Is A Hot Dog A Sandwich? Here's Where Top Chefs Come Down

A sandwich can be many things, and many dishes can be a sandwich. A meatball sub, a crusty reuben, or even vanilla ice cream between two chocolate cookies can be a sandwich. But is the sandwich a broad enough category to encompass the iconic hot dog? The question is the launchpad for one of the food world's most enduring discussions, eclipsing other important questions like: Is cheesecake pie, cake, or both?


While even the world's highest food authorities cannot come to a consensus about whether a hot dog is a sandwich or not, it's interesting to see where their minds go in contemplating the question. Doubters poke holes in the theory with retorts like, "Why can't it lay on its side if it's a sandwich?" and "It's only a sandwich if you chop up the sausage before putting it in the bun." Some chefs prefer to keep the question simple, believing "anything between bread is a sandwich," or the contrary view, "a hot dog is a hot dog."

During the 1800s, a sausage or frankfurter served in an elongated bun was called a sausage sandwich. Accounts differ on how the name eventually evolved to hot dogs, but there was an intermediate time when the frankfurter was called a dachshund for its visible similarity to the canine breed. A contemporary sausage sandwich consists of a grilled Italian sausage in an elongated ciabatta loaf — a dish that may look similar to a hot dog but isn't something we'd confuse with one today. 


Alex Guarnaschelli calls it a hot dog sandwich

Chef and cookbook author Alex Guarnaschelli, who's appeared on and judged several popular culinary shows seems to be in the thick of things when it comes to enduring food debates. Her social media feed features long discussions with opinions on whether pineapple is good on pizza and, of course, whether a hot dog is a sandwich.


When asked about the latter, she provides interesting insight into just how deep the conversation can go. Apparently, how it lays on a plate is a criterion for some purists: a sandwich lays flat on its side while a hot dog remains upright, making the two different. Interestingly, New England hot dog buns take the upright format even further with the top of the bun (instead of its side) split open to accommodate the sausage. Guarnaschelli keeps her reasoning simple — since it is meat between bread, a hot dog is a sandwich. She confirmed her stance in a tweet and even went so far as to refer to it as a hot dog sandwich.

Anthony Bourdain says the hot dog bun is just the delivery system

The late great Anthony Bourdain was known for his cutting wit and no-nonsense take on cooking. Instead of getting fixated on the fact that the hot dog has the same structure as a sandwich, he pointed out that bread is merely the delivery system, in other words a carrier for the sausage and garnishes that make up the heart of a hot dog.


Interestingly, one origin story of the hot dog claims that a sausage vendor started putting his wares in a bun to make it easier for customers to hold a hot sausage without burning their hands. We don't know if Bourdain knew of this origin story, but the globetrotting chef did say that anyone asking a hot dog vendor for a hot dog sandwich ought to be reported to the FBI (sorry Guarnaschelli). Incidentally, both sandwiches and hot dogs feature (separately) on the list of Anthony Bourdain's beloved foods.

Padma Lakshmi supports the 'between bread' logic

Meanwhile, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi is of the opinion that a hot dog is technically a sandwich and not a very good one at that! To clarify, she isn't dissing the dish but just means that if you're craving a great sandwich, a hot dog may not hit the spot. However, the rabbit hole goes a little deeper because Lakshmi revealed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the interesting version of a hot dog she ate as a child.


Since she grew up vegetarian, Lakshmi used to get her hot dogs with all the condiments but no sausage. As we've seen with a few other chefs, the form factor of the hot dog is crucial for its independent identity, and any changes send it back into sandwich territory. Therefore, a hot dog bun stuffed with condiments but no frank sounds very much like a sandwich (think PB&J here). However, whether you're a fan of hot dogs or sandwiches, we'd recommend trying the condiment-only hot dog sandwich at your own peril.

Gordon Ramsey says hot dogs are sandwiches ... kind of

Gordon Ramsey is a tad mealy-mouthed on the subject. When asked straight out, he considers hot dogs to be a sandwich, but it's difficult to square this assertion with related opinions he's shared. The celebrity chef includes hot dogs in the sandwich category but (curiously) says lobster rolls — lobster meat in hot dog buns — do not likewise belong there. For contrarians that come from a different angle and suggest hot dogs are, in fact, tacos, Ramsey disrupts all sense of categorization, playing the Uno Reverse card and positing tacos are a kind of crusty sandwich. 


Ramsey doesn't support the "meat in bread equals sandwich" club (since he considers neither lobster rolls nor burgers to be sandwiches). Despite the paradigms that exist in his mind, he's much more pragmatic when it comes to his menus. The chef's casual dining chain — Gordon Ramsey Burger — features a separate section for "Dawgs" on its menu and doesn't list Ramsey's take on the iconic dish under sandwiches.

Michael Symon and Racheal Ray turn hot dogs into sandwiches

Prolific chef and restaurateur Michael Symon entered the hot dog sandwich debate with a tweet saying that he considered a hot dog to be a sandwich. While that may be all right, there's also the small matter of the time he ordered a hot dog at Cleveland's Happy Dog on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The chef topped his hot dog with peanut butter, "Alien" pickle relish, and sriracha sauce. This could be because Happy Dog has an outrageous list of 50 hot dog toppings to choose from, including the likes of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and even Froot Loops (which is getting dangerously close to a Korean corn dog). Or maybe calling it a sandwich gives one more leeway on what they can put on their hot dog.


Chef and food celebrity Racheal Ray is clear on where she stands — a hot dog is a hot dog. The dish is a category in itself and is too iconic to be lumped in with the likes of grilled cheese or a Cubano. She does, however, have one caveat, saying that the only way a hot dog could be a sandwich was if she made a sandwich using chopped-up hot dogs.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council weighs in

While it's not a chef, since we're looking at authoritative opinions on the hot dog, The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council's word should be taken into account. Unsurprisingly, the council has ruled that the hot dog's significance surpasses its sandwich categorization; the council has also (politely) opposed the USDA categorizing the hot dog as a sandwich based on the "meat between bread" logic.


Instead, The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council points to how culturally embedded hot dogs are. From essential stadium and summer cookout food to describing someone showing off, the hot dog is quintessentially American. Visually, too, a hot dog's shape is iconic and the first word that comes to mind when someone sees a sausage in an elongated bun is not "sandwich." The debate is far from over, but it does seem like hot dog enthusiasts will forever hold this iconic food as more than just a sandwich, and we're inclined to agree.