In May 2016, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary made waves in American popular culture by proclaiming that the hotdog is a sandwich. Online, is-a-hot-dog-a-sandwich-driven chaos ensued. Ever since, celebrities have weighed in, adding mixed opinions about the debate. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (unbelievably, an actual organization) have continually released “official policy” refuting the dictionary’s stance and reminding consumers that July is National Hot Dog Month). Notable chefs are no less divided on the matter. The late Anthony Bourdain was reportedly a staunch sandwich-hotdog segregationist, while Gordon Ramsay succinctly told Bon Appetit magazine that hotdogs and sandwiches were one and the same.
Here are three reasons why a hotdog is a sandwich, and three reasons why a hotdog is a hotdog.
Is a hotdog a sandwich? Absolutely!
Hotdogs stand up to the English language’s test for sandwiches.
You can’t fight the dictionary. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sandwich as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” And while describing a wiener as “filling” might seem a bit awkward, it is the generic nature of the term “filling” that allows for such wondrous variety in sandwiches. “Filling” means freedom – the freedom to make bread a most versatile canvas – for peanut butter, egg salad, and even hotdogs. So, is a hotdog a sandwich? In 2017, Oscar-Mayer’s head of marketing, Gregory Guidotti, declared it so, and even the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled that a hotdog is a sandwich.
Hotdogs and sandwiches are the same in form and function.
Hotdogs and sandwiches are complete meals delivered by means of bread, unified in their portability and relatively lack of mess (well, as long as you stay away from chilidogs). More than allowing diners to pack several food groups into a compact unit, sandwiches are vehicles of self-expression. Are you a minimalist or maximalist? A non-conformist or a traditionalist? The hotdog is but one of the many sandwich-y ways we express personality through cuisine.
Sandwich enthusiasts have dubbed hotdogs with eternal sandwich-hood.
Scanwiches founder Jon Chonko is a New York graphic designer so devoted to the beauty of lunchtime delights that he dedicated years to scanning them before eating them. More than preserving these sandwiches for posterity, Scanwiches brings clarity to the question of whether hotdogs are sandwiches by featuring in its catalogue a multitude of bread-wrapped links, from the humble frankfurter with onion and ketchup to the bold Italian sausage with peppers. If a hotdog is sandwich enough for Jon, it should be sandwich enough for us all.
A hotdog is a hotdog
Hotdogs and sandwiches have their own distinct histories.
Hotdogs hail from the sausage-loving societies of central Europe. While there is some controversy around whether the first hotdog recipe was perfected in Vienna (Wein), Austria or Frankfurt, Germany, there is no confusing the hotdog’s decidedly Germanic origins with the English origins of the sandwich. While the frankfurter celebrated the ancient joy of stuffing innards with meat, the sandwich’s invention was purely utilitarian, serving as a frequent meal solution for the gambling-addicted Earl of Sandwich, who could not be bothered to leave a gambling hall to dine.
Sandwiches and hotdogs are always separate on restaurant menus.
Menus provide a great reference point for where the food industry stands on the question of whether a hotdog is a sandwich. Most if not all great American cafes offer a variety of sandwiches, and the “hotdog sandwich” is conspicuously missing from most of them. American staples like Denny’s sell loads of sandwiches, but no hotdogs. And Applebee’s once included hotdogs under the heading “Handhelds.” If the absence of hotdogs from the sandwich sections of iconic American chain restaurants is not enough to convince you, the sandwich aficionados at the world-famous Carnegie Deli, which closed in 2016 after 79 years but has since reopened, used to have one very long section for sandwiches, and one much shorter section for frankfurters.
The people have spoken.
Whatever the culinary élite may have to say about the definition of a sandwich, terms are ultimately defined by the people who use them. A recent poll found that nearly 60% of Americans do not believe that hotdogs are sandwiches. Hotdog enthusiast Joey Chestnut, a former 9-time winner of the national Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, tweeted his belief that hotdogs are not sandwiches. In 2022, Americans spent more than $8.3B on hot dogs and sausages in US supermarkets, so it seems that they know what they’re talking about: sandwiches are groovy, but the hotdog is sacrosanct.
The Bottom Line: Whether you deem a hotdog part of the sandwich family or a distinct food, the best way to bridge the hotdog-sandwich divide is to enjoy one with friends. Where do you stand on this issue?