SAY CHEESE: Searching for NZ’s Top Toastie

SAY CHEESE: Searching for NZ’s Top Toastie

If toasties are your thing, you’re in luck.

Ready to titillate tastebuds around the country, the annual Great New Zealand Toastie Takeover is back for 2023 and kicking it up a gear, with a record number of toasties on offer from Kororāreka to Invercargill.

A firm feature on the culinary calendar, this annual celebration of the humble toasted sandwich keeps growing, with a record 185 eateries participating for 2023 – an increase on last year’s competition which saw a massive 140,000 toasted sandwiches consumed.

With this year’s competition now officially underway, toastie fans can look forward to three glorious months of sizzling sandwich goodness and some fierce competition at the grill, as venues battle it out for the title of the nation’s top toasted sandwich between now and late June.

Open to all New Zealand eateries, this year’s participants range from sandwich specialists to fine dining restaurants, breweries and food trucks, with a vegan fast food chain, a subterranean cocktail bar, Wellington Airport, the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry and even a retirement village in the mix.

Competition rules remain the same as previous years. Each toastie must be sandwiched between two slices of bread and able to be eaten by hand if necessary. The toasted sandwich must contain cheese (or an acceptable vegan substitute) and pickles from the McClure’s Pickles range. Everything else is up to the maker’s imagination.

As always originality and innovation are on show in this year’s entries, with smoked eel, crayfish, wagyu steak tartare, pork belly, lamb pastrami, smoked prawns, wild deer, beef short rib, braised ham hock, smoked brisket, apple cider pulled pork, and sustainable line caught fish all featuring as hero ingredients.

Equally adventurous condiments range from kawakawa aioli, to blueberry balsamic jam, pinot noir jelly, banana chips, consommé dipping broth, pickle juice gel and McClure’s pickle caviar. While notable breads include gold leaf brioche, ramen noodle buns, pickle brine sourdough and beef-fat-brushed New York deli roll.

Plant-based toasties and a multitude of cuisines on offer

The trend towards vegetarian or plant-based entrants continues, with 10 vegan and five vegetarian entries, with ingredients like crispy tofu schnitzel, roasted ‘duck’ cheese, housemade ‘not salmon’, and ‘faux shore tuna’ made from lemon roasted chickpeas on the menu. 

Also notable this year is the multitude of cuisines on offer – everything from Korean, to Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Cuban, Jamaican and American – and of course Māori and Kiwiana-style entries.

Last year’s winner, Chef Rich Johns from Rotorua’s Okere Falls Store and Craft Beer Garden, is hoping to take out the top award again with a whisky BBQ glazed smoked brisket, Swiss, cheddar and mozzarella cheese, leftover pickle chilli wholegrain mustard, McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, Pantry D’or pickle brine sourdough brushed with whiskey compound butter and dusted with dill pickle salt. Served with a pickle brine shot to wash it down – road-trip anyone?

In Ponsonby, Sid Sahrawat’s KOL is serving the ‘Eel-legal Toastie’ – smoked eel mixed with fennel, capers and McClure’s pickles, Evansdale Tania smoked cheese, on white bread toasted on fire in an Indian jaffle maker.

In Havelock North, Te Mata Figs’ The Figgery Cafe has taken its gluten free ciabatta-style bread and packed it with succulent fig molasses hot smoked salmon, McClure’s garlic and dill pickle infused cream cheese and fresh baby spinach, topped with a dollop of sweet and savoury green fig jam and served with a crunchy McClure’s garlic and dill pickle spear.

With participating eateries vying for a spot in the competition’s final round, it’s now up to the team of 30 judges to decide which sandwiches make it to the final 12. Finalists will be revealed late May, and after a second round of judging – and more opportunity for the public to sample the judges’ top picks – the supreme winner will be announced 20 June.

Kiwis also have the power to vote for their favourite toasted sandwich with the return of the People’s Choice Award. Voting is open now, with the winner announced late May.

Judge and co-founder of McClure’s Pickles, Joe McClure, says he is looking forward to returning to Kiwi shores in June for the final round of judging.

“Every year I am blown away – 185 entries, what an incredible turnout. I love New Zealand and after three long years of being unable to visit, I can’t wait to get back in a few months’ time to help judge this year’s top toastie.”

As the competition’s toastmaster royale, McClure has a message for toastie fans. “If you’re a toastie lover like me, here’s your chance to support your favourite eateries and sample some of these very innovative and no doubt delicious toastie creations. And don’t forget to vote for your favourite in the People’s Choice Award.”

The Great NZ Toastie Takeover, New Zealand’s only national toasted sandwich competition, was established in 2018 by McClure’s Pickles and local distributors Cook & Nelson.

For a list of competing eateries and a description of their toasted sandwich creations head to

Scroll to Top