Are hotdogs legally a sandwich?

The debate over whether a hot dog qualifies as a sandwich is one that has raged for ages. On one side, there are those who argue that a hot dog’s construction between two buns clearly makes it a type of sandwich. On the other, there are purists who claim that a hot dog’s unique shape and composition set it entirely apart from true sandwiches. So who’s right? Is a hot dog legally considered a sandwich?

What Defines a Sandwich?

To determine if a hot dog can rightly be called a sandwich, we must first define what exactly makes something a sandwich. The most basic definition of a sandwich is two slices of bread or a split roll with a filling inside. By this broad categorization, a hot dog seems to easily qualify as its sausage is sandwiched between a split bun.

However, there are more specific qualifications that sandwiches are generally considered to have:

  • The filling is spread out flat rather than contained in a single piece
  • The bread completely encloses the interior ingredients
  • Sandwiches can be cut into smaller bite-sized pieces
  • Sandwich fillings are wide-ranging, from cold-cuts to vegetables to spreads

When evaluated by these standards, the hot dog appears to fall outside the sandwich category. The sausage itself is not spread out but rather one solid piece. The bun does not fully enclose the hot dog, with sides and ends remaining exposed. Hot dogs are largely eaten whole rather than cut into pieces. And the filling is always a sausage rather than cold cuts, cheese, spreads, or other fillings.

Legal Definition

Perhaps more important than the conceptual definition is the legal classification of sandwiches. So what does U.S. law say on the matter?

Unfortunately, there is no federal regulation that strictly defines what constitutes a sandwich. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines require sandwiches to contain at least 35% cooked meat between bread slices. But that policy does not definitively exclude hot dogs, nor does it have actual legal authority.

State and local governments have been more precise in codifying sandwich definitions, including specifying that:

  • Sandwiches must include two slices of bread or a split roll with filling between them.
  • Sandwich fillings require variety beyond a single piece of meat.

These regulated meanings seem to preclude hot dogs from being true legal sandwiches. However, there are exceptions written into some state laws. For example, some areas designate hot dogs as a separate category called “hot sandwiches” or stipulate that hot dogs are sandwiches only when prepared in certain styles like cut in half and served open-faced.

So by most legal definitions in the U.S., hot dogs are their own distinct food and not strictly sandwiches. That said, they often receive special treatment acknowledging their close sandwich similarities.

Court Rulings

Beyond just legislation, U.S. courts have also taken up the hot dog sandwich debate to settle legal disputes. The definitions set by judges in these cases offer perhaps the most authoritative answers on hot dogs’ status.

In one prominent example, a judge in Massachusetts ruled in 2006 that hot dog buns are not considered bread under state law. This decision prohibited a local restaurant from escapindg a special tax on sandwiches by claiming hot dogs used exempt bread. The judge reasoned that the split hot dog roll is a unique type of bun rather than standard sandwich bread.

On the federal level, a U.S. Circuit Court in 2015 examined a lawsuit alleging falsely advertised “footlong” hot dogs. The court’s opinion noted hot dogs are not technically sandwiches, citing their differences in preparation and appearance. However, they acknowledged hot dogs share much in common with sandwiches, leading the judges to draw comparisons on size expectations.

While not binding nationwide, these court interpretations further the consensus that hot dogs are in their own legal class separate from standard sandwiches.

Sandwich Shops’ Perspectives

Given their prominence in lunch menus everywhere, what do sandwich shops think about whether hot dogs are sandwiches or not?

The famous sandwich chain Subway makes an important distinction. They classify hot dogs as a sandwich only when prepared in a “sub” style with traditional sandwich toppings. Classic hot dogs as just meat and a bun do not meet Subway’s criteria for sandwich status.

Jimmy John’s sandwiches draws a firmer line, with a spokesperson definitively stating they do not consider hot dogs to be sandwiches. Their reasoning echoes other definitions, noting hot dogs’ lack of diverse ingredients between bread slices.

Panera Bread also excludes hot dogs from being sandwiches, pointing to the need for more component layers and two separate pieces of bread. However, like Subway, they acknowledge some stylistic exceptions. Panera says a hot dog becomes a sandwich when served open-faced on a single piece of bread and dressed like a typical sandwich.

So sandwich purveyors tend to agree hot dogs themselves don’t qualify based on structural standards. But some concession is made for hot dogs that are reconfigured into a more sandwich-like form. This further illustrates that hot dogs skirt the hazy line between sandwich and non-sandwich.

Polling the Public

The final arbiters in this debate may be the American public at large. With hot dogs being such a beloved staple across the U.S., how do average citizens view their classification?

Surveys show a slight majority of Americans do consider hot dogs to be sandwiches:

Poll View Hot Dogs as Sandwiches Don’t View as Sandwiches
FiveThirtyEight/SurveyMonkey (2017) 54% 36%
The Harris Poll (2015) 47% 41%

Drilling deeper into demographics reveals some interesting trends:

– Women are more likely to call hot dogs sandwiches (57%) than men (51%).

– Baby boomers view hot dogs as sandwiches the most (60%) versus much lower for Gen Z (42%).

– Higher income levels correlate to seeing hot dogs as sandwiches, from 42% of those making under 30k up to 63% for those earning over 100k.

– There is also regional variation, with the Northeast most inclined to define hot dogs as sandwiches (67%) and the West least likely (44%).

So in the public’s viewpoint, the verdict appears to lean slightly pro-sandwich – but not by much. And people’s opinions seem influenced by gender, age, wealth, and geography.

Are Hot Dog Sandwiches a Gray Area?

Given the mixed evidence, it seems clear hot dogs exist in a gray area when it comes to sandwich status. By strict technical and legal definitions, they likely do not qualify as true sandwiches. But they share many close similarities, some shops classify them as sandwiches in certain forms, and a slim majority of Americans think they belong to the sandwich family.

This ambiguous middle ground has led to some alternative classifications emerging:

Hot Sandwiches

As mentioned regarding state laws, some entities designate hot dogs as “hot sandwiches.” This distinct category acknowledges their similarities to regular cold sandwiches while still separating them as different. Other foods like burgers, melts, and wraps also commonly fall into the hot sandwich group.


A number of dictionaries describe hot dogs as being “sandwich-like” without outright labeling them sandwiches. This wording acknowledges their bread and filling composition has sandwich qualities – but stops short of full inclusion.

Open-Faced Sandwiches

Some definitions state hot dogs only qualify as sandwiches when served open-faced, with the bun split horizontally. This position contends that once dressed like a standard single-slice sandwich, the distinction disappears.

Hybrid Sandwiches

Rather than clearly sandwich or non-sandwich, another view conceptualizes hot dogs as a hybrid sandwich combining elements of both. The sausage and split bun represent continuity with sandwiches, while the elongated shape and unenclosed ends denote separation.

So perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle – that hot dogs have an identity not squarely sandwich or non-sandwich, but rather an embodiment of both.

The Sandwich Spirit

Stepping beyond technical details, what really seems to make something a sandwich is embodying the spirit or identity we associate with sandwiches. For most people, a sandwich represents:

– An edible filling between two slices of bread

– An enjoyable, satisfying, handheld meal

– Customizable with various toppings and condiments

– A simple, affordable, and ubiquitous food

Viewed through this lens, hot dogs match the sandwich concept pretty closely. They deliver a similar experience and competently fill the sandwich role in many situations.

At backyard barbecues and baseball games, no one denies that hot dogs sufficiently satisfy the need for sandwiches. They’re widely considered as much of a picnic and lunch staple as any other sandwich.

So even if they don’t meet all the technical criteria, hot dogs still channel the identity and purpose associated with sandwiches in popular perception. By capturing the sandwich spirit, if not the sandwich law, hot dogs arguably earn a place in the sandwich ranks that matter most.


The hot dog’s status as a true sandwich remains disputed. Strict definitions exclude it based on its shape, composition, and legal designations. But informally, many still group hot dogs with sandwiches in both language and practice. Ultimately, perhaps the sandwich label matters less than whether something reasonably satisfies our expectations.

By coming close enough to sandwich attributes and offering a similar experience, hot dogs fulfill the role in culture and cuisine – if not technicality. So while the debate rages on, don’t be surprised to hear hot dogs summarized as sandwiches regardless of what definitions dictate. Language and laws bow to public perception, and the court of common opinion seems to reasonably view hot dogs as an American sandwich in spirit, if not law.

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