Why Are Sandwiches Called Sandwiches?

Grilled cheese sandwich

There’s nothing better than a good sandwich when you’re looking to grab a quick bite on the go. Sliced meat, cheese, and veggies between two slices of toasted bread or in a split bread roll, the sandwich is a favorite food of people across the world.

Just in the U.S., people eat 300 million sandwiches every single day. That’s really impressive given that the total population of the U.S. is 328 million according to data from 2019.

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering how the sandwich got its name. This — and other curious facts about sandwiches you didn’t know — in today’s blog post.

Keep on reading to find out more.

How the Sandwich Got Its Name

Portrait of John Montagu by English painter Thomas Gainsborough

The sandwich is named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat. In 1762, he was allegedly hungry at a 24-hour gambling game and asked for meat tucked between two slices of bread to avoid interrupting it.

That way, the Earl could eat with one hand while continuing to play the game with the other. Soon, other people at the game also got hungry. So they started to order “the same as Sandwich.”

The Earl didn’t really invent the sandwich. As you’re going to find out in a minute, people had been putting meat, vegetables, and spreads between sliced bread for millennia before he got to order it.

But one thing’s for sure: he really managed to make it popular.

Now that you know why we call sandwiches… sandwiches, you’re probably wondering about another thing. Where did John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, get his title from?

As the title suggests, John Montagu was the fourth generation of earls in his family. “Earl of Sandwich” is a noble hereditary title in English aristocracy.

The title is named after a town called Sandwich in the province of Kent, England, though the Montagu family has no connection to the town itself (hereditary English titles can be least to say confusing).


What Was the First Sandwich Ever Made?

Matzos, a thin biscuit of unleavened Jewish bread.
Matzos, a thin biscuit of unleavened Jewish bread

We’ll probably never find out when the first sandwich was truly made; there’s simply no written record of it.

The first written record of a recipe for a sandwich was all the way back in the 1st century BC. A Jewish rabbi, Hillel the Elder, started the Passover tradition of putting a mix of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between two matzos, a thin biscuit of unleavened bread, to eat with bitter herbs.

Passover, also called Pesah, is a big Jewish holiday in the spring of the 15th day of the Hebrew calendar of Nisan. It commemorates the freeing of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery and lasts 7 or 8 days.

The filling between the matzos served as a symbol for the suffering of the Jews before their deliverance from Egypt — and represented the mortar that they used as the Jewish people were forced to construct Egyptian buildings.


What’s the Most Popular Sandwich in America?

What's the favorite sandwich of Americans?
What’s the favorite sandwich of Americans?

The number one sandwich in America is the grilled cheese sandwich, according to a survey by market research company YouGov. The survey asked a representative sample of 1,223 Americans to rate 15 sandwiches on a scale from “I really like it” to “I really dislike it.”

The grilled cheese sandwich came out first and was a favorite for 79% of the surveyed Americans. Next were grilled chicken, turkey, and roast beef sandwiches.

Here’s the complete list

  1. Grilled cheese sandwich
  2. Grilled chicken sandwich
  3. Turkey sandwich
  4. Roast beef sandwich
  5. Ham sandwich
  6. BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato) sandwich
  7. Club sandwich
  8. Bacon sandwich
  9. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  10. Pulled pork sandwich
  11. Tuna sandwich
  12. Egg salad sandwich
  13. Meatball sandwich
  14. Reuben sandwich
  15. French dip sandwich

YouGov also asked the respondents if they thought that hot dogs and burgers were technically sandwiches. 60% thought that burgers were sandwiches and 30% thought that hot dogs were sandwiches. Only 14% thought that tacos also belong to this category.

Looking for easy, quick, and tasty sandwich recipes? Check out these 17 sandwich recipes you’re going to fall in love with


Sandwich vs. Burger: What’s the Difference?

The first burger in America was created as a sandwich before burger buns became a thing. They’re still served in their original recipe in Louis’ Lunch, a burger restaurant in New Haven, CT, that’s been open since 1895.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Louis’ Lunch was a horse-pulled food cart that sold hamburg steaks. Brought to America by German immigrants from the city of Hamburg, a hamburg steak is made from ground meat with finely chopped onion, egg, and breadcrumbs, and seasoned with various spices. It’s served on a plate and eaten with a fork and knife.

One day, the story goes, a customer was in a big hurry. So they asked Louis to put the hamburg steak between two slices of toasted bread. This is the first documented case of the hamburger being invented.

The Original Burger that Louis’ Lunch continues to serve today is a hamburger served between two slices of toasted bread with tomatoes, onions, and cheese. Each burger is made to order in special cast-iron grills that date back to 1898. Ketchup and adding any other condiments to a burger is strictly forbidden.

Check out the first 1/3 of the video from The Burger Show on YouTube to see more. It features burger expert George Motz, whom you should follow if you’re really into burgers like me.

The difference between a burger and a sandwich today is that burgers are made by putting mostly grilled meat and vegetables between sliced burger buns, whereas sandwiches are made by putting mostly cured meat and vegetables between sliced bread (preferably flatbread).

Of course, there’s always exceptions to the rule. Personally, I consider sandwiches and burgers as two categories of food of their own, even if they have the same culinary roots dating back to hundreds of years ago.


Sandwich vs. Sub

Sub sandwich

Sandwich usually refers to sliced meat, cheese, and vegetables between two pieces of flatbread. Short for submarine sandwich, the sub is a long sandwich built in an Italian bread roll or French baguette that’s cut lengthwise.

Another obvious, but important, difference between the traditional sandwich and the sub is their shape. Since the sandwich is made with toast, it’s usually square in shape or sliced into triangles. The sub, on the other hand, is long and pointed.

The sub sandwich as we know it today was created in 1902 in Portland by immigrant baker Giovanni Amato from Naples, Italy.

Amato sold bread rolls from his food cart on the fishing docks of Portland. As the story goes, fishermen and dockworkers started to ask Amato to slice the bread rolls in two and add ingredients, like sliced meats, cheeses, and vegetables, to them. So the hero sandwich was born.

The sub sandwich has many names. Depending on where you’re from, it can be called a hero sandwich, hoagie, grinder, wedge, or spuckie. If you’re curious to see why, check out All You Want to Know About the Hero Sandwich.


Sandwich vs. Hot Dog

Hot dog
Hot dog

Is a hot dog considered a sandwich? Technically, it is. The dictionary definition of a sandwich is “meat, cheese, vegetables, and condiments between two slices of flat bread or an split bread roll.” Just like a meatball sandwich on a split roll is a sandwich, so is a hot dog.

The first hot dogs were sold by German immigrant, along with milk rolls and sauerkraut, from a push cart in New York City’s Bowery in the 1860’s. In 1871, Charles Feltman, a German baker, opened up the first Coney Island hot dog stand. He sold 3,684 dachshund sausages in a milk roll during his first year in business.

Why are they called hot dogs? Germans who sold hot dogs called their sausages “dachshund sausages.” They were named after the Dachshund breed of dogs, thanks to their resemblance to it. Americans had trouble pronouncing that, so hot dachshund sausage in a roll naturally turned into hot dog.

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