Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich?

We settle the 'is a hot dog a sandwich?' debate.
We settle the 'is a hot dog a sandwich?' debate. Eric Isaac / Getty Images

It's understandable that the Buffalo Bills are raising voices in the locker room. After a promising start, the upstate New York team has slid into a 3-4 record behind the Patriots and once-haphazard Jets in the AFC East. But it's not the disappointment of Sunday's 34-31 loss to Jacksonville, or getting trounced in Week 4 to the solidly mediocre Giants. The real issue dividing the Bills locker room is whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. 

It's a great question, a culinary Rorschach and logic problem wrapped into one mind-twisting prompt. And once you pass the initial prejudices, you get to the heart of the matter: What is a sandwich?

We reached out to culinary experts, among them Dave Joachim, the prolific cookbook author of titles such as Mastering the Grill, The Science of Good Food, and A Man, A Can, A Plan. "To sandwich is to put shit between bread. Period," says Joachim.

Of course, within hot dog debate — which has raged for years — the not-a-sandwich camp argues that a dog sits in a bun, not between two slices of bread. But the number of pieces is irrelevant, says Joachim, who will lead a sandwich session at this weekend's Pennsylvania Bacon Fest. "One piece folded or two separate makes no difference." So if your mind is already wandering from sausages to other branches of the sandwich family, yes, a gyro is a sandwich, as is a falafel-stuffed pita.

And the coverage of filling is essential, so anything open-face is out. "One piece of bread with a topping is not a sandwich. It's a tartine," says Joachim. "But folded to encase the filling, that's a sandwich."

With a sound, hot dog–encompassing definition for a sandwich, there's one last step to close the argument, defining bread. Thankfully, bread requires a leavening agent, which is a clear line setting it apart from tortillas or matzo. So tacos, tortilla wraps, and burritos, not sandwiches. In fact, there's even a legal precedent, thanks to Panera V. Qdoba, establishing the burrito as not a sandwich.

While it's not hot dog–related, one last bit of housekeeping worth clearing up is foods that are a sandwich by name, but not by definition. "Sandwich cookies, such as Oreos, and ice cream sandwiches are misnomers," says Joachim, "They're not really sandwiches, because cookies are not bread."

Now maybe the Buffalo Bills can go back to worrying about the Dolphins.