of Virginia restaurants have some of the best—from Machipongo to Middleburg. Some come embellished with fried green tomatoes; others add avocado, red onion, pimento cheese, or step things up with garlic aioli, even goat cheese. Whatever the combo, they’ve won legions of fans. 

BLT Bites: Ten of Virginia’s best of the best BLTs.

Alexandria: Good Company Doughnuts & Cafe—tricked up with maple sauce, onion, and lemon vinaigrette this one’s served on ciabatta. 

Charlottesville: Blue Moon Diner—garlic-smoked Nodine’s bacon and Duke’s make us howl for the BLT at this Main Street diner.   

Eastern Shore: Machipongo Trading Company—It’s a wrap, rolled up with mayo, spinach, and mustard. 

Staunton: The Pampered Palate Café—straight-up BLT goodness on whole wheat with mayo. 

Gloucester: Sweet Tooth Café—this unfussy BLT is made with mayo on toasted sourdough.

Harrisonburg: Lola’s Delicatessen—grilled sourdough gives this BLT with mayo is signature tang. 

Leesburg: South Street Under— a classic BLT made with extra bacon on multigrain bread.

Middleburg: The Upper Crust—served on a croissant, this refined BLT swaps lettuce for spinach and adds onion and poppy seed dressing.

Richmond: Lunch.SUPPER!—this bad boy is made with fried green tomato and pimento on Texas toast.

Virginia Beach: Tad’s Deli & Smokehouse—plain-Jane style BLT with mayo that consistently gets raves.

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