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Danish Open-Faced Sandwiches – Smørrebrød Recipe

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These Danish open-faced sandwiches, or Smørrebrød, are probably the best sandwiches you will ever eat; easy to put together yet impressive in appearance, so versatile, and incredibly delicious.

a choice of Smørrebrød

What is smørrebrød?

Basically, bread with butter, smør meaning butter, and brød bread in Danish. But it doesn’t stop there; just bread smeared with butter would be rather boring. I do love my buttered bread, but I do like it better with something on top. And the things you can top your open-faced Danish sandwiches with… it really is a never-ending story.

So, the smørrebrød is a piece of thin and dark rye bread, buttered and garnished with an amazing array of delicious ingredients.

Smørrebrød is probably the best-known food item when it comes to Danish food; for me, at least, they are the first thing I think of when speaking about Danish food. There are, of course, the Havarti, Danablu or Esrom cheese, the pickled herring, or the liver paté, but otherwise, I cannot spontaneously think of many other Danish foods.

And if you like open sandwiches, have a look at the Smoked Salmon Sandwich, the Eggs and Asparagus on Toast, the Pork Belly Sandwich, or the Poached Eggs and Tomatoes Sourdough Toast.

Smørrebrød Danish open faced sandwiches

History of smørrebrød

It seems that the story of the smørrebrød begins in the Middle Ages. Field workers would pack their lunch for the next working day, already in the evening. The lunch consisted of leftovers from the previous meals, which would be piled on a so-called “trencher”, which was a piece of stale bread.

The peasants would eat the topping and discard the trencher, but in time they discovered that the juices soaking the bread also made it taste better, so they began eating the trencher as well.

Then, during the 19th century, smørrebrød became a popular lunch among factory workers who were eating their lunch away from home. The idea was pretty much the same one, piling a bunch of leftovers on top of a slice of rye bread and thus creating a filling lunch that would keep them satisfied until the evening.

Rules of eating a smørrebrød

Funnily enough, there are rules regarding the proper way of eating smørrebrød. I mean, you would think it is just a sandwich. Do I need someone to tell me how to eat a sandwich? But the rules are not quite as unnecessary as they may seem.

  • First of all: eat it using a fork and a knife. There are just too many ingredients piled on top of the bread, so if you hold it in your hand and bite at it, half of the ingredients would land on the floor instead of landing in your mouth.
  • Order of eating smørrebrød. If you have several in front of you, you cannot possibly start eating them at random. Start with the pickled herring, and continue with other sorts of seafood, for instant, salmon or shrimp. Continue with meats and end with the cheese.
  • Some other rules refer to the way of topping the bread, start with the butter and thin toppings and add the bulkier toppings on top.
  • And also, avoid mixing several proteins on the same slice of bread, ham, and cheese; for instance, although a popular topping all over the world, is a no-go when it comes to smørrebrød.
assorted Smørrebrød

How to make smørrebrød?

Choose the right bread

pickled herring Smørrebrød
  • The bread used to make smørrebrød is the Danish rye bread – rugbrød. It is a sourdough whole grain rye bread, a very dense and dark bread, slightly sour and very filling.
  • You will probably not find it easily outside Denmark, but there are very similar types of bread you can use instead.
  • What you should NOT use is the soft sandwich bread, which is so common in the UK or US. It is too soft and too sweet and nothing like the Danish whole grain rye bread.
  • If you live in the UK, I have definitely been able to buy rye bread – the dark and dense slices – in most supermarkets, one that definitely comes to mind now is Lidl. Aldi should also have it.
  • Otherwise, you could replace this sort of bread with pumpernickel; as far as I know, pumpernickel is pretty well-known outside Germany as well, so it might be easier to find that.
 Smørrebrød sandwiches with eggs and cheese

Choose the topping

  • Butter: butter the rye bread generously; some say that you should be able to see the marks of your teeth in the butter when you bite into the bread. The butter is important as it will help slightly neutralize the sourness of the sourdough bread, making it milder and even more enjoyable.
  • It also prevents the bread from becoming soggy when you top it with slightly moister ingredients. It also helps the rest of the ingredients stick to the bread.
  • Topping: stick to one protein per slice. Don’t mix ham or salami with cheese or eggs, and so on.
  • Match the sauces to fit the protein, for instance, horseradish sauce or mayonnaise for salmon or mustard with roast beef.
  • Add some crunch: lettuce leaves, sliced or diced raw onions or radishes, gherkins, or other pickled vegetables. Add fresh herbs on top.
 Smørrebrød Danish sandwiches

Some smørrebrød ideas

Traditional pickled herring smørrebrød:

  • I used some Danish remoulade instead of butter, but you can definitely leave that out and use butter.
  • Add two or three small pickled herrings on top, some red onion rings, diced gherkins, and some herbs. I used thyme, but I would have preferred to have some fresh dill. The dill I planted this year is non-existent, don’t know where it went…
Smørrebrød with pickled herring

Smoked salmon and cucumber:

  • A thin layer of mayonnaise topped with thinly sliced crunchy cucumber and a few slices of smoked salmon.
  • A few spring onion rings as well, cayenne pepper, and a slice of lemon to sprinkle on top just before you serve. This variation was my husband’s favorite.
Smørrebrød with smoked salmon

Salami smørrebrød:

  • Thickly buttered rye bread topped with thin and rolled salami slices and cherry tomato wedges, garnished generously with fresh parsley, red onion rings, and diced gherkins. My son’s favorite combination.
Smørrebrød with salami and tomatoes

Avocado and egg:

  • My favorite combination: mashed avocado topped with waxy-boiled egg slices and garnished with fresh coriander or parsley leaves and some spring onion rings.
  • A sprinkle of freshly ground smoked black pepper makes everything perfect.
Smørrebrød with avocado and egg

Havarti cheese and tomato:

  • The simplest version and the one my daughter liked best, the kind of smørrebrød I make every day without even thinking of it as being a smørrebrød.
  • Bread with butter, topped with Havarti cheese and tomato slices.
  • If you cannot find or don’t like Havarti, you can use any sliced cheese you like instead: Gouda, Cheddar, Esrom, whatever, really.
  • Some lettuce and some crunchy spring onion rings elevate this regular cheese sandwich, making it something more special.
Smørrebrød with cheese and tomatoes

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open sandwich with salami, red onions and tomatoes

Danish Open-Faced Sandwiches – Smørrebrød Recipe

These Danish open-faced sandwiches or Smørrebrød are probably the best sandwiches you will ever eat, easy to put together, yet impressive in appearance, so versatile and incredibly delicious.
4.56 from 9 votes
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Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Danish
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Total Time: 36 minutes
Servings: 5
Calories: 303kcal
Author: Adina


  • Traditional pickled herring smørrebrød:
  • 1 slice rye bread or pumpernickel See note
  • 2 teaspoons Danish remoulade or butter
  • 2-3 pickled herrings depending on size
  • a few red onion rings
  • 1-2 small gherkins
  • fresh dill or thyme
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or paprika optional
  • Smoked salmon and cucumber smørrebrød:
  • 1 slice rye bread or pumpernickel
  • 1-2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 2 slices smoked salmon
  • 8 thin slices of cucumber
  • 1 slice lemon
  • some spring onion rings
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper optional
  • Salami smørrebrød:
  • 1 slice rye bread or pumpernickel
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 3 thin salami slices
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1-2 small gherkins
  • a few red onion rings
  • fresh parsley
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper optional
  • Avocado and egg smørrebrød:
  • 1 slice rye bread or pumpernickel
  • 1 egg
  • ½ avocado or a very small whole one
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • salt
  • some spring onion rings
  • 2-3 to mato wedges
  • fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
  • freshly ground black pepper smoked would be great if you have it
  • Havarti cheese and tomato smørrebrød:
  • 1 slice rye bread or pumpernickel
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1-2 lettuce leaves
  • 3 slices Havarti or another sliced cheese you like
  • 1 small tomato
  • some spring onion rings
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


Traditional pickled herring smørrebrød:

  • Spread the Danish remoulade or the butter on the slice of bread. Arrange the pickled herrings, onion rings, diced gherkins on top. Garnish with fresh dill or thyme and sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper or paprika, if desired.

Smoked salmon and cucumber smørrebrød:

  • Spread the mayonnaise on the bread. Arrange the thinly cut cucumber and the smoked salmon slices on top. Add the lemon slice, garnish with spring onion rings, and some cayenne pepper, if desired.

Salami smørrebrød:

  • Butter the bread. Arrange the salami, tomato wedges, red onion rings, and diced gherkins on top. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Avocado and egg smørrebrød:

  • Cook eggs: Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the egg and cook it for 6 minutes. Immediately transfer the cooked egg to a bowl full of ice water.
    Mash the avocado in a small bowl. Add some lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Spread the avocado mash on the slice of rye bread.
    Peel and slice the egg directly over the bread. It is a bit messy, but this way, no precious runny yolk will get lost. Sprinkle with spring onion rings, freshly ground smoked pepper (or regular pepper), cilantro, or parsley leaves. Add two or three wedges of tomato.

Havarti cheese and tomato smørrebrød:

  • Butter the bread generously. Add the lettuce leaves, cheese slices, and tomato slices. Salt and pepper the tomato slices. Sprinkle with spring onion rings and some cayenne pepper.


Choose dense whole grain rye bread. If you cannot find it, use pumpernickel instead. Do not use regular soft sandwich bread.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 303kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 73mg | Sodium: 1271mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 7g
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Recipe Rating

Montatip Schmidt

Sunday 29th of January 2023

Thank you for your suggestions. I will make them for my German husband in Thailand. We visited Copenhagen a few years ago We love to eat Smoerrebroed accompanied by Akvavit.



Sunday 29th of January 2023

Hi Montatip. Thank you for the feedback, I am happy you liked the sandwiches.

Doris Strachman

Wednesday 18th of December 2019

I grew up in a Danish and Norwegian home. I remember a house full of company for over thee holidays, especially christmas eve. Bow I want to serve a Smorgasbord for friends and family near Christmas like the ones we had so long ago. These recipes will be perfect along with my mother's fruit soup and Danish butter cookies and a few other things, maybe some hot glug for good measure. It all brings back some wonderful memories of over 75 years ago.


Wednesday 18th of December 2019

Doris, it is so nice to read your comment. Thank you very much. I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas!


Wednesday 20th of February 2019

Thank you for the lovely photos and recipes. I have had some wonderful open faced sandwiches in Sweden and Norway. I have a group of Finnish visitors coming this weekend for a poolside lunch, and I was looking for some sandwich ideas. These look perfect. Thank you.


Thursday 21st of February 2019

Thank you, Laura. Have a great time at the weekend, a poolside lunch sounds so exotic, nobody around here has a pool. :) Way too cold for it!


Tuesday 26th of June 2018

I wonder how you find all these recipes from all over the world. Even you know zapiekanka from Poland ;)


Monday 25th of June 2018

Danish open sandwiches are all the rage now, but whenever I see them they remind me how popular open sandwiches used to be in Poland (maybe it's changed now). It was the most frequent choice for the last meal of the day and students used to make open sandwiches as the main party food; some were extremely creative with both ingredients and the visual side! (Though the Polish open sandwiches are not piled so high and can be eaten with hands only). I still sometimes make open sandwiches when I want a quick snack or quick small meal... Thank you for all these great sandwich ideas!


Monday 25th of June 2018

I was thinking of making zapiekanka for this football food series. :) Polish recipe for baguettes with mushrooms, apparently quite popular in Poland.