Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich? Let’s Settle It!

The good folks at Merriam-Webster say that the all-American hot dog is a sandwich—but they're just about the only ones.

The hot dog is boldly included (and defined) in an article on the Merriam-Webster website, but M-W acknowledges that this pronouncement may be met with raised eyebrows.

According to the article, “hot dog refers either to the sausage that you buy squeezed in a plastic package with 7 or so of its kind, or to the same sausage heated and served in a long split roll.”

And then the bomb is dropped: “When it’s served in the roll, it’s also a sandwich.”

The word wizards continue: “We know: the idea that a hot dog is a sandwich is heresy to some of you. But given that the definition of sandwich is ‘two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between,’ there is no sensible way around it.”

For those of us who revere the relish, onion and mustard-filled delicacy, we need to settle it. Is there a sensible way around this bold dictionary claim?

Who Invented the Hot Dog?

You may be surprised that this classic Americana food wasn’t actually invented in the U.S. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council dug into the history of the hot dog: Germans were actually calling their frankfurters “hot dachshunds” long before they came over to the United States.

Why Is It Called a Hot Dog?

There are several theories about how the American classic got its name, and they all begin with the association of hot dogs—or frankfurters, wienerwurst and all manner of long, skinny sausages—to the iconic German dog breed, the dachshund. If Germans were calling frankfurters “hot dachshunds,” it makes sense that Americanizing the food would lead to a jump from “dachshund” to “dog.”

However, the public disagrees over who first made the jump. In the late 1800s, vendors called “dog wagons” were parked outside the Yale dorms selling the sausages. One of them was even called “The Kennel Club”—a clear tie to the term “hot dog.”

Another potential source of the term “hot dog” happened shortly after in 1901. Legend has it, New York sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan was depicting a moment where a vendor was selling frankfurters at the polo grounds, yelling “Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!” While he was drawing and captioning, Dorgan didn’t know how to spell “dachshund,” and wrote “hot dog” in the caption instead of “hot dachshund.” He even drew little dachshunds inside rolls instead of frankfurters. However, there is no record of this cartoon.

What Is a Sandwich?

Well, if we’re going with the above definition of a hot dog from Merriam-Webster, then we’ll go with their definition of a sandwich too: “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” This can be anything from cold-cut sandwiches to hot chicken sandwiches to gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Oxford English Dictionary considers a sandwich to be an “article of food for a light meal or snack, composed of two thin slices of bread, usually buttered, with a savoury or other filling.”

Verdict: Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich, and Does the Public Agree?

The Louisville Courier-Journal, for one, is not buying the argument that a hot dog is a sandwich. A few years back, the Kentucky newspaper ran a correction apologizing for referring to hot dogs as sandwiches 10 times between 1887 and 1996.

Reporter Rocco DeMaro interviewed a number of experts—in this case, Major League Baseball players. “If you ask somebody to go make you a sandwich, they’re not gonna make you a hot dog,” said then-Oakland A’s player Josh Harrison.

Closer to home, in our collection of hot dog recipes, we use the word “sandwich” only once, but the wieners in question (pigs in a blanket) are wrapped in crescent rolls instead of buns. Even more telling: in our roundup of the best hot dog in every state, we don’t use the s-word at all.

The Daily Meal attempts to sit on the fence on the question (while simultaneously muddying the hot dog waters by introducing burgers into the argument). The website gives the dictionary its due, but still implies an anti-sandwich mindset: “Burgers and hot dogs exist in their own section of the menu, separate from the ‘Sandwiches.’ For all intents and purposes, they are completely different food items from sandwiches. But in terms of classifications, these cookout staples are indeed sandwiches, whether you think of them that way or not.”

The definitive quote—and possibly the last word—on the subject appropriately come from another pro baseball player.

“No, it’s not a sandwich. It’s a hot dog,” says Brock Holt of the Texas Rangers.

Hot Dogs! Get Your Hot Dogs Here!
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Cathryn Jakicic
Cathy Jakicic has written about everything from business and bacteria to beads and baking in her career —but she greatly prefers the last two. She is a baker and a crafter and loves to try new recipes for both.
Lauren Pahmeier
Lauren is an associate editor at Taste of Home, focusing on search engine optimization. When she’s not making sure readers can find TOH’s recipes on Google, she’s practicing her food photography, consistently finding new recipes to try and hunting down the most indulgent treats in the Twin Cities.