This isn’t even a debate. The criteria for sandwich are pretty simple:
- Must have bread
- Must have filling
- Is almost always eaten out of hand
Bread is bread. I don’t know too many people who don’t understand what bread is but just to be clear “bread” includes buns, baps, bagels, baguettes, rolls, focaccia, brioche, sourdough, pita, and yes, it includes “hot dog buns”.
A hot dog bun is made the exact same way that you make a “French” roll for a Philly Cheesesteak: water, bread flour, yeast, sugar, milk powder and salt. Ferment that for a few hours, shape it into a log, bake it. A hot dog bun is just a scaled down version of any of the larger “sub” breads. And if you need any more convincing that a hot dog bun is the exact same as any of the main “sandwich” breads, a Lobster Roll (the undisputed king of all sandwiches) is served on… a hot dog bun.
Things that don’t count as bread? Lettuce, rice wrappers, tortillas, and dips for deep frying. Larb gai is delicious but it’s not a sandwich. I love me some spring rolls but they aren’t sandwiches. If you want a Vietnamese sandwich, you take some French bread and add Vietnamese ingredients. A burrito isn’t a sandwich, again, if you want to make a Mexican sandwich (a torta), you take pan telera and put Mexican ingredients in it. This isn’t rocket science, it’s sandwich 101.
This is why a corndog isn’t a sandwich. People like to misdirect others by pointing at the corndog but just because both a hot dog sandwich and a corndog have hot dogs in them doesn’t make them taxonomically the same. A corndog has more in common with tempura; it is a batter dipped, deep fried meat. Is batter bread? NO! This conversation never happens:
Customer: “I’ll have the pastrami sandwich.”
Deli guy: “what cheese?”
Deli guy: “ok, what bread?”
Deli guy: “batter?”
Customer: “yes, take my sandwich innards, batter them, deep fry them, and put the whole shit-show on a stick so I can eat it like a child or a Spurs fan. Make sure the batter is sickly sweet too.”
Bread, it’s simple, it’s a requirement for a sandwich, and a hot dog has bread.
Ok, now the filling. No one has any questions about whether a sandwich needs fillings, right? Two pieces of bread aren’t a sandwich but if you add even one or two other ingredients… bing! You got a sandwich! We even have a term for this: sandwiched. As in something is stuck between two other things. Yet, I feel like this one hangs people up because the hot dog meat is a tube meat and people think less of hot dogs than other more refined meats like pastrami, pulled pork, or bacon. But, there’s a local place called Zocalo which makes a torta that has hot dogs in it and it is my favorite torta.
Now, before you say that a sandwich needs two distinct pieces of bread around the filling (or go full dumb and pretend that the breads need to be flat) I will point you to the following sandwiches which are made from round breads that are sliced open but not fully bisected:
- Italian sub
- Meatball sub
- Philly Cheesesteak
- Banh Mi
- Lobster Roll (the king of sandwiches)
- Italian beef
- Jamon beurre
- Po Boy
So, the bread can just be split open. It doesn’t need to be two slices of bread or a fully split open hoagie roll to be a sandwich. In fact, sometimes you like to have a hanging on bit – like in the meatball sub – which helps keep the whole thing together.
That’s why a hot dog bun is a sandwich bun. You could put other things in there, you know. My kid and I do it all the time. But hey, if you want, you could also take a knife and split the hot dog bun in half.
Now we have a bread, we have a filling, and what’s the third criteria? That said object is eaten out of hand. Again, this is a no-brainer. The Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich so that he could play poker and eat at the same time. A sandwich, therefore, should be something you can pick up and eat. Do you have to eat a sandwich out of hand? No, you could cut into it with a fork and knife but then you’d be like the guy who eats pizza with a fork and knife.
Even Smørbrød, which are the open-faced sandwiches from Scandinavia and are typically eaten with a fork, can sometimes be picked up. However, Smørbrød does raise some interesting taxonomic problems. In many ways Smørbrød is less of a sandwich than a hotdog because there’s almost no “sandwiching” going on there and they are difficult to eat out of hand. Pizza is closer to a sandwich than Smørbrød. And some smart pizza folks figured out how to make pizza more sandwich-like and called it “Calzone.”
But this post isn’t “Smørbrød is not a sandwich”: we “hot dog is a sandwich” folk try to be more of an inclusive bunch rather than exclusive. We aren’t sandwich fundamentalists. If you want to call your Kentucky Hot Brown a sandwich, that’s just fine. It’s very sandwich-like: it’s like if someone only had one piece of bread left and they still really wanted a sandwich, so they made this one-breaded thing. I can’t fault folks for not having enough bread and still wanting a sandwich, can I?
And before you try to get cute and ask if a Cornish Pasty is a sandwich “because it can be eaten out of hand and has filling” please go back to criteria number one: bread. Is pastry bread? No. It’s pastry or “pie crust”.
I swear, the things I have to explain to people.
So, a hot dog has bread, it’s got filling, I can eat it with one hand which brings me to the daddy of all reasons why a hotdog is a sandwich: toppings.
With very few exceptions, sandwiches need toppings. I know that when people are babies they don’t like any toppings on their sandwich but as you get older, you learn to appreciate a wider variety of flavors and toppings. Even just adding butter (for jamon beurre) or mayo (for cucumber tea) counts in my book, as does adding mustard on a hot dog.
But the beauty of the sandwich is that you can customize it, adding sauces and toppings to your mouth’s content! Maybe you don’t like onions or tomatoes? Leave them off! Or add more if you love them. I love all the toppings: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, onions, secret sauce, mayo, sauerkraut, pickles, sriracha, jalapenos, cucumbers, hummus, avocado, cheese, and even that mint green relish that you sometimes get for hot dogs. I have a fridge and pantry chock full of toppings which I often experiment with.
And that’s the best thing about the sandwich: you can literally try anything. The other day I was watching the Chef Show with Jon Favreau and chef Roy Choi and chef Choi put lox and a remoulade sauce on a pastrami sandwich. That’s what sandwiching is all about, folks, and that’s why the hot dog is beyond definitively a sandwich.
The hot dog is actually the perfect sandwich because you can (and people do) top it with anything. For a quick reuben-style dog, go with russian dressing, cheese and sauerkraut! The Chicago Dog has peppers, relish, onions, tomatoes, and pickles! Bacon, peanut butter, cream cheese, grilled onions, chili, are all viable toppings for this most versatile of sandwiches. I bet you could do a Banh Mi dog and it would rock.
People who don’t want to accept the hot dog as a sandwich are the kind of people who want to tell you what movies to like, what music is “actually” good, and that Manchester United are “actually” a classy club. They also want to tell you what things you should put on your hot dog. Don’t be like them, enjoy life and eat your hot dog sandwich however you like!