A Hot Dog Is Not a Sandwich

A fan buys a hot dog outside Yankee Stadium, 2008. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
Some disordered and lost souls keep saying hot dogs are sandwiches. They are wrong, and here’s why.

‘Sausage is one of the oldest forms of processed food,” according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC), and anyone who wants to disagree with these heroes will be on the fighting side of me. Frankfurt is generally credited as the birthplace of the hot dog (hence the name “frankfurter”), which locals called a “dachshund” or “little dog” sausage. Some historians claim it was actually created in Coburg, Germany, and merely popularized and marketed in Frankfurt and Austria in the late 1600s. Others claim the frankfurter was a staple in Austria since the 13th century, named after the capital city, Vienna, hence the name “wieners.”

From my skimming of Wikipedia and the sacred texts of the NHDSC it all seems a little murky. But one fact comes screaming through: The hot dog — as in the sausage — is at least 500 years old. Or if my math doesn’t check out, it’s certainly older than this other food-that-is-good-to-eat, the sandwich.

We’ve all heard the story of how John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, invented the meal of some pieces of meat between slices of bread because he didn’t want to leave the card table (hence the name “sandwich”). Well, that happened a million years after the invention of the hot dog (or maybe close to a century, but whatever).

The point is the glorious thing we call the sandwich is younger than the glorious thing we call the hot dog. So maybe we call sandwiches hot dogs?

Now you might say: “Well, the frankfurters may predate the sandwich, but the idea of eating them in bread is more recent. Ergo, hot dogs are sandwiches made from putting a frankfurter between slices of bread.”

Again, you might say it, but it would be outrageous on every count. First of all, people have been eating meat with bread since dinosaurs roamed the earth, figuratively speaking — and literally, if certain creationists are to be believed. From Professor Wikipedia:

The modern concept of a sandwich using slices of bread as found within the West can arguably be traced to 18th century Europe. However, the use of some kind of bread or bread-like substance to lie under (or under and over) some other food, or used to scoop up and enclose or wrap some other type of food, long predates the eighteenth century, and is found in numerous much older cultures worldwide.

The ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder is said to have wrapped meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two pieces of old-fashioned soft matzah — flat, unleavened bread — during Passover in the manner of a modern wrap made with flatbread. Flat breads of only slightly varying kinds have long been used to scoop or wrap small amounts of food en route from platter to mouth throughout Western Asia and northern Africa. From Morocco to Ethiopia to India, bread is baked in flat rounds, contrasting with the European loaf tradition.

This is just common sense, people. Humans have been eating bread for about 30,000 years, give or take. No one knows for sure — at least going by my admittedly brief Internet searches — when we stumbled on leavened bread. But by 300 b.c. there was already commercial yeast production in Egypt. So we’ve been eating that for a while.

Meat has been eaten with bread, on bread, between pieces of bread, for as long as there has been ample bread and meat available. The table fork is a fairly recent thing. “In the Middle Ages, most people ate off rounds of stale bread called trenchers, which could hold cooked meat and vegetables and which could be brought directly to the mouth.”

If you want to tell me that those inventive and industrious Germans never, ever thought of using some of their delicious and hardy bread to transport sausage to their Teutonic maws until some English fop and degenerate gambler came up with the idea, you’re free to do so. But I for one would not want to defend the argument that the meat-and-bread-eating Germans were never, ever meat-with-bread-eating Germans.

Second, a hot dog isn’t served between two slices of bread. And — tellingly — when some monsters do make “hot dog sandwiches,” they slice hot dogs like a serial killer hiding the body and lay the slices flat on the slices of bread as if they were a handy tarp.

Speaking of serial killers, as Hannibal Lecter said, “First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature?”

Forgive me for calling you Clarice, unless that’s your name. But when we eat a true sandwich, we do so with separated slices of bread, held in rough alignment with the horizon. If you ate a ham sandwich the way we eat a hot dog, with the visible meat facing skyward, you would need a dislocating jaw, like a viper or Sidney Blumenthal. If you ate a meatball sub that way, your balls would hit the floor and your face would be covered in sauce (get your mind out of the gutter). And if you ate a hot dog that way, you would be arrested for indecency in 29 states.

Regardless, in case you missed it, the key word there is “slice.” The meat doesn’t have to be sliced, but the bread does. Is a hot-dog bun sliced like pieces of rye toast? No it is not. The whole roll — or loaf — is slit down the middle but the “hinge” is kept intact. This is an entirely different process from slicing bread into distinct squares or ovals. Even recognizable sandwiches such as the hoagie, sub, and grinder pay tribute to this Aristotelian distinction. Who among us would risk life and limb by ordering a “cheesesteak sandwich” at Pat’s in Philly or an “Italian sandwich” on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx? I’m not necessarily saying these are not sandwiches, I’m merely noting that something deep inside us recognizes that these are not conventional sandwiches because our souls recognize truth even if we can’t fully articulate it.

Our language reflects this fundamental truth in other countless ways. A hamburger resembles a sandwich far more than a hot dog. Have you ever ordered a “hamburger sandwich”? (That’s called a patty melt, you heathen!). Most menus list “Hamburgers and Sandwiches” as separate things. Why the redundancy? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a menu list “Hot Dogs and Sandwiches,” never mind listing hot dogs with the sandwiches (and if such menus exist, that’s just proof of our cultural rot). I know I’ve never heard of a show-off on the basketball court criticized as a “sandwich.” When Bill Clinton plucks two interns from the harem and says, “Let’s make a sandwich,” it has a specific meaning. If he were to say, “Let’s make a hot dog,” I can only assume it means something very, very different.

Finally, as the scholars of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council — an authoritative source on par with the U.S. Post Office at the end of Miracle on 34th Street — have made clear, hot dogs are not sandwiches, regardless of what the USDA may say.


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