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Though he probably was not the first to think of putting meat or fish between slices of bread for convenient eating, John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) was undoubtedly the inspiration for the word “sandwich” as it is used today. As the story goes, either at his desk or possibly at a gambling table, the Earl was too busy to dine out and so asked for some meat between two slices of bread; his name eventually became associated with the dish.

Sandwiches are extremely popular in the United States, but there is perhaps a greater connection between the Earl and the USA than the mere use of his name. The Earl was the British First Lord of the Admiralty during the American Revolution of 1775 to 1783. Either through his negligence, or through an active campaign to undermine his political enemies, he is sometimes credited with being instrumental in making sure the British lost the war with the Americans, leading to American independence. One way or another, Americans owe the Earl a great deal.

Americans have traditionally enjoyed their sandwiches between two slices of bread. White bread, baked in rectangular loaves that are suitable for making even slices, is the most popular for a plain sandwich. Heartier sandwiches are made using thick oblong rolls, roughly similar to what is called “Italian bread” in the United States or the French baguette, of various lengths. Local terms for these large sandwiches vary as to region: heroes or wedges in the New York City area, hoagies in Philadelphia, grinders in New England, poor boys (or po’ boys) in New Orleans, torpedoes and bombers in New Jersey, and submarine sandwiches or subs all over the country (due to the roll’s similarity in appearance to a submarine).

In recent years, wraps, based either on Mexican tortillas or forms of thin Middle-Eastern breads, have become popular sandwich choices. Sandwiches are also sometimes available in hollowed out pita bread. Other bread alternatives include English muffins, various types of soft and kaiser rolls, and bagels.

Major sandwich shop chains in the United States include Subway, Quizno’s, Blimpie, Schlotzsky’s Deli, Panera Bread, D’Angelo Sandwich Shops, Duke Sandwich Company, Pita Pit, House of Bread, Jimmy John’s, Charley’s, Mr. Sub, Port of Subs, and Captain Harvey’s Submarines.

While American sandwiches can include virtually any filling or combination, certain types of sandwiches are particularly popular or even have iconic significance in American culture:

  • The Hamburger Sandwich: one of America’s favorite dishes, typically served on a soft bun. Cheeseburgers are a popular variation.
  • The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, always on white bread, is a staple of American childhood.
  • The Tuna Salad Sandwich: crushed canned white tuna mixed with mayonnaise, celery and flavorings. Egg Salad and Chicken Salad sandwiches are similar.
  • The Ham and Cheese Sandwich: a metaphor for a simple, no-nonsense meal.
  • The Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich (BLT), usually garnished with mayonnaise, on white bread or toast.
  • The Club Sandwich, essentially a “triple decker” BLT with the third deck filled with sliced turkey. Typically on white toast, cut in quarters, with each quarter secured with a decorative toothpick.
  • The Grilled Cheese Sandwich: with or without addition of bacon or tomato, the sandwich is grilled until the cheese melts and the bread takes on a delicious browned edge; white bread facilitates this process but rye bread may be used.
  • The Deli Sandwich: for purists, always on rye bread, containing pastrami, roast beef, sliced turkey, corned beef, or other delicatessen meats, served with a pickle.
  • The Philadelphia Cheesesteak: sliced steak and onions on a submarine roll with melted cheese.
  • The Italian Submarine: Italian salami or ham (capicola or prosciutto), bologna or mortadella, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar. Many local terminologies for this filling sandwich exist in various cities.
  • The Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich fills a rectangular chewy Italian bread with thinly sliced roasted beef sirloin; the sandwich is dipped in a broth before serving and hence takes some skill to eat.
  • The Chicago Maxwell Street Polish Sandwich is a grilled Polish sausage (kielbasa) served on a bun with mustard and grilled onions.
  • The Indiana Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and mustard.
  • The Muffuletta (or Muffaletta) Sandwich. A New Orleans favorite, this sandwich starts with a large round (10”) chewy flavorful Italian-style roll called the Muffuletta. The sandwich contains various Italian meats (mortadella, ham capicola, Genoa salami), sliced provolone cheese, and invariably is topped with a distinctive garlic-flavored olive salad.
  • The Reuben Sandwich: sliced rye bread smeared with Russian or Thousand Island salad dressing is topped with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese and then toasted.
  • The Monte Cristo Sandwich. A ham, chicken and Swiss cheese sandwich dipped in beaten egg and fried, often with the crusts cut off for elegant presentation.
  • The Barbecue Sandwich: Barbecued shredded pork or beef on a hamburger bun, topped with barbecue sauce.
  • The Steak Sandwich.
  • The Cuban Sandwich: roast pork, ham, salami, cheese and pickle on toasted pressed Cuban bread, associated with Miami, Florida. Similar in concept to panini.
  • Panini: Becoming increasingly popular, these are sandwiches, often incorporating cheese and using forms of Italian bread, that have been pressed flat in a hot panini grill.
  • Gyro Sandwich: Found in American Greek restaurants, the Gyro (pronounced “yi-ro”), is a large hollowed out pita bread filled with rotisserie-cooked ground lamb (or sometimes minced beef), shredded lettuce or other vegetables, and garnished with a yogurt-based sauce called tzatziki.
  • Sloppy Joe: A hamburger bun over which a simple semi-liquid spiced ground meat mixture is slopped. The mixture looks somewhat chili, but is only slightly spicy.
  • The Runza Sandwich is treasured throughout Nebraska. Brought to the region by German-speaking immigrants from Russia, the Runza (also called the Bierock in neighboring Kansas) is made from baked yeast dough that completely encases a filling of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, with onions. Nebraska Runzas are usually rectangular, Kansas Bierocks round. These beloved sandwiches are relatives of Russian pirozhki.
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Not a real sandwich, but rather a cultural reference. Comic character Dagwood Bumstead is often portrayed humorously as creating sandwiches so immense, with dozens of layers of meats, cheeses, and condiments, that no human could actually eat them (except, perhaps, in America.) The Dagwood Sandwich was first drawn in 1936 and is still being used in the “Blondie” comic strip today.

Are Mexican burritos sandwiches? Burritos are bean, meat or chicken wraps made from soft flour tortillas. In November 2006, a Worcester, Massachusetts judge ruled that they are not in deciding that a sandwich shop’s exclusivity clause with its shopping center landlord did not prevent the landlord from renting to a Mexican-themed eatery. Public opinion falls on both sides of this issue.