Recently, I’ve gotten back into eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the first time in a decade or so. Here’s the thing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; they’re great. I was hooked, and began the process of mixing and matching to expand my PB&J horizons. Now, a few months later, I feel I am an expert on the peanut butter and jelly, America’s finest sandwich. However, not every PB&J is the same. There are a lot of variations possible. Some are right, but others are wrong. “That’s just a matter of opinion,” you might argue. If you want to make that argument, clearly you are not a learned peanut butter and jelly expert. Here is my peanut butter and jelly sandwich manifesto. Following it will change your life.
Bread is overlooked in the sandwich game. If you don’t have a good bread base for your sandwich, you’re in trouble. Never go with white bread, although that’s the case for any sandwich. White bread is for fried bologna only, and fried bologna is a sandwich fit only for inmates in Arkham Asylum or something. However, you do want a bread on the softer side of things. Nothing too hard or with a stiffness to it. Personally, I go with a honey wheat bread, but I know gluten is an issue for some people, so you don’t have to go all-in on wheat bread. I’m sure there is a gluten-free equivalent.
Now, Buzzfeed suggests grilling your bread, and TV writer (and very opinionated PB&J connoisseur) Michael Schur says you have to toast your bread. Both entities are wrong. Again, crunch and peanut butter and jelly don’t go together. The peanut butter and jelly is a soft sandwich.
The peanut butter battle comes down to one simple debate: Smooth versus crunchy, crunchy versus smooth. The cowards at Bon Appetit refused to take a side in the debate, but according to a Thrillist article, 60 percent of Americans go with smooth. I am here to tell you 60 percent of Americans are dead wrong. Smooth peanut butter is OK in a pinch. It’s not bad, but if you have a choice, it’s the wrong choice. Crunchy is so much better. You may be saying, “But didn’t you argue that the peanut butter and jelly is a soft sandwich?” Yes, but that’s what’s great about crunchy peanut butter. The sandwich retains its soft mouthfeel, and it’s still easy to bit into. However, crunchy peanut butter has just enough grit to keep the sandwich from just being a mushy mess. Also, it increases the peanut aspect of the peanut butter and jelly. If you want to go with an organic, stir-it-up style peanut butter, feel free. I tend to go pretty basic with my peanut butter, though.
In terms of jelly, you don’t want actual jelly. What you want is a jam or preserves. The difference is that jelly’s fruit content is juice, while jam has crushed and/or chopped fruit and preserves is chunks of fruit in syrup or jam. Frankly, you want to go with the jam, which is “just right” in the Goldilocks sense. As for what kind of jam to go with, if it’s not red, don’t bother. I don’t usually say some foodstuff is “for kids,” but grape jelly is for kids. Orange marmalade or apple jam tastes weird in a peanut butter and jelly. Maybe you could make the argument for blackberry jam, but I’m all about those red jams. Namely, strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. My personal favorite is a cherry jam I found that has pieces of cherries in it. It’s pretty perfect. Not only is it delicious, but it once again works in terms of keeping the sandwich soft but also keeping it from being overly smooth.
I mentioned Michael Schur, creator of Parks and Recreation and The Good Place, earlier. He’s extremely serious about peanut butter and jelly construction. He also is stringent about the right way to make PB&J. Schur says that you put the peanut butter on one piece of bread, and then, with the same knife, put the jelly on the same piece of bread. Hearing this, I was sad to learn a tremendous comedy mind is a total lunatic. Putting peanut butter and jelly on the same piece of bread is an act of madness. Bon Appetit may have gotten my goat with their peanut butter cop out, but we are in agreement when it comes to sandwich construction. You put peanut butter on one piece of bread with a knife, and then you put the jam on the other piece of bread with a spoon.
Also, in terms of quantity, Bon Appetit is also right that “more is not more.” You don’t want to put too much peanut butter or jelly on your sandwich, because you are going to have a mess on your hands (often literally). On top of that, you don’t want to try and put an “equal” amount of each on. Go with a little more peanut butter than jam. One, peanut butter is less likely to squish out of the sandwich. Two, jam tends to be stronger in flavor, and you don’t want the fruit to overpower the peanut butter. Three, generally speaking, if you buy one jar or both peanut butter and jelly, you get less jelly than you do peanut butter. As such, if you use an equal amount of both, you’ll run out of jelly before you run out of peanut butter. What then? A peanut butter sandwich? I’d rather die.
There you have it: The definitive guide to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you adhere to the rules laid out by this manifesto, you will be in PB&J paradise. Others may try to argue, but in their hearts, they know they are in the wrong. Don’t you want to be on the winning side?
Chris Morgan is the author of The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the new novel The Ash Heap of History. He’s also on Twitter.