Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich?

The hot issue in the country is not politics, foreign affairs, or the economy. It’s whether a hot dog is a sandwich. 

What is a Sandwich?

Years ago, we all knew what a sandwich was – some ingredients between two pieces of bread such as ham & cheese or peanut butter & jelly. But a hot dog bun is one connected piece of bread - sandwich or not?

It gets way more complicated. If a sandwich means any food contained within another grain-based food, then a wrap is a sandwich. A taco might be an ‘open-faced’ sandwich. Taken to an extreme, a Pop-Tart could qualify as a sandwich – it is a food (fruit filling), contained within a grain-based wrapper. And, a Pop-Tart is hand-held, a critical characteristic of sandwiches.

Cheese on a cracker – not a sandwich. Put another cracker on top, you have a cheese sandwich. On Passover – first you put bitter herbs on a piece of matzah – not a sandwich; but then you put Matzah and Haroset between two pieces of matzah – you have the ‘Hillel Sandwich’. If a sandwich must be eaten with silverware, say a messy 'open faced sandwich' – I say not a sandwich.

A nerdy friend of mine, (you know who you are) wanted to know what if you put food onto a piece of dough folded into a Mobius strip - I would argue not a sandwich – a Mobius strip only has one side, this is like a piece of buttered bread.


The sandwich was supposed to have been invented by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Completely irrelevant, but Thomas Paine, author of ‘Common Sense’, lived in the town of Sandwich and married a local girl, although she died shortly thereafter. Just as irrelevant, James Bond author Ian Fleming was a member of the local Sandwich golf club.

The 4th Earl served as First Lord of the Admiralty during the American Revolution, in charge of the British Navy. His leadership was considered incompetent and may have contributed to our victory. The ‘Sandwich Islands’ in the Pacific were named after him due to his support of exploration. You may know those islands by their current name – Hawaii.

As to the invention of the sandwich, one story has it that the Earl of Sandwich was a big gambler and did not want a meal break during gambling sessions. His servants brought him slices of meat between two pieces of bread, so he could simultaneously eat and gamble. His friends picked up on this and the ‘sandwich’ was born.

British Sandwich and Food-to-Go Association

The British ‘Sandwich and Food to Go Association’ sponsors the annual ‘Sammies’, awards for the best sandwiches of the year. You wouldn’t believe how many categories of winners they have – ‘The En-Route Sandwich Retailer Award’; ‘The Chain Sandwich Retailer Award’; ‘The Workplace & Catering Sandwich Retailer Award’, in total over ten categories. Focusing on ‘Sandwich Designer of the Year’, I’ve included a gallery of the entries. A lot of interesting stuff, but nothing that looks like a hot dog.

United States National Hot Dog Trade Association

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council have officially declared that – “a hot dog is an exclamation of joy, a food, a verb describing one ‘showing off’ and even an emoji. It is truly a category unto its own.” The Council further points out that if someone offers to make you a sandwich, they wouldn’t give you a hot dog. Finally, they quote Jimmy Kimmel who said it wouldn’t make sense to go into a restaurant and order a ‘meat tube sandwich’.

Popular Culture

Perhaps popular culture can provide guidance. In one murder scene, Dirty Harry states that what really bothers him is people putting ketchup on a hot dog. I don’t think a sandwich complaint wouldn’t have the same power. Annie Hall’s order of pastrami on white bread with mayo would not get the same laugh if she had made a weird hot dog request, like asking for mustard on her hot dog. Jack Nicholson gets some dry wheat toast in Five Easy Pieces by ordering a chicken salad sandwich hold the butter, mayo, lettuce and chicken salad. Couldn’t do that on a hot dog order. And yes, that is the scene where he tells her to ‘stick it between her legs’.

Uncle Sam

The government regulates everything else, and sure enough there are regulations about sandwiches.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a ‘Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book’, over 200 pages long.  Bacon is described as ‘the cured belly of a swine carcass’. Pizza, Chicago Style is “…cheese on the crust, then following with the meat and then the sauce… The product usually has the deep-dish characteristics.” A Buritto is “A Mexican style sandwich-like product’. The USDA has two sandwich definitions - Sandwich – Closed: “Product must contain at least 35% cooked meat and no more than 50% bread…”. This seems out-of-date – what about a cheese sandwich or vegetarian sandwich? And ‘Sandwich – Open’ requires at least 50% meat.  According to Uncle Sam, a Stromboli ‘…is not considered a traditional sandwich’.


I think we need a new fresh perspective on this issue. Perhaps from someone too young to have formed a set opinion. A friend asked her six-month-old grandson the question about whether a hot dog was a sandwich.  The answer came back, as translated by Grandma, “Breast milk is not a sandwich”. This is an assertion we can all agree on, even if we can’t agree on whether a hot dog is or is not a sandwich.

Last Word

Last week I attended dollar hot dog day at a White Sox game. Giving me plenty of opportunity to survey sandwich, I mean hot dog, vendors. It was unanimous - a hot dog is not a sandwich. Lots of interesting 'are you crazy' looks to boot. Perhaps a lawyer could claim a hot dog is a sandwich - but culturally, no way.