And now for something truly controversial

I’m not as open-minded as I thought. I was fine with everything on this chart, but my mind rebelled at “A Pop-Tart is a sandwich”.

My working definition is that a sandwich is some kind of filling wrapped in a bread so that you can hold it in your hand, which should accommodate a Pop-Tart…but it is making me question my understanding.

Persuade me, yes or no.


  1. says

    A Pop-Tart is not a sandwich. It barely qualifies as a pastry. Sandwich: stuff between two slices of bread. The other stuff has different names for a reason.

  2. robro says

    …some kind of filling wrapped in a bread…

    So where does that leave the open faced sandwich*? Is it not a sandwich because it’s not “wrapped” in the bread. And if you allow the open faced sandwich to be classified as a sandwich, does that mean pizza is a sandwich?

    * Wikipedia notes this is also known as an open sandwich, open face sandwich, bread baser, bread platter, or tartine.

  3. ModZero says

    None of the presented is a sandwich; a sandwich is one (1) piece of bread, butter and toppings, which allow a reasonable variety, but definitely no icing. Anything with two pieces of bread is two sandwiches smashed together for travel, and unacceptable when proper seating arrangements and food preparation facilities are available. Anything *wrapped* in bread is a wrap, not a sandwich.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    robro @3:

    So where does that leave the open faced sandwich*?

    In a Zen kōan, like one hand clapping.

  5. ModZero says

    American law saying something is right is only further evidence that the something is wrong.

  6. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Just my opinion, but if the wrapping material is a single piece, like a tortilla or lefse or pita bread, it’s not a sandwich. If it’s two pieces of bread that aren’t quite separated completely, like a hot dog or a sub, it’s still a sandwich. If the filling is cooked inside a continuous coating like a Pop-Tart, it’s not a sandwich, it’s an empanada–or maybe a hum bow.

    Now for the real question: If the surrounding material is not starchy, like that KFC…thing…with a chicken filet between two more chicken filets–is that a sandwich?

  7. says

    This chart is a red herring. A more important issue regarding sandwiches is its frequent pronunciation as “samwich”.

    Also, I would argue that not only is a pop-tart not a sandwich, it’s not even “barely … a pastry”. I refer to things like that as “manufactured peripheral food items”. They’re not food so much as they hang around with food.

  8. komarov says

    All I know is that the chip thingie is a waste of perfectly good chips and bread.

  9. says

    So where does that leave the open faced sandwich*?

    It’s only called an “open faced sandwich” because English doesn’t have a proper word for smørrebrød. Smørrebrød is not a sandwich.

  10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    My present sammich is one piece of multigrain bread with meat, cheese, and condiments, cut in two and folded over. I don’t see a pop tart as a sammich. A certain total thickness is required for a sammich.

  11. says

    Sorry, can’t help. I’m British; anything beyond a choice of white or brown bread is Foreign, Exotic, and probably Decadent.*

    (And the sound of one hand clapping is a very quiet “whoosh.”)

    *Usually defined as either “I don’t know what’s wrong with it but I want to define it as bad,” or “You need at least ten teeth to eat it.”

  12. taraskan says

    At least poptartists have a philosophy. Those true neutrals are infidels.

  13. Wharrrrrrgarbl says

    The line of reasoning that accords best with my biases (always a great way to decide what’s right and wrong :P), is that there are criteria for sandwichiness (think like the Duke criteria for bacterial endocarditis, or entries in the International Classification of Headache Disorders), and you don’t have to meat all of them, but the fewer you meat, the shakier your case for object X being a sandwich is. So a sample description would be something like,

    A sandwich is an edible object comprised of at least two distinct foods meating 5 of the 6 following criteria:
    – The exterior is starchy
    – The exterior consists of two pieces
    – The interior is savory
    – The interior is not primarily starchy
    – Any sauces or condiments are applied to the interior, not the exterior
    – The object is not better described by another term

    This is in some ways built intentionally to exclude hot dogs, but include things like ice cream sandwiches and submarine sandwiches. In this classification scheme, hot dogs are a subset of sausage rolls, tacos and burritos are not sandwiches because they are their own distinct foodstuffs, etc. It does presuppose a relatively rigorous description of other food terms to make the last criterion work.

    Anyway, not sure how many other people would adopt this specific definition of sandwiches, but I do like these kinds of schemes when trying to fit human built categories to real world phenomena.

  14. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Wharrrrrrgarbl @ 19;

    I agree with most of your “biases” except… If the two halves of your hot dog bun disarticulate (which happens to me at least half the time) does it suddenly become a sandwich, while it wasn’t one before? Seems an impractical definition.

  15. Wharrrrrrgarbl says

    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge@20 It’s a broken hot dog. Would you call a cookie broken in half two cookies? No, it’s two half cookies. I think intent matters, in this case.

  16. johnhodges says

    This sort of thing is fun, like play-fighting, but hey, it’s just about what words we use to describe things, or classify them. May I suggest a term used by Larry Niven in his “Known Space” stories, “handmeal”. Everything on the chart would qualify as a handmeal, though some would be more nutritious than others… the sweet items would be more dessert than meal. An open-face sandwich would not be a handmeal, the gravy would make it too messy. Pizza would barely qualify as a handmeal, because there are some ways to pick up a slice without spilling any of the topping. A Calzone would much better qualify. At any rate, any layered item, with distinct layers of protein, carbohydrate, fibrous vegetables, sauce/flavoring, or whatever, in some sort of edible wrapping that makes it neat and clean to eat with a hand or two, would qualify as a handmeal.

  17. Ed Seedhouse says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls@13
    ‘my present sammich is one piece of multigrain bread with meat, cheese, and condiments, cut in two…”

    Stop right there. When you cut it in two it is then, ipso facto, two pieces of bread.

    Mind you, as you’re talking about sammiches instead of sandwiches, I suppose you can make your own rules, orthagonal to sandwichiness.

  18. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    ES #23, you have a point. It’s just the the size of one slice of the multigrain bread recommended by my internist is larger than one slice of my previous bread, and two full slices of the multigrain bread make too bready a sammich. Just trying to eat healthier.

  19. robro says

    PZ #26 — As a matter of fact, Oreo’s are known as a “sandwich cookie,” at least that’s one of several popular crossword puzzle clues.

  20. robro says

    LykeX @12 — Well, you say it’s not a sandwich, but Wikipedia says it is, as do a number of other articles about smørrebrød.

  21. daulnay says

    Sandwiches have the internal ingredients partially exposed. Burritos and pop-tarts don’t qualify.
    But is a hamburger a sandwich? We generally think of them as a separate category.

  22. blondeintokyo says

    Here in Japan, it’s definitely anarchy when it comes to “sandoichi”. Whipped cream with fruit on white bread, a bun filled with spaghetti, a bun filled with yakisoba – pretty anything you can imagine. On the other hand, we also get shrimp cutlet or pork cutlet with a tangy dark sauce, which are yummmmm!!

  23. jacksorensen2 says

    To be a sandwich, the “bread” has to be a separate standalone item, that still maintains its character outside the sandwich context, that you then put the other ingredients in, or between.

    You have to think about the context of making a sandwich – when in your kitchen, you have to be able to pull out the “bread” item as its own object, to put the other ingredients inside. This is why a pop tart isn’t a sandwich, any more than a jelly-stuffed donut or fried chicken or stuffed-crust pizza. You can’t pull out a pop tart shell out of the fridge and fill it with icing (or roast beef), same way you can’t pull out a hollow donut. So those aren’t sandwiches.

    If you could buy pop tart shells in a 12 pack at the supermarket, then maybe pop tarts would be sandwiches.

    A burrito passes this test because a tortilla is a standalone item (though I wouldn’t consider burritos or wraps to be sandwiches, they are at least arguable).

    A hot dog is not a sandwich simply because it’s an enumerated exception. There’s no principled difference between it and a meatball sub, but a meatball sub is definitely a sandwich.

  24. brianl says

    @26 It is a sandwich cookie.

    I think the issue with the Pop-Tart is that it’s sealed. Other than the all around closed edges, it’s a jam sandwich made with a sweet bread. But, since it’s at the anarchic fringe of both axes, I think it should be allowed:
    – A peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter is a sandwich.
    – A pastrami sandwich made with challah bread is a sandwich.
    – A Monte Christo with powdered sugar on top and dipped in jam is a sandwich.
    So yes, a Pop-Tart is a sandwich, especially if you break it in half at the center after it’s toasted as you should do.

  25. chigau (違う) says

    who decided that:
    ingredient / structure
    purist / neutral / rebel
    was the way to grid this?
    why are there only 2 dimensions?

  26. consciousness razor says

    Nobody — basically nobody, at least until now — calls a Pop-Tart a sandwich. That is what makes it a non-sandwich. That’s pretty much it. Insisting that there are properties inherent to sandwichness is probably not the way to go, or at least I don’t see how that could work reasonably well.

    There are many more people who’d consider a George Clooney and Brad Pitt sandwich. That’s not at all appealing to me, but people like me still understand just fine what that means and why the term is being used in that figurative way, so there’s no problem there.

    Is that also called a “three-way” and referred to in various other ways? Yes, of course it is. Is it a sandwich that isn’t literally food, in which you may or may not even be a participant? Yes.

    None of that matters. But that’s not to suggest total anarchy or nihilism or whatever. People use the word that way, often more as a relation than as a well-defined class of objects with common features (or ingredients, structural properties, etc.); but something like a Pop-Tart doesn’t fit well into either sort of scheme. No big deal. If asked to come up with sandwiches, you can bet that Pop-Tarts would basically never appear on the list, even for people who happen to like them or eat them often. In contrast, they will readily talk about something (or someone) being sandwiched between two or more things (or people), because that does fit in a fairly straightforward way into the basic concept.

  27. Zeppelin says

    I cut the Gordian knot by being opposed to sandwiching in general. I find it personally offensive that the English term for a single piece of bread with stuff on top (i.e. the natural order of things) seems to be “open-faced sandwich”.

  28. consciousness razor says

    This may offend you even more, but as far as I know, we simply have no word for it if it’s turned upside-down. I mean, it would be an open-faced sandwich if correctly oriented, but if not that’s just “some bread on top of some other food.”

    And if the bread is to the side of the other food, well… that’s obviously a very unstable situation. It could go either way, really. The whole natural order of things hangs in the balance and so forth, yet we seem to be rather indifferent about the matter.

  29. says

    @robro #28
    In Danish, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call smørrebrød a sandwich. Like, literally never. The words simply mean different things.

  30. ajbjasus says

    Pretty sure a sandwich should be two bits of bread …

    The modern sandwich is named after Lord Sandwich, but the exact circumstances of its invention and original use are still the subject of debate. A rumour in a contemporaneous travel book called Tour to London by Pierre-Jean Grosley formed the popular myth that bread and meat sustained Lord Sandwich at the gambling table.[21] Lord Sandwich was a very conversant gambler, the story goes, and he did not take the time to have a meal during his long hours playing at the card table. Consequently, he would ask his servants to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread, a habit well known among his gambling friends. Other people, according to this account, began to order “the same as Sandwich!”, and thus the “sandwich” was born.

    The chip butty is a wonderfull thing, but a fish butty – English style fried fish in a “sanger” with salt and vinegar might be my last supper dish.

  31. says

    Calling smørrebrød a sandwich is like calling a unicycle a “one-wheeled bicycle”*. It’s nonsense, because bicycle necessarily implies two wheels. Yes, people would probably know what you mean, but it’s muddled use of language.

  32. davidc1 says

    Daz@14 ,me British too ,i think i am very daring because i get Tiger loaf from Lidl.
    And for the rest of the world ,oop north in Salford ,Manchester they eat meat and potato pies between
    2 slices of bread ,

  33. jacksprocket says

    A sandwich can be two slices of bread with a filling, or one slice with the filling on top – NEVER on the bottom, that’s social death. A butty must be two slices and must not contain cucumber. There is a social hierarchy. Butty is northern, hard, grounded, gritty* and demotic. A sandwich is lower middle class, unless it is cut into four diagonally, in which case it is middle- middle- class. An open sandwich is avant garde, young, adventurous, transgressive, edgy. The upper middle class and the aristocracy may or may not eat sandwiches, I have no means of knowing. And things may be different in Yorkshire, I’m not an anthropologist.

    There is a further dynamic of butter vs margarine.

    Bread and dripping is NOT a butty, nor is a filled barm cake. They are just what they say. A taco is something on the motorbike.

    * You never take butties on a picnic, they are always sandwiches, preferably diagonally cut, what might the neighbours think. They inevitably attract & while in the picnic hamper.

  34. WrathPanda says


    oop north in Salford ,Manchester they eat meat and potato pies between 2 slices of bread

    That would be Wigan, rather than Salford. Behold! Witness the majesty of the Wigan Kebab! Also known as a Pie Barm, ‘cos Northern.

  35. cartomancer says

    There is only one true Sandwich – a small medieval port town in west Kent. All other uses of the term are second-order or worse derivatives.

    As far as John Montagu’s Gambling Snack goes, the rules are as follows:

    It must be at least two slices of bread. That is, normal, sensible, everyday flour-water-and-yeast bread from a traditional squarish loaf. None of your fancy baguettes or bagels or dough sculptures of Morten Harket or whatever nonsense you might want to try to get past the censors out of sheer devilment.

    The two slices must be parallel, with the contents inbetween. One slice of bread on its own does not constitute a sandwich, even if you fold it over. Charitably we might call that a sandwich that is still under construction. Three or more slices, however, can be used to make multi-level sandwiches provided all slices remain parallel with the same orientation. This is not advised, however, as it tends to ruin the important bread-to-filling ratio.

    Ideally the slices of bread will be stuck to the filling with butter. A generic yellow milk-based spread product that mimics butter can be substituted for butter, but definitely not anything else like mayonnaise, salad cream, tomato sauce or vaseline. Don’t even think about that. Stop it. No butter at all is just about acceptable if you are a miserable, shriveled old miser who hates fun.

    The filling, however, can be anything you like. It doesn’t even have to be edible, so you could even use strips of vulcanised rubber, tree bark or American cheese (if you can tell them apart, which you cannot). If it is not something sensible like ham, cheese, chicken, fish paste or salad, however, then the ghost John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, will glare disapprovingly at you for the next month and reduce the chances of success on all social interaction and gambling tests you take by 10%.

    So, to summarise, the essence of a sandwich is in the bread. That’s the definitive criterion. The filling has no restrictions. The chart fails to reflect this by lumping bread and filling together under one unhelpful category of “ingredients”. Of its nine examples only two are actually sandwiches – the BLT and the Chip Butty. The sub is a baguette. The hot dog is a sausage roll. The wrap is a wrap. The burrito is a wrap. The other three are puddings.

    That is all.

  36. ajbjasus says

    Anyone seen a Pret a Manger no bread sandwich ? This is haw to deal with such perversion:

  37. cartomancer says

    This should probably be emphasised more: the bread must be slices from a larger loaf, not baked individually as its own discrete entity. A ham roll is not a sandwich because rolls are not sliced from a loaf, they’re cooked individually.

  38. opposablethumbs says

    cartomancer, you brighten my day. But I’m sorry, the sub is a sandwich (a dubious one, but a sandwich nonetheless) on the grounds that baguette is still bread (it’s furrin bread, of course, and therefore to be decried, but definitely more breadish than not. Pitta, on the other hand, is in a category of its own and is probably covertly ideologically aligned with the wraps. One wonders whether leavening may be a determining factor here). For the rest you are quite correct, saving only that the hot dog is absolutely not a sausage roll – it comprises neither actual sausage nor roll (which in this case requires flaky pastry) and should more properly be filed under abomination.

  39. Holms says

    A lasagne consists of alternating layers of pastry and sauce/mince. I’m a bit childish when it comes to eating lasagne, because I eat it layer by layer, from top to bottom rather than working in from a side. If I eat a lasagne down to just two pastry layers and one sauce interstitial, is it suddenly a sandwich? I say to you NO! It is just a messily eaten lasagne. Two flat wheat based edibles bracketing – some might call this ‘sandwiching’ – another edible does not make that ensemble a sandwich. If you disagree with this, then you are saying a lasagne is a stack of sandwiches.

    You goddamn heathen.

  40. Derek Vandivere says

    Fifty comments in and nobody’s mentioned that this has been a raging controversy on the Judge John Hodgman podcast for over a year?

  41. says

    davidc1 #42:

    Daz@14 ,me British too ,i think i am very daring because i get Tiger loaf from Lidl.
    And for the rest of the world ,oop north in Salford ,Manchester they eat meat and potato pies between 2 slices of bread

    The tiger loaf is just about acceptable, though it should be kept from the sight of the neighbours, just in case they gossip about your strange citified ways.

    As for the Salfordites (and Mancunians in general); it’s all that rain. It seeps in through their ears and produces weird and perverted behaviour. Some have even been known to go as far as to make day-trips to Liverpool!

  42. cartomancer says

    opposablethumbs, #48

    Oh, I agree entirely that the hot dog is not a PROPER sausage roll. Particularly not when the “sausage” in it is one of those plasticky faux-saveloy things that looks like nothing so much as the orange rubber tubes that connected the bunsen burners to the gas taps at school. Having eaten one of them once, when there was nothing else left, I am not entirely convinced that this is not what they actually are.

    But, given that it is a sausage in a roll, I can’t very well deny it the appellation – we’d call a couple of sausages between two slices of bread a sausage sandwich, after all. Perhaps we need to capitalise Sausage Roll when we’re referring to what is obviously and uncontroversially a proper Sausage Roll – the sort you get from Gregs that leaves your hands greasy and flakes of pastry down your front – and save lower case sausage roll for the general category.

  43. WrathPanda says

    Daz: Uffish, yet slightly frabjous@51:

    As for the Salfordites (and Mancunians in general); it’s all that rain. It seeps in through their ears and produces weird and perverted behaviour. Some have even been known to go as far as to make day-trips to Liverpool!

    I, a proper Northerner who will fight anyone for the last ham and pease pudding on stottie in Greggs, also happen to live and work amongst this particular brand on NINO (Northerner in Name Only. Seriously, look at a map of England. They’re practically Midlanders!) I would just like to say that after 16 years of close observation of the natives, I cannot refute your statement.

  44. coragyps says

    In the distant past, a business named Sharnk’s Barbecue, at the corner of 5th Avenue and 4th Street in Columbus, Ohio, had a “rib sandwich” on the menu. Yes, a slice of white bread wrapped around a barbecued rib. I defy any of you to disqualify the essential sandwichity (sandwichness??) of that invention.

  45. Acolyte of Sagan says

    So a building can no longer be sandwiched between two others unless they are edible? Is the person sat in the centre of three seats on an aeroplane no longer sandwiched?

  46. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    a sandwich is a stack. simple as that. plywood is a sandwich of layers of wood glued together. an edible sandwich is layers of food slices glued together with whatever condiment (eg: ketchup, mustard, mayo, sarachi, …) one desires. Bread as the outer slices was the “plate” of the day Earl of Sandwich invented the practice.
    So I decree as “knower of all things”
    generically “sandwich” is any kind of “hand food” a “meal” that does not require utensils to be eaten. why must the definition be so rigid.

  47. says

    The Pop-Tart was a poor choice. For truly radical sandwich anarchy, the obvious choice is KFC when they replaced the bread with fried chicken.

  48. opposablethumbs says

    cartomancer #52,

    … the orange rubber tubes that connected the bunsen burners to the gas taps at school. Having eaten one of them once …

    I remember them well, though I refrained from eating any. You’re right – they do indeed seem to have been adopted as the model for hot dogs. I had never noticed the similarity, but now that you come to mention it … it cannot be unseen. ::shudder::

  49. Alverant says

    This is like trying to define a species. There are so many variants on the idea, where does it stop? Is a pop-tart a sandwich since it has two baked goods over a filling? If so, is a ravioli a sandwich since it’s structurally the same as a pop-tart?

    If you need to be able to see the filling, does that make a McDonald’s burger NOT a sandwich since the bun is so big it covers up what’s inside?

    Life doesn’t always fit into these nice little boxes. I can understand the need for a legal definition for the sake of advertising and to keep things from being so stretched out that it violates “common sense”, but I can’t get too worked up over what is and what isn’t a sandwich.

  50. says

    I’d like to help, but I’ve been confused about where I stand on this for a while, now. I would agree that a pop tart is not a sandwich (though I will say it qualifies, barely, as a pastry because I actually like pop tarts), though…

    I would have considered myself a True Neutral for a long time, but then I discovered something known as a “sushi sandwich”, or onigirazu. There are pictures at that link.

    In this case, the “bread” is sushi rice, with sushi ingredients (raw fish, avocado, other veggies, etc) sandwiched between the rice, and sometimes held together by nori.

    I definitely consider that a sandwich, while I still don’t consider pop tarts or burritos/tacos to be sandwiches.

    So where am I on the chart now?

    I also consider cookie ice cream “sandwiches” to be sandwiches, so…

  51. cartomancer says

    I think we have discovered another transatlantic cultural difference here.

    British people tend to think of the sandwich as a very specific and culturally significant food item. One of us invented the modern version, and it is named after him. We are proud of them as a quintessentially British thing. We take them to school for our lunch (you were marked either “school dinners” or “sandwiches” on the teacher’s register depending on whether you brought your own food or not). The vicar gets elegant little cucumber ones when he visits. The obvious cure for a hangover in Britain is a bacon butty. Other things get called a sandwich because they bear some similarity to an actual sandwich, but we all know that this is only a shorthand convention – they’re not really sandwiches in the same way Greenhouses aren’t really houses, Dandelion Clocks aren’t really clocks and Angel Hair Pasta isn’t really hair.

    Non-British people seem to have a much less emotional connection to the sandwich, and are happy to reduce it to some generic relational label about things in a parallel arrangement. The actual sandwich is an archetype to them, but other things are not merely reminiscent of sandwiches, like they are to us, they share fundamental qualities of the sandwich and participate in some of its sandwichness.

  52. Rich Woods says

    What cartomancer first said. BLTs and chip butties are sandwiches. Every other example can most charitably be described as an American abomination.

    You people should be ashamed of yourselves. Tut.

  53. davidc1 says

    Wrathpanda @44 Sorry about mixing Salford up with Wigan ,i saw the article in the Guardian .
    To go off topic ,my late father used to drink cabbage water ,any other strange dining habits out there ?.

  54. Dark Jaguar says

    Does the filling in your definition need to consist of at least some solid parts? By “solid” do you mean that it isn’t “filling” but rather something rigid like a tomato? If so, you can now exclude the pop-tart.

    If all else fails, label pop-tarts dwarf sandwiches.

  55. bargearse says

    Let’s say for the sake of argument a pop tart is a sandwich. What happens if I then take 2 pop tarts and insert a filling between them? Have my 2 sandwiches now magically become 1 sandwich?

  56. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin points out that if no cheese is involved, then it is something else. Possibly a walrus.

    If cheese and other stuff is involved, then it is still something else. Probably another walrus.

    Therefore, only unadulterated pure cheese is correct. Everything else, whilst possibly not a walrus, probably is a walrus.

  57. cjcolucci says

    I’m old enough to remember the phrase “hamburger sandwich,” and I got into it with someone on another blog when Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner discussed a case involving the issue of what is a sandwich and Judge Posner weighed in on the other side. My rule of thumb is that if it appeared on the Food Network’s show, The Sandwich King, it’s a sandwich. So hamburgers and hot dogs count.

  58. blf says

    There’s this weird thing found in France called sandwich américain. I ran the Frenchffft! of All Knowledge article though Generalisimo Google™ Translate and obtained this gem:

    The American sandwich in continental France

    In the north of France, the machine gun is called “American”, it has the same ingredients as the Belgian submachine gun (minced steaks, fricandelles, etc.).

    Today, this sandwich is also present everywhere in France. Indeed, in snacks and kebabs, one finds a variant of this American sandwich, or rather a mixture between Belgian submachine gun and American sandwich. Commonly called an “American”, it is composed of a special bread (bread with panini), minced meat, seasoned condiments (salad, tomatoes and onions), and garnished with fries on the top, covered sauce. It is popular in this type of fast food, and there are various variations of this same sandwich (simply the meat that changes, the sandwich being named by the meat): the köfte, the escalope, etc.

    A “a mixture between Belgian submachine gun and American sandwich” — sounds like something you’d find at an NRA or other nazi convention.