We’ve spent the past five months asking all manner of public figures to proclaim their stance on a needlessly but undeniably divisive issue: is a hot dog a sandwich? We have asked them, at the risk of bringing public mockery and outrage upon themselves, to make a choice. There is a bun, there is meat (or a meat substitute), there are condiments and sometimes toppings, but there is no consensus on one specific configuration of those ingredients. After five weary months, we are no closer to an answer. But we have identified some patterns, and a rough consensus. At the start of The Takeout’s American Sandwiches Week, we put on our Nate Silver hat and share our data with you.
What’s the verdict?
According to 34 actors, writers, athletes, journalists, radio personalities, and musicians, a hot dog is not a sandwich. And it’s not particularly close.
Only nine people answered this question with an unequivocal yes (26.5 percent). Amongst those who waffled somewhat, the majority leaned yes, and when those four lean-yes wafflers (Randall Park, Ben Schwartz, Dermot Mulroney, and Nick Kroll) and one lean-no waffler (Edward James Olmos) are added to the tally, the yes percentage climbs to 38.3 percent. There was only one true abstention.
In total, 55.9 percent of the famous people who deigned to answer this question believe that a hot dog is not a sandwich.
Bread argument #1: Seam contingent
Whether yes or no, the majority of tolerant famous people — 21 of 34 —made their decision for what we’re calling bread reasons.
Most prominent among the bread reasons is the issue of the seam. Seamists by and large believe that a sandwich must be open on all sides to be considered a sandwich, and thus the connective tissue of a bun disqualifies the hot dog from earning a place in the sandwich family.
Fred Savage is perhaps the most hardline of the seamists. He not only argues that the partial enclosure of the hot dog excludes it from the sandwich kingdom, but that any sandwich with a seam is, in fact, a hot dog:
FS: Because a sandwich has a top and a bottom. A hot dog has a side, and a side.
TO: So the issue is horizontal vs. vertical?
FS: It has to have a top, and a bottom, and two open sides. So I would argue that even a hoagie, if it’s not sliced all the way through, then that’s a hot dog.
Bread argument #2: Bread + stuff + more bread = sandwich
69.23 percent (9 of 13) of people answering this question with a yes, or those we’ve categorized as leans-yes, argue that anything you eat that is comprised of stuff between bread is a sandwich. Let’s call them fillingists. This argument is so prevalent amongst hot-dog-sandwich believers that it’s easier to look at those who don’t fall into that camp.
No reason cited: Nicholas Sparks
Strength in numbers: Randall Park, who believes that sandwich and sandwich-adjacent dishes will get lonely without each other
Devil’s advocate: Ben Schwartz, who didn’t exactly answer the question and instead just said that if a hamburger is a sandwich, then a hot dog is as well, but declined to say whether or not a hamburger is a sandwich
The fillingest argument was perhaps made most clearly by Peter Sagal. A brief excerpt:
The primary objection to this obvious truth in regard to the hot dog is first, the nature of the meat (a coherent tube of protein, rather than the traditional filling) and the type of bread it’s served on, that is, a bun, a single piece of bread incompletely sliced through, so it retains its unitary nature. Still, we may deduce the hot dog’s essential sandwichness simply by changing any variable. Swap out the hot dog—also known as a frankfurter, or Frankfurt sausage—with an Italian sausage and you’ve got a sausage sandwich. Fill the same kind of bun with cold-cuts or marinated roast beef and you’ve got a “sub sandwich” or “Italian beef sandwich.” Thus, we see that any other combination of filling, including other sausages, in the same kind of bun is naturally a sandwich, and defenders of the “hot dog is not a sandwich” theory are left grasping for additional distinctions. Or, if you prefer, notionally replace the bun with two slices of white bread (which I often had to do back in the dark days of my youth when hot dogs came twelve to a pack and buns only eight). Obviously, the awkward sad thing you then hold in your hands is a sandwich.
29.41 percent of people (10 of 34, including 2 lean-yes), nearly all of them not-a-sandwichers, argue that a hot dog is not a sandwich because it’s not called a hot dog sandwich and/or listed in the sandwich section of a menu. Nathan Fillion is the Peter Sagal of taxonomists:
TO: Okay. If you took a hot dog, or a sausage of any kind, and cut it in half and put it in between two pieces of bread, is it then a sandwich?
NF: First of all, never do that. There are some things that should never happen, and I think that’s one of them.
NF: If someone said, “hey, we’re selling hot dogs here,” and there were sandwiches on the menu, I’d say, “that’s not a hot dog.” And vice verca. If they were selling sandwiches, and they also have hot dogs, it would in a special section of the menu. And I think we all know that, deep down.
We acknowledge the flaws of this particular data point. First, four people is a very small sample size. Second, not all participants were asked whether or not they ate meat. Third, not all acknowledged vegetarian participants were asked about whether or not a veggie dog is a sandwich. But we are in the business of jumping to conclusions, and so we state plainly that vegetarians are wafflers.
Four participants referenced their own vegetarianism, veganism, or abstention from hot dogs (Wil Wheaton, Guy Pearce, Edward James Olmos, Leslie Jordan). Of those four, half were categorized as giving unclear answers. Edward James Olmos said that a hot dog is not a sand-wich, but also said that a veggie dog is a sandwich, so who knows what’s going on there.
And then there’s Leslie Jordan, our sole abstention, who had no answer, but a lot to say:
LJ: Someone else asked me that! Who would have asked me that?! Is a hot dog a sandwich? I don’t know. I read that book, I don’t eat hot dogs. You know that book? That book you had to read in high school about the food industry in the ’20s? What was it called? Oh, I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it, what was it called?
TO: The Jungle?
LJ: I think so! I think that was it! Ugh. Anyway, I can’t eat hot dogs.
TO: So it doesn’t matter if it’s a sandwich, it’s just a non-entity?
LJ: Someone told me one time... [a pause, then quietly] It’s just the butthole and the lips. [huge laugh]
LJ: [still laughing] Of the cow! And that’s all! And when you chew it, that’s what you taste!
The 2.94 percent
Each of these answers was provided 2.94 percent of the time (because one person is 2.94 percent of 34 people):
Kristen Schaal: The specificity of the bread means it is not a sandwich.
Meredith Vieira: Not a sandwich, because the question itself is an insult to hot dogs.
Guy Pearce: The bread quality disqualifies a hot dog from being a sandwich (because a bun is not a nice multigrain).