Skip to Content

What can I use instead of corned beef in a Reuben?

Here are some quick answers to what you can use instead of corned beef in a Reuben sandwich:

  • Pastrami – This is the most common corned beef substitute and provides a similar smoky, salty flavor.
  • Roast beef – Sliced roast beef can provide a tender, mellower meat option.
  • Turkey – Deli sliced turkey breast is a lower fat and lighter protein choice.
  • Tempeh – For a vegetarian take, marinated and sliced tempeh can provide a hearty, meaty texture.
  • Tofu – Grilled or baked tofu cubes or slices can also stand in for corned beef when sauteed in sauce.

Why Consider Corned Beef Alternatives

There are a few reasons you may want to use a substitute instead of corned beef in a Reuben sandwich:

  • Dietary restrictions – Corned beef is not kosher. Substitutes can accommodate Jewish dietary laws.
  • Health – Corned beef is high in sodium. Alternatives can reduce sodium and fat.
  • Cost – Corned beef can be expensive. Other options may be cheaper for your budget.
  • Availability – You may not have access to high-quality corned beef. Substitutes can work when corned beef is hard to find.
  • Flavor preferences – The strong, briny flavor of corned beef may overpower other ingredients. Substitutes allow you to customize the flavor profile.

Best Meat Substitutes for a Reuben

When choosing a corned beef substitute for a Reuben sandwich, consider texture and flavor. Here are some of the best options:


Pastrami is the most popular and traditional corned beef alternative for a Reuben. Like corned beef, it is brined and then smoked, yielding a flavorsome, salty meat. Opt for high-quality deli pastrami and slice it thin. The peppery overtones and tender texture make it a perfect fill-in.

Roast Beef

Medium rare, thin sliced roast beef has a milder flavor that lets the other Reuben ingredients shine. Look for top round or eye of round roast and slice it across the grain for maximum tenderness. Trim excess fat for easier eating.


For a lighter sandwich, turkey breast is ideal. It is low fat and lower sodium than traditional corned beef. Get the deli to slice it extra thin for the right sandwich proportions. The mild turkey lets the sauerkraut and dressing flavors come through.


Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh provides an easy vegetarian and vegan corned beef substitute. Look for tempeh with seasonings like smoke or marinades for the most “meaty” flavor. Thin slices seared in a pan or crumbled into the sandwich emulate the corned beef texture.


For a vegan Reuben, marinated, baked tofu is a tasty corned beef stand-in. Firm or extra firm tofu holds up best. Marinate it in sauce for a few hours before baking, then slice it thin. Searing cubed tofu before adding it to the sandwich also mimics the corned beef texture.

How to Cook Reuben Substitute Meats

Most corned beef alternatives will require some cooking before adding them to the sandwich. Here are cooking tips for the most common subs:

Pastrami and Roast Beef

  • Purchase presliced pastrami and roast beef from the deli counter.
  • Heat slices in the microwave or panfried in butter to warm through before assembling sandwiches.


  • If cooking a whole turkey breast, roast until internal temperature reaches 165°F and let rest before slicing.
  • For deli turkey, simply microwave or panfry slices to warm.


  • Thinly slice tempeh, then sear in oil over medium-high heat until browned on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  • Can also bake tempeh at 400°F for 15-20 minutes before slicing.


  • Press firm tofu to remove moisture, then cube or slice.
  • Marinate tofu for at least 1 hour to infuse flavor.
  • Panfry slices or cubes over medium-high heat until browned.
  • Alternatively, bake at 425°F for 20 minutes, flipping halfway.

Assembling Your Reuben Sandwich

Once cooked, assemble your Reuben however you prefer. Here are some tips for construction:

  • Spread dressing on both bread slices. Russian or Thousand Island dressing works best.
  • Layer meat substitute slices or cubes on the bottom slice.
  • Top with sauerkraut, drained well if too wet.
  • Add Swiss cheese slices.
  • Close the sandwich and press gently to meld ingredients.
  • Butter the outsides of bread and grill or panfry until browned and crispy.

Customize your Reuben with different cheeses, mustards, pickles or veggies. Now enjoy your delicious sandwich even without corned beef!

Top Substitute Meat Options

Meat Flavor Profile Texture Cooking Method
Pastrami Smoky, peppery, salty Tender, thin sliced Microwave or panfry
Roast Beef Savory, rich, mild Tender, thin sliced Microwave or panfry
Turkey Mild, light Thin, delicate Microwave, roast, or panfry
Tempeh Hearty, nutty, chewy Thick sliced or crumbled Panfry or bake
Tofu Absorbs marinade flavor Firm, cubed or sliced Marinate. Panfry or bake.