bunch of tomatoes on a table

The Perfect Tomato for Every Dish

With so many varieties to choose from, we all could use a little help discovering which tomatoes work best in our favorite salads, sauces, and sandwiches.

Whether you grow your own varieties or stock up at your local farmers’ market or grocery store chain, you know that tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes. And while common sense might tell you that beefsteak tomatoes are ideal for slicing, and tiny grape tomatoes just right for snacking, we asked Panera Bread® Food Team member David Kos to help us dig a little deeper and find the perfect tomato for every dish.

“There are a few general guidelines to follow when it comes to cooking with tomatoes,” says David. “But you can also follow your personal taste and the market availability.” Choose what’s fresh and in season; then plan your meals accordingly with these tips in mind.

Shape matters

“There’s a reason why beefsteak tomato slices are just right for layering into sandwiches,” says David. “The variety is sized perfectly to cover a piece of bread.” Generally speaking, large round tomatoes are best for slicing; smaller, less uniform shapes are great for chopping and adding to recipes. Elongated, or plum, tomatoes (Italian Roma and San Marzano) are best for sauces. 

Texture counts too

“We use San Marzano tomatoes in our Roasted Tomato & Feta Baked Egg Soufflé and in our Rigatoni San Marzano,” says David. “This variety has a low moisture content, which leads to a high concentration of flavor during the cooking process—it really is the gold standard.”

Levels of sugar and acid vary

Bite-size tomatoes are low in acidity, making them a good choice for snacks and salads. They also get sweeter as they ripen, releasing the most flavor just as they start to shrivel and become overripe.

For additional expert guidance, David plays matchmaker for some common tomato varieties.

Heirloom: These tomatoes have a short shelf life and are typically not shipped beyond the boundaries of their growing region. If you aren’t growing your own, you’ll find them at a local farmers’ market. Heirloom tomatoes come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes. Try them sliced in simple composed salads or on sandwiches, or diced into salsa or bruschetta recipes.

Grape, cherry, teardrop: Small, sweet, and delicious, these snack-size tomatoes work best in salads, on a fresh vegetable platter, or quickly sautéed with olive oil, salt, and fresh herbs. “You don’t want to cook them too long,” says David. “Just give a quick swirl around the pan to release flavors, and then spoon them over a light pasta noodle or whole grain.” Colors include red, orange, and yellow. 

Campari: Usually labeled as “vine-ripened tomatoes,” this variety is sold as part of a cluster—a handful of fruits still attached to the vine. Chop or dice them into salads and salsas.

Beefsteak: It’s the ultimate slicing tomato. Whether you prefer it sliced thick or thin, serve it on burgers, BLTs, and other sandwiches. Or scoop out the center of a whole beefsteak and stuff it with your favorite chicken, tuna, or shrimp salad.

Plum (and other elongated tomatoes, like Roma and San Marzano): These varieties are meatier and less juicy than other types of tomatoes. Their low moisture and seed content makes them the ideal choice for use in sauces—whether peeled and seeded, or simply roughly chopped and sautéed in olive oil.