It’s a question that’s been causing a stir since the invention of the hot dog bun in 1871. The bun, originally intended as a way to protect the eater’s hands from being burned by the hot dog, is now almost synonymous with the tube meat it envelopes — and is the catalyst for the controversy surrounding this famous, tasty treat.
Is a hot dog a sandwich? The question has been widely debated on social media, on television, in newspapers, maybe even over holiday dinners with your family. From celebrities to politicians to the regular working class man, people have had to do some real soul searching to decide which side of the debate they are on.
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, being the foremost authority on hot dogs and sausages, declared in 2015 that a hot dog is not a sandwich. A follow-up poll in 2016 found that the majority of Americans agree. A hot dog is its own category and is not a sandwich remains the official stance of the NHDSC on the debate, despite repeated efforts to discredit them.
Not long after the official announcement by the NHDSC, Webster’s Dictionary announced that their opinion was that a hot dog was indeed a sandwich (they later admitted they were “trolling,” but this was overlooked by many). The mendacity of such an action by a resource that is supposed to be the most trustworthy dictionary for the English language was devastating to the NHDSC and hot dog fans, and further fueled the hot dog sandwich debate.
Scientists agreed to weigh in using clear scientific methods to provide an answer to this burning question that keeps many of us up at night. Going into the study, the scientists knew that silencing the hot dog sandwich debate may not be an easy task, but they were up to the challenge.
Many of the arguments for and against a hot dog being a sandwich, all of which can sound very convincing, have been examined and dissected down to their cores. Scientists agree that it’s a perplexing dilemma that many people have attempted to solve, and many have opinions on, and that there are many variables, which can make it difficult to get to the root answer.
A hot dog by definition
Looking exclusively at the dictionary definitions would seem like a reasonable way to solve this problem. The scientists discovered, however, that it’s a little more complicated than that.
The study focused on many definitions, including the formerly trustworthy source Merriam Webster that publicly “trolled” the NHDSC over what a hot dog is or isn’t. The Webster’s dictionary definition of sandwich on the surface seems pretty cut and dry. Sandwich is defined as:
a: two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between; b: one slice of bread covered with food
-Merriam Webster, 2017
A hot dog sandwich advocate would argue that a hot dog clearly qualifies as a sandwich because it is a split roll with a filling in between. But when scientists break it down, they find the pro-sandwich arguments to be fundamentally flawed.
Taking a deeper dive to examine the words used by Merriam Webster in the definition of sandwich, you may be surprised. MW offers no definition for split roll, making it difficult to determine how exactly they define the term. Using their food-related definitions for roll, scientists find that a roll can be “a small piece of baked yeast dough” or it can be “any of various food preparations rolled for cooking or serving.”
A roll could be, by literal definition, any rolled food. So a split roll could be any food that is separated. You can see how this can get tricky.
There are many food preparations that can be rolled for cooking or serving or that include baked yeast dough that are not, by definition, sandwiches. Some examples of these examined by the scientists include sushi, burritos, egg rolls, rolled omelettes, bierocks, tacos, cinnamon rolls, and even ice cream rolled in nuts. They were even able to stretch their hypotheses to include items like fried chicken or a chocolate ganache truffle rolled in graham cracker crumbs, which all fit the literal definitions of the words used to define a sandwich, when broken down.
It all sounds crazy, right? Foods like taquitos or pigs in a blanket are technically sandwiches, as they fit Webster’s literal definition of sandwich. Scientists immediately recognized the conundrum, and why this question has plagued people for so many years.
But it’s still a sandwich, right?
According to science, no. It isn’t. Not only does a hot dog not meet the literal definitive criteria for being a sandwich, it’s got a few other problems that don’t pass the scientific sniff test.
The vertical orientation of a hot dog makes it an anomaly among other sandwiches and sandwiched food items. Structurally, they do not resemble a sandwich at all, and the filling is tubular and cylindrical in shape, which is a characteristic found in only hot dogs and sausages. Naturally, counter arguments that the scientists examined included the meatball sub, sausage sandwiches, and gyros. And the scientists found legitimate answers to each argument.
Submarine sandwiches? Intended to and are often served with horizontal orientation, among other things, the scientists say. They also aren’t always hinged, which is another argument in and of itself presented by hot dog sandwich advocates. And sausage sandwiches? Similar findings to the submarine sandwiches, except scientists also found that the sausages were often sliced horizontally and eaten between two slices of bread, which is indeed a sandwich. But the gyros… now it’s really getting hairy.
A gyro is often considered and called a sandwich, but it was actually never intended to be a sandwich by the Greeks. It is a unique meat dish, with the term “gyro” intending to be all encompassing for the meal, and the pita intended to be merely the vessel to transport the meat to your mouth. “The Greeks stopped fighting the wrongful label of sandwich around WW2, but have never agreed with it. Frankfurters and hot dogs are also not sandwiches,” said Bret Baskett, who worked closely with scientists on the study.
If your mind isn’t already blown, consider this: a “sandwich wrap” is in fact not a sandwich. It does not fit sandwich criteria (not bread or a roll, plus some other sticking points). It is technically in its own category, like the gyro. They are considered sandwich alternatives, or an alt-sandwiches.
Scientists have determined, without reservation, that a hot dog is a special food item deserving of its own category, like the gyro, the wrap, the taco, and other food items that appear to meet the sandwich category but are not technically sandwiches.
“Hot dogs are a category all their own. They should at the very least be placed in the alt-sandwich category,” Baskett said. “A hot dog is not a sandwich. You don’t call it a hot dog sandwich, do you? If you think it’s a sandwich, you’re wrong. The evidence is pretty clear on that.”