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What Defines a Sandwich? – 7 Different Types of Sandwiches

What Defines a Sandwich? – 7 Different Types of Sandwiches

There is a lot of debate over just what classifies something as a sandwich. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary the definition of sandwich is:

  • a: two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between
  • b: one slice of bread covered with food

With that definition, there is really only two types of sandwiches; a plain old regular sandwich or an open faced sandwich. And yet according to the Oxford Encyclopedia, “During the 1990s, wraps became a popular new form of sandwich in the United States.” So is a wrap a sandwich? What about a hotdog? And why does it matter? Earn your Sandwich badge to learn more about this tasty food. Other badges you may wish to earn alongside include badges like Baking (bake your own bread!), Garnishes or Food Presentation (make sure your sandwiches are pretty!), Food Safety, or even Culture by Country to see the role sandwiches play in other cultures.

Believe it or not, if you are in the food industry, what classifies as a sandwich has real world legal implications. In some states sandwiches are taxed in certain ways. There are food safety rules that apply to sandwiches as well. And even zoning and contractual agreements based on what is, or is not, a sandwich. Open-faced meat sandwiches, where the ratio of meat to bread and other ingredients is more than half, are regulated by the USDA. But closed sandwiches, with two slices of bread, are regulated by the FDA because the ratio of meat to other ingredients is less than 50 percent. n Confusing right?


According to the Merriam Webster dictionary definition, a quesadilla would be considered a sandwich. (At least it does if you classify a tortilla as bread which is an entire debate in and of itself.) But according to Justice Jeffrey A. Locke of the Worcester County Superior Court in Massachusetts, “The New Webster Third International Dictionary describes a ‘sandwich’ as ‘two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them,’” he said. “Under this definition and as dictated by common sense, this court finds that the term ‘sandwich’ is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.”

The California tax code references “the sale of hot dog and hamburger sandwiches” which clearly classifies a hotdog as a sandwich for tax purposes. Yet the the National Hotdog and Sausage council disagrees.

hot dog

So what really classifies something as a sandwich? Personally, I like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s interpretation. When asked whether a hot dog is a sandwich while appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Ginsburg responded by asking for Colbert’s definition of sandwich before making a ruling. Her summation? A hot dog fits Colbert’s definition of a sandwich, and therefore can be considered one. In other words, what classifies as a sandwich completely depends on your interpretation of the word.

Below are seven different types of sandwiches that are generally accepted under the definition of “sandwich” for most people in the United States.

ham sandwich

7 Different Types of Sandwich

1. Regular, plain old sandwich

First of course is the regular sandwich that most people envision when they hear the word “sandwich.” Two slices of bread with some sort of filling in the middle. Traditional sandwiches that come to mind are things like peanut butter and jelly, bologna and cheese, or a ham and swiss on rye.

open faced sandwiches

2. Open Face

An open face sandwich fulfills the second definition of the word “sandwich” which is one slice of bread covered in food. Foods like eggs benedict or avocado toast would both be considered open faced sandwiches as would sweeter sandwiches like cream cheese and strawberries on a slice of bread or toast.

wrap sandwich

3. Wrap

While the wrap is up for debate, you will normally see it in the sandwich sections of most restaurant menus and most government entities consider a wrap a sandwich. A wrap is made by placing your fillings inside of a tortilla and “wrapping” the tortilla around it like they do for a Mexican burrito. According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, even burritos are classified as a sandwich since they are a “wrap.”

pinwheel sandwich

4. Pinwheel

Similar to wrap, pinwheel sandwiches also usually use tortillas as their bread base though other breads or doughs can also be used. Unlike a wrap, a pinwheel sandwich lays a thin layer of filling over the entire tortilla/bread. The tortilla is then rolled into a tight tube and sliced into rounds. When laid flat, these rounds resemble a pinwheel which is where they get their name.

grilled sandwich

5. Grilled

Technically grilled sandwiches are still just regular sandwiches with a filling between two slices of bread and then grilled. They deserve their own category however due to the way they are cooked. If you have ever eaten a cold cheese sandwich on bread and a grilled cheese with oozing goodness, you will understand the difference. A “cheese sandwich” brings to mind cold cheese between two slices of fresh bread. A “grilled cheese sandwich” brings to mind ooey gooey lusciousness between two slices of fried bread. It is like comparing apples to oranges. The ingredients might be the same, but the sandwiches are very different.

stacked sandwich

6. Stacked or Double Decker

The definition of a sandwich is two “or more” pieces of bread with filling between. This is where the “or more” comes in. Classic sandwiches like the double decker club sandwich or a the multi-layer Dagwood sandwich fall into this category. Even your Big Mac from McDonald’s is a double decker sandwich with the third bun slipped in the middle.

ice cream sandwich

7. Anything that is “sandwiched” together to be eaten

Finally, I’ve included anything that is not technically a sandwich as defined, but that people still refer to as sandwiches. These would include things like sandwich cookies, ice cream sandwiches, or paleo sandwiches where the bread is replaced with lettuce or cauliflower patties. These items are still “sandwiched” together and so they fall under the verb definition of the word rather than the noun.

Want to learn more about sandwiches? Why not earn your Sandwich badge? You can also use our Sandwich Unit Study and Badge resource blog post to learn more about this delicious and portable way of preparing food.

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