Bacon. Lettuce. Tomato. Between two slices of bread—white or wheat, toasted or untoasted, it doesn't matter. It's salty, vegetal, a bit crunchy, and a bit creamy from some mayo that gets in there too.
Is the lettuce superfluous? Ed sure thinks so. "The bacon gives you smoky, porky, slightly sweet flavor, the tomato is sweet, juicy and lends just a touch of needed acid to the sandwich, the Hellman's mayo is creamy and rich, and the Pullman loaf's crusty edge gives you the crisp crunch some would say the lettuce provides."
The basic elements of the breakfast sandwich are the basic elements of breakfast: egg, a pork product or two, and some kind of bread (biscuits, toast, English muffins, or some other roll). There's usually cheese, too, and sometimes veggies or condiments.
"I order the club sandwich all the time, but I'm not even a member, man." —Mitch Hedberg
Turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon, and cheese, divided almost always into two layers by an extra slice of bread, make up this lunch staple. Though most people wouldn't recognize a single-decker Club, culinary icon James Beard called it the "authentic" sandwich and the omnipresent double-decker a "bastardization," writing that "whoever started that horror should be forced to eat three-deckers three times a day the rest of his life." The Club is often cut into quarters and pierced with toothpicks.
Cold Cut Sandwich
Cold cuts are cheeses or sliced luncheon meats (like ham, turkey breast, salami or bologna) served cold on sandwich bread. Maybe it's nothing special but it usually hits the spot. Condiments are predictable: think mustard and mayo.
"Is there anything more American than a Dagwood sandwich?" asked Serious Eats Chicago editor Nick Kindelsperger. The Dagwood, named for Blondie protagonist and legendary sandwich-maker Dagwood Bumstead, can be identified by how closely it resembles one of Dagwood's overheaped creations.
Seriously, though, because there's no real definition. The Dagwood is defined by its form, not its filling, and even then loosely. Saveur called it a "catchall for whatever ingredients you might have on hand." Webster's mandates only that it be "many-layered," with multiple meats and a few grab-bag toppings.
The pictured version includes 3 slices of rye, 4 types of meat (ham, bologna, salami, and turkey), 2 types of cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, dill pickles, tomato, and, of course, a couple of toothpicked olives for a garnish. That sounds like a Dagwood to us.
Read more: The Dagwood Sandwich recipe
Elvis Presley's swiveling hips met their match in the tasty, caloric sandwich. It's a peanut butter, mashed banana, and white bread sandwich browned in a pool of melted butter. Urban legends do tend to pile up around the King. One of the more prevalent is that he ate this sandwich with bacon. He did not. That's not to say that the sandwich isn't good with bacon, though. We ate it and approve.
Read more: Elvis Sandwich recipe
At its simplest, the grilled cheese is comprised of two slices of buttered white bread browned in a skillet with a slice of cheese (American is classic) between them. At its most complicated, it can include almost anything. Ham, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.
But how do you know when your sandwich is no longer a grilled cheese and has become, say, a reuben, or a regular old cheese sandwich? A Grilled Cheese Must...
Be a closed sandwich, griddled on both sides.
Have cheese as the primary ingredient; other ingredients can complement, but not overwhelm the cheese.
Be made with sliced bread. Thus a sandwich made with whole, crust-on loaves like an Italian panini or a Cubano do not qualify.
Be served hot all the way through, with the cheese melted.
Be cooked on a flat, greased surface until golden brown. In extreme circumstances it may be cooked on an outdoor grill over an open fire. A grilled cheese may never be baked.
Add too much of a single, non-cheese ingredient to your grilled cheese and it becomes a melt. Tuna, turkey, ham, or the famous Patty (a burger patty topped with with sautéed onions and swiss cheese, griddled between two slices of rye toast).
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Like the grilled cheese, the peanut butter and jelly boasts endless variations. Even the basic ingredients—peanut butter, jelly, and bread—invite experimentation. Creamy or chunky? Strawberry or grape? White or wheat? Then there are the add-ins, the substitutions...
But why get carried away? While we're all for creative sandwich-making, let's salute the the PB&J at its most basic: on two slices of white bread. Never pretentious, never complicated, always satisfying.
Pilgrim a.k.a. the Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich
It's the morning after Thanksgiving. The leftover turkey's in the fridge, next to the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, and the gravy. Yesterday, you were so full you thought you wouldn't eat for a week. But here you are, and you're hungry.
You put the turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on a slice of bread. You pour gravy on everything and add the second slice. And there's your Pilgrim sandwich. The Pilgrim's ingredients can vary as long as it features Thanksgiving leftovers. Here are some of our favorite concoctions.
The Reuben is corned beef, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut topped with either Russian or Thousand Island dressing and griddled between two slices of rye bread. Nick, on why the Reuben works: "Everything has its place. The creamy dressing balances the sharp tang of the sauerkraut, and the the full flavored rye bread accentuates the cured corned beef. And, of course, the melted cheese brings it all together."
What about a Reuben made with pastrami or turkey instead of corned beef, and coleslaw instead of sauerkraut? It's called a "Rachel."
Egg, Tuna, Chicken Salad
Egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, etc. The idea is to blend your main element with mayonnaise and spread the mixture on bread for a creamy salad-sandwich.
Maybe you loved this sandwich, maybe you hated it, but there's a good chance that back in school you ate it. The ingredients: ground beef, onions, spices, and ketchup, or another tomato sauce, on a hamburger bun. The Sloppy Joe is a variation on the older "loose-meat" sandwich, which is a bun with ground beef but without sauce.
Sandwich trivia: If you order a "Sloppy Joe" in or around South Orange, New Jersey, you'll get a meat, swiss, slaw, and Russian-dressing sandwich that's pretty much a Reuben.
Bagel and Lox
New York City has always been considered the bagel mecca of the United States, but plenty of decent bagel shops have popped up across the country. You can't go into one without finding the classic combo of bagel and lox and a schmear of cream cheese. Fresh lox offers a buttery, fishy flavor, and is right at home with its good friends, bagel and cream cheese.
Beef on Weck
In the western part of New York state, this sandwich is made with thin-cut roast beef served rare on a caraway-and-salt-topped kummelweck roll with horseradish. "The kimmelweck roll, or 'weck for short, should be flecked with enough caraway seeds and salt crystals that you hardly need to season the beef since every bite gets flavor power from the bread. The beef should be juicy and pinkish in the middle, with browned edges. Extra points if a guy in a white butcher's coat is carving it. And the horseradish—fresh, grated into mini shreds, and potent," wrote SE national managing editor Erin.
Philadelphia's most famous contribution to the sandwich world began life as a steak hoagie but has earned its own name and reputation. While Cheez Wiz is a popular topping, it's just as acceptable in most establishments to ask for provolone, or even American cheese on your steak. The thinly-sliced beef is sometimes garnished with sauteed onions, peppers, or mushrooms. Some people like to add a little ketchup, mayonnaise, or even pizza sauce and mozzarella, which would make the sandwich a "pizza steak." The "real" Philly cheesesteaks come on fresh rolls from local bakery Amoroso's.
Though falafel hails from the Middle East, the streets of New York wouldnt be the same without it. If you've ever grabbed falafel from a street vendor, you've seen how it's made. First comes the pita. Next is a handful of deep-fried falafel balls, made from chickpeas or fava beans ground and mixed with spices. It's garnished with salad, and, depending on regional and personal tastes, hummus, pickled vegetables, tahini and/or hot sauce.
The Fluffernutter is the unofficial official state sandwich of Massachusetts (a 2009 effort to make it official failed). Peanut butter and Fluff, the marshmallow creme, on untoasted white or wheat bread.
In a 2003 New York TImes article, our SE overlord Ed Levine defined the iconic hero this way:
"The hero is a sandwich of cured Italian meats. These are layered into a forearm's length of fresh crusty bread, often with a few slices of Italian cheese and a condiment or two atop them--pepperoncini, yes; roasted peppers, yes; mayonnaise, an emphatic no. Also, perhaps, a splash of vinegar, certainly a drizzle of olive oil. Some ground pepper, a sprinkle of salt. But no more. No sun-dried tomatoes sully the interior of a true hero, no pesto, no Brie, no fancy pants ingredients at all."
The hoagie may be nothing more than a Philadelphian sub. While origin stories vary, the hoagie today, much like the submarine, includes an Italian roll filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and various condiments. It's different from Italian-roll sandwiches in other parts of the country, some Philly natives argue, because the old-school joints make it using fresh bread from local bakeries.
This Maine version of subs can refer to any variety of fillings (i.e. Roast Beef Italian, Veggie Italian), but the regular Maine Italian gets ham or salami, cheese, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, black olives, sour pickles, oil, salt & pepper, served on a long soft roll (sometimes top-split).
A toasted, lightly-buttered hot dog bun piled high with lobster meat dressed with drawn butter or mayonnaise. It's found nearly everywhere in New England but varies according to regional and personal tastes. Some are creamier, more of a "lobster salad." Some are warm instead of cold. Some are garnished with chives.
Read more: The Food Lab: Wicked Good Lobster Rolls; Reconsidering the Lobster (and Hot Buttered Lobster Rolls!); 17 Lobster Rolls We Love in the Northeast; Lobster Roll Rumble: 19 Lobster Rolls We Ate; 10 Lobster Rolls We Love in and Around Portland, Maine; Serious Eats Talk: What do you put in your lobster roll?
New Jersey Pork Roll (a.k.a. Taylor Ham)
Popular in Jersey but hard to find out of Jersey, this "ham-like product is made from spiced ground pork emulsified into a log about four inches across, wrapped in cloth, and cooked," describes Kenji. It might be ham-like, but it isn't ham, which is why, since the United States government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, it's been sold as "pork roll." It's usually sliced and fried on a bread roll. When it's on a sandwich with eggs and American cheese, it makes a sandwich known as the "Jersey breakfast."
How does it taste? Take it, Kenji: "Super salty, porky, fatty, and heavily spiced with the somewhat spongy but not unpleasant texture of bologna that's been slightly inflated. I could immediately see the appeal. It's Spam for people who don't want to admit they like Spam, if you know what I mean."
New York Deli Sandwich
Perhaps the most classic versions of this sandwich can be found at Katz's or the Carnegie Deli in NYC. Sure, there's rye bread, and there might be mustard, but the sandwich is all about the meat: thick slices of pastrami, brisket, or corned beef carved to order and loaded on the bread in handfuls.
Roast pork, broccoli rabe, and provolone cheese are a holy trinity of Philly flavors. It really deserves as much attention as the better-known cheesesteak.
A close relative of the Greek-American gyro and the doner kebab, the shawarma sandwich is a pita stuffed with shaved, spit-cooked meat. The meat can be lamb, chicken, beef, goat, turkey, or a mixture of any of the above. Like the falafel and sabich sandwiches, the shawarma is often finished with hummus, tahini, hot sauce, and pickled vegetables.
New York's spiedie sandwich was invented for a very practical purpose: to remove steaming hot pieces of meat from a metal skewer. To make a spiedie the traditional way, take an undressed Italian roll, wrap it around a skewer of marinated meat, like a glove (the first spiedies were made with lamb and venision; today's versions are usually chicken, pork, or beef), and remove the skewer. Eat immediately, without condiments or toppings.
Read more: Grilled Chicken Spiedies
The spuckie is a Boston sandwich that's identical to a sub or hero except it's served on a pointy, top-split Italian roll called a spucadella. Today most Bostonians call their spucadella sandwiches "subs." To find one, you'll have to visit one of the old-school sandwich shops in Boston's historically-Italian North End or the one from Cutty's in Brookline.
A sandwich with a definition so broad that it's hard to articulate, but important enough that we have to try, the submarine is a long French or Italian roll filled with meats, cheeses, lettuce, tomato, and onion, and topped with spices and dressings; olive oil and vinegar are popular, as are sprinklings of salt, pepper, and oregano.
Used here as a catch-all term to cover an array of sandwiches that follow a general set of principles, the "Barbecue Sandwich" is smoked meat on white bread. It may or may not include sauce.
In North Carolina, your barbecue sandwich will probably be made with chopped pork. In Texas, it's sliced beef brisket. In Kansas, you might get burnt ends dripping with a sticky, tomato-based sauce. No matter the meat, it's the star in this sandwich. The bread's just there to get it to your mouth.
Read more: The Serious Eats Barbecue Style Guide
The Cuban sandwich was developed in the cafes of Key West and Tampa at the end of the 19th century to feed an influx of Cuban workers. While not Cuban itself, it directly descends from the sandwiches that Cuban immigrants ate in their home country.
The ingredients: roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, sliced pickles and mustard on crusty Cuban bread, all toasted in a sandwich press called a plancha. Traditionalists frown upon versions that include ingredients like salami, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato.
Fred Schmidt—the chef at Louisville, Kentucky's Brown Hotel—invented the Hot Brown in 1926 upon hearing that the Louisville party crowd was tired of the ham and eggs that the hotel served midnight snackers. The sandwich was an instant success with a Prohibition-era crowd that must have been dodging Prohibition.
It's a slice of Texas toast topped with roasted turkey breast, creamy Mornay sauce, and cheese, then broiled until the cheese begins to bubble, topped with two slices of bacon, and served open-faced. Some people add chopped tomatoes to the Mornay sauce or ham to the toast.
The muffuletta is the round sesame loaf on which Sicilian immigrants living in New Orleans first made the sandwich that's become, along with the po' boy, one of the Crescent City's best-known lunches. The muffaletta sandwich layers capicola, salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, and a chopped blend of olives and other pickled vegetables known locally as "olive salad." The oil-based spread often includes cauliflower, carrots, onions, celery, and seasonings like oregano, garlic, and black pepper. For optimum flavor, let a fresh muffaletta sit for at least an hour before eating. This allows the juices of the olive salad to soak into the bread.
Fried Oyster Po' Boy
Pimento Cheese Sandwich
One happy consequence of this decade's southern-food boom has been the migration of pimento cheese across the Mississippi and the Mason-Dixon line. Despite its name, it isn't really cheese. It's a mixture of cheddar, peppers, mayonnaise, and spices that's really a cheese salad.
A grinder is a warm sub or hoagie. The label is unnecessary in many parts of the country, where a warm sub is an acceptable thing, but common in parts of New England and the Midwest. Some grinders feature warm ingredients—Iowa's Jennie Grinders contain Italian sausage, ground beef, green peppers, tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella—while others are distinguished only by toasted bread.
The Horseshoe Sandwich, born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, is a real gut-bomb: a slice or two of thick toast topped with ham or a hamburger, then with cheese sauce, then with a couple of handfuls of french fries.
Chicago's classic Italian Beef includes sliced and seasoned beef soaked in beef broth and served on an Italian roll with sweet peppers or spicy giardiniera, an Italian vegetable relish. Here are the three ways to order it by increasing levels of sogginess; mozzarella and provolone cheese are optional additions.
Dry: the beef broth is allowed to drip off the roast beef.
Wet: the roast beef is pulled from the broth and placed directly on the sandwich.
Dipped: the whole sandwich, roll and all, is dunked in the broth.
Read more: The Best Italian Beef Sandwiches in Chicago
The Jibarito—invented in 1996 at Chicago's Borinquen Restaurant but inspired by sandwiches like it in Puerto Rico—features meat, cheese, garlic mayonnaise, and lettuce between. And here's what makes it a Jibarito: two fried green plantains. No bread here. But look at it—still a sandwich, right? Regardless, it has spread to restaurants all over Chicago and the surrounding area since its introduction less than two decades ago.
Read more: The 10 Best Jibaritos in Chicago
Loose Meat Sandwich
If you know the Sloppy Joe, then you know the loose meat sandwich (a.k.a. the "Tavern" or "Maid-Rite" sandwich). It's more or less a sauceless Joe: ground beef unseasoned with chopped onions, piled on a hamburger bun, sometimes with cheese, pickles, ketchup or mustard. It's native to Iowa but popular across the central Midwest.
A beef tamale on a hot dog bun topped with chili from Chicago. Food writer John T. Edge speculates that it may have originated, like the Chicago blues, with the legions of immigrants who moved north from the Mississippi Delta in the second half of the twentieth century. The tamale was and is a popular snack in the Delta. Here, it's served in a poppy-seeded Chicago-style hot-dog bun with Chicago-style hot-dog condiments (sport peppers, relish), making it a carbtastic mashup of old and new. Why is this sandwich called a Mother-in-Law? Well, it's spicy, hard to handle, and gives you heartburn.
Cleveland's Polish Boy sandwich could also be labeled a hot dog. To make one, stick a link of kielbasa in a bun, top it with a handful of french fries, and dress the whole thing with barbecue sauce, coleslaw, and hot sauce.
Read more: Cleveland's Polish Boy
Indiana's famous Pork Tenderloin sandwich doesn't need much explaining. It's two pieces of bread and a hearty slab of pounded, breaded, and deep-fried pork tenderloin. "It's basically a play on Wiener Schnitzel," wrote our own Nick Kindelsperger, "swapping pork for veal."
Read more: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich recipe
Primanti's Sandwich with Fries
The Primanti is an industrial-sized sandwich for an industrial city. Invented back in the 1930s at Pittsburgh's Primanti Brothers for truckers who needed to be able to hold a full meal in one hand, it's slaw, tomato, meat, and a heap of french fries on sliced Italian bread.
St. Paul Sandwich
Add another sandwich to the list of St. Louis classics you've never heard of. The St. Paul sandwich, a crispy egg foo young patty served on white bread with mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles, and American cheese, was supposedly named for its inventor's hometown. Folks in St. Louis say that the St. Paul, which you can still buy for less than $2, tastes an awful lot like a regular old fried-egg sandwich.
In the Bay Area there's a single bread of choice for sandwiches. No, not San Francisco sourdough; we're talking about Dutch Crunch. So what is Dutch Crunch? It's a dense, doughy bread with a moist crumb, generally sold in sandwich-sized rolls or baguette-shaped loaves. But what sets it apart is the crackly top with crunchy little bits growing from the paler crust underneath.
Thinly-sliced roast beef on a baguette or French roll served with a cup of beef jus (broth) on the side, for dipping. The French Dip first appeared in Los Angeles (at either Cole's or Phillipe's, this is a point of contention) in the early 20th century.
Origin stories for this sandwich vary: maybe the bread on a beef sub was stale, and needed jus for softening. Maybe a customer with sore gums couldn't handle a crusty Italian roll dry. Maybe a server accidentally dropped the sandwich into a pan of drippings and served it anyway, to a police officer who was so delighted by the taste that he came back, with friends, for more. Whatever circumstances birthed this beefy beauty, they were lucky ones for the Los Angeles restaurants soon overrun by customers in search of the soggy, salty satisfaction of the now-classic au jus sandwich.
This American take on the Croque-Monsieur is a mustard, ham, and cheese sandwich dipped in egg batter, fried, french-toast style, in a skillet, then dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam or preserves. It's an unholy combination of flavors that works, somehow.
Though the sandwich most likely originated in Southern California in the 1950s, it really took off, when, in 1966, Disneyland began serving it at the resort's Tahitian Terrace and Blue Bayou restaurants.