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Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Smoked Corn Mayonnaise

The best, most insanely delicious heirloom tomato sandwich starts with these amazing beauties (below), and is topped with the most flavorful mayonnaise I have ever had in my life, made with smoked corn.

This sandwich has been the highlight of my culinary summer. Fellow tomato lovers will agree that there’s just nothing better than a tomato sandwich with mayo at the height of summer (caprese salads are a very close second, but it’s the sandwich, all the way).

But the road to creating this sandwich started last December — if nothing else, I’m a patient girl — while I was minding my own b’ness, watching PBS.

Open-faced heirloom tomato sandwich with rainbow tomatoes

The evening’s episode of one of my favorite shows, “A Chef’s Life,” featured tomatoes.

My eyes popped. There was chef Vivian Howard, restaurant owner and focus of the documentary series, standing with one of her small farmers/suppliers in a field of Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes.

Heading immediately, as we were, into one of the worst winters in years (hello, polar vortext), I was glued to the screen. Summer tomatoes seemed so far away, and here was a restaurant building its entire week’s menu (filmed earlier in the summer, of course) around the hero of my garden dreams.

Smoke corn mayonnaise

The show culminated with the service of the most amazing sandwich I had ever seen in my life: a huge round of house-baked onion bread, layered with slice after slice of Cherokee Purple tomatoes and pickled onions, and slathered with a curious spread I never would have dreamt up in a million years: smoked corn aioli.

Their customers went crazy for Vivian Howard’s tomato sandwich, and so did I.

I hadn’t even selected my tomato seeds for the 2014 garden seasoning, but I had just picked the one dish I would make in August, when my garden tomatoes would be ripe and beautiful and primed for some glorious use, like Chef Vivian Howard’s Ultimate Tomato Sandwich.

As July marched forward in a summer of early ripening tomatoes across the board (yay!), I kept close watch for the perfect timing of a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes.

That time arrived last week … and I pounced.

Side view of heirloom tomato sandwich

I improvised Chef Howard’s smoked corn mayonnaise, with amazing success (she created the whole thing from scratch, starting with the aioli, whereas I used a prepared mayo as my base).

I can say with all enthusiasm that smoked corn is my new favorite outdoor grilling thing, and I was so happy that I had the foresight to smoke several cobs at once (needing just one for this recipe, leaving the others for topping salads and salsas, and nibbling straight from the cob).

Heirloom tomato sandwiches

Not only is this the most beautiful sandwich I’ve ever made, it’s also the most delicious. Heirloom tomatoes rock the flavor party anyway, and combining Cherokee Purples, Beefsteaks, Jaune Flammes, and Green Zebras in one sandwich was this tomato lover’s dream.

In case you can’t tell from the photos, this is a party-sized loaf that easily cuts into 8 sandwiches, and it’s a show stopper. For thinner (and more party-walk-around manageable) sandwiches, create an open-faced bruschetta using both the tops and bottoms of the loaf as platforms for the tomato slices.

Here’s the episode of “A Chef’s Life” where all the heirloom tomato sandwich magic happens: Episode 5, Season 1. I really love this show and Vivian’s story, and I think you will, too.

And to all you tomato lovers out there, I know you’ll love this sandwich.

Karen xo

Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Smoked Corn Mayo
Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes

Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Smoked Corn Mayonnaise

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Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Servings: 8
Author: Karen Gibson


for the smoked corn mayonnaise

  • 2 ears sweet corn husks and silks removed
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise or vegan mayo
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

for the sandwich

  • 1 pound loaf of artisan bread wheel or large round boule - make sure the crust is not rock hard
  • 6 to 9 to matoes in a variety of colors sliced between 1/8" and 1/4" thick
  • 1 tablespoon minced basil leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup of wood chips soaked in water for an hour. Cherry or applewood is nice with corn.


prepare the smoked corn mayo

  • The instructions below are for standard grills. If you have a dedicated smoker, you no doubt know how to prepare it for smoking.
  • Prepare your charcoal grill for indirect heating using lump charcoal. If using a gas grill, light one side of the grill to medium-high.
  • Drain the wood chips and wrap in a foil packet. Cut small slits in the foil, so smoke can escape. (If you have a smoker box for grills, you can use that instead.) Place the packet on top of the coals/burner shield and wait for smoke to begin streaming from the slits.
  • Place one of the corn cobs on the grate opposite the heat. For charcoal grills, open all vents wide, and cover the grill with the lid askew so air can flow in. Position the lid vent over the corn so that the smoke will flow over the corn and out the vent above it. For gas grills, close the lid, but prop it open slightly with a heat- and flame-proof implement, such as metal tongs (be careful - they'll get hot!). Let the corn smoke for 20 to 30 minutes, or until it turns a light honey color.
  • While the one ear of corn smokes, cut the raw kernels from the second cob. Add the corn, mayo, basil, and vinegar to a blender. When the smoked corn is ready, slice the its kernels from the cob and add to the blender as well. Puree the mixture until smooth. Set aside.

assemble the sandwich

  • Slice the loaf of bread in half across the equator (like a hamburger bun).
  • Optional: lightly toast the cut sides of the loaf under the broiler.
  • Spread the cut sides of the loaf very generously with the smoked corn mayonnaise.
  • On the bottom half, shingle one layer of tomato slices to cover the cut side. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add another layer, and season with salt and pepper. If your loaf is thick, add a third layer and season. Sprinkle the top layer with the minced basil.
  • Add the other half of the loaf to close the sandwich. Slice with a long, very sharp serrated knife, taking care not to press down on the sandwich as you're slicing. Serve immediately.


Sandwich inspired by Season 1, Episode 5 of "A Chef's Life"
Nutritional information, if shown, is provided as a courtesy only, and is not to be taken as medical information or advice. The nutritional values of your preparation of this recipe are impacted by several factors, including, but not limited to, the ingredient brands you use, any substitutions or measurement changes you make, and measuring accuracy.

Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with rainbow tomatoes

Recipe Rating


Friday 17th of February 2017

Hi Karen! Thanks so much for your recipe for the smoked corn mayo tomato sandwich. I saw that episode of A Chef's Life, but can not find it online and did not write down the recipe. Just wondering, you mention that she used pickled onions. I don't remember what she did with onions on the show and did not see onions mentioned in your recipe. Can you clarify? Thanks so much!


Tuesday 18th of July 2017

Vivian's recipes for the sandwich & all the components (including the bread!) are in here multi-award winning cookbook Deep Run Roots. It's on sale all over the place, and so, so worth it!


Monday 15th of May 2017

Betsy, I just wached that episode and Vivian did mention that they had a little bit of pickled onion on the sandwiches they served.


Tuesday 12th of April 2016

Is there anyway to smoke corn in an oven or on the stove? I don't have a grill or anything and hoping to make this for my wife's birthday on Saturday!


Tuesday 12th of April 2016

Yes! This is the stovetop smoker that I own. It works surprisingly well (don't forget to get wood chips :) ). Be sure you read through the specs to make sure it's appropriate for your stove/oven type (i.e., if you have a glass-top stove). I bought mine at Amazon, but I believe brick-and-mortars like Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table probably have it, too. What a cool birthday dinner!

Angie@Angie's Recipes

Monday 11th of August 2014

These heirloom tomatoes are so fresh and gorgeous.

Rocky Mountain Woman

Wednesday 6th of August 2014

This is really spectacular! I'm still about two weeks out from tomato madness, so I'll have to wait a bit.

When I was a kid, my uncle used to smoke corn in a huge pit dug in the ground. He'd start the fire, let it die down a bit, and then stack in several dozen ears of corn. The whole thing was covered with a big piece of canvas and it sat like that all day long, smelling wonderful, while we worked on his farm.

That corn was one of the best memories of my childhood! Thanks for reminding me how much I love smoked corn!


Wednesday 6th of August 2014

You just inspired me to try smoking for the first time with our Big Green Egg-- my husband says we have some applewood chips and I intend to get them out and soak them. One of my sons just loves sandwiches of ciabatta, basil, mozzarella and tomato so I know your sandwich will be a hit. Your shot of the homegrown rainbow of tomatoes is fantastic!


Thursday 7th of August 2014

Made the mayo and the sandwiches last night. The smoking process worked great and everyone loved the resulting mayo! Definitely a winner recipe. Sharing...