Are Hot Dogs Sandwiches? Here’s What 4 Pros Have to Say

We asked industry experts the age-old question: Is a hot dog a sandwich?

3 hot dogs with various toppings

Claudia Totir / Getty Images

When it comes to food controversies, hot dogs being considered sandwiches ranks among the most divisive (along with pineapple on pizza and mac and cheese ice cream, to name a few). In honor of National Sandwich Day, we’ve decided to settle the debate once and for all. Experts from iconic hot dog restaurants and sausage companies got frank and shared their hot takes on the age-old debate: To probably no one’s surprise, they had some warring opinions. If you’re hungry for an official answer, grab a snack and keep reading. 

When the hot dog appeared in America, it was referred to as a Coney Island sandwich or a frankfurter sandwich—but in 2015, The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council announced they were officially separating themselves from the term. In their official policy announcement, they argued that “Limiting the hot dog’s significance by saying it’s ‘just a sandwich’ is like calling the Dalai Lama ‘just a guy,’” and they declared their signature food to be the “hot dog formerly known as a sandwich.”

Phil McCann, vice president of marketing at Nathan’s Famous, agrees that the hot dog’s importance can’t be reduced to a food group. He argues that, when the sandwich was purportedly invented in 1792 by John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, he requested that sliced meat be placed between two slices of bread so he could eat it with his hands—and “that’s not the definition of a hot dog,” McCann says.

“A hot dog is its own thing, a cylindrical-shaped protein that sits in a bun, and not a sandwich,” he continues. “[It] certainly deserves its own category, the same way a burger deserves its own. Sandwiches have their own category as well, and that category does not include hot dogs or burgers.”

It’s unlikely that anyone would ever cut a hot dog down the middle, which isn’t uncommon with sandwiches. This is the main point that Erich Lines, managing partner at Vinsetta Garage (a local joint that serves classic Detroit eats) makes. He even goes as far to say that the bun makes the hot dog more like a taco than anything else.

3am Dog from Vinsetta Garage, a hot dog topped with bacon jam, Sriracha mayo, fried egg, chives, and fried onions

Vinsetta Garage

“While it is common to cut a sandwich in half, only a barbarian would cut a hot dog—and that is where the argument of all the larger sandwiches in buns gets disqualified,” he says. “What kind of a rogue would tear a hot dog bun down the middle? You wouldn't, because it affects the amount of condiments you can pile in with the hot dog. How many of us have had some extra spread or filling from a sandwich leak out on our shirt? [That’s] something less likely [to happen] with the hinged bun that surrounds the hot dog.”

Do a little research on the definition of a sandwich, and you’ll see that most resources define a sandwich as consisting of two pieces of bread with meat, cheese, or other fillings between them. Some even explicitly say sandwiches are typically eaten as a light meal. With that definition, you have to consider whether a hot dog bun qualifies as two pieces of bread and what exactly a light meal means, but the rest could fit the description of a hot dog. 

“Once paired with bread, no matter what form the bread may take, I believe it is absolutely acceptable to refer to this as a sandwich,” says Zachary Kuhagen, district chef of Vinsetta Garage. “Further specification may be made, as in a hot dog sandwich, dog sandwich, or sausage sandwich, but a sandwich regardless.”

Kuhagen references Ignatz Frischmann, aka the “Original Vienna Roll Man” and a pioneer of the Detroit-loved coney dog. He says Frischmann’s obituary gives a description of a hot dog that reads, “A bologna sausage or two in a piece of bread would be of advantage to those whose appetite might lead them to partake in a spurious dog sandwich.” Kuhagen acknowledges that some may argue that a sandwich needs to have two distinct slices of bread, but he believes it’s broader than that.

“‘Sandwich’ is an umbrella term,” he says. “If you were to take a slice of bread, spread some condiments on it, lay a slice of lunchmeat and cheese on it, then fold it in half and consume it, is that not a sandwich? Maybe specifically a half-sandwich, but a sandwich nonetheless? At bare minimum, perhaps you could be convinced that a hot dog can be an open-faced sandwich.”

Like sandwiches, there are different styles of well-known hot dogs, and everyone has their own preference for how to dress them. In Chicago, it’s considered criminal to order yours with ketchup and mandatory to “drag it through the garden.” 

The team at Portillo’s, one of Chicago’s most well-known hot dog spots, is familiar with the sandwich debate—and they’re remaining pretty unbothered about it.

“As you can imagine, we receive this question quite frequently,” says Nick Scarpino, vice president of marketing and off-premise dining for Portillo’s. “Our hot dogs belong in a category of their own. Sandwich or not a sandwich, it doesn’t matter to us. As long as we’re putting a 100% all-beef hot dog on a steamed poppy seed bun and topping it with [classic Chicago dog toppings], you can call it whatever you’d like.”

While we may never get an official conclusion, this simple question has inspired many passionate (and for the most part lighthearted) arguments. You could say it’s even helped bring people together, something fun we can all connect and have an opinion on. 

“I understand minds more scholarly than mine—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example—have weighed in and said a hot dog is a sandwich,” Lines says. “But I'm ready to take them all on.”

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