Hoagies vs. Grinders vs. Sub(marine) Sandwiches

HoagieHP.jpg
Photo by Will Marlow
What do you call this sandwich?
Hoagies. Grinders. Subs. Cursory online research will tell you that each of these names has a distinct origin, with "hoagie" referring to a type of sandwich that was popular among Italian workers on Hog Island in Pennsylvania (get it?); "grinder" a slang term for dockworkers who were fans of a similarly structured sandwich; and the "sub" being a broad descriptor for any long, spherical sandwich that resembles a submarine.

Okay, I buy that different nomenclature emerged for what is essentially the same sandwich: a longish roll filled with meats, some roughage (lettuce, tomato, onions, etc.), dressings and perhaps some cheese. Regional dialects certainly give rise to multiple referents for one object (see the famous woodlouse example).

But at least from my own experience, I think there are nuances that distinguish these three sandwiches, or at least perpetuate the existence of different names. Let's take a look:

Hoagie: More strongly associated with Italian-American culture, and in my observation used only to refer to sandwiches containing cold cuts such as ham, salami, turkey, etc. Also, when people use the term "hoagie," they most often seem to be referring to a sandwich that is at least 12 inches in length, if not longer (aka, the "party hoagie").

Grinder: I have never ever heard anyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line mention a "grinder" unless the word "nutmeg" immediately preceded it. Okay, well, that's an exaggeration, but I seriously cannot recall the last time I heard that word in Texas. The only time, in fact, I regularly encounter "grinder" is in New York and New Jersey, where it's used more often to describe a spherical sandwich that is toasted and/or contains hot ingredients such as meatballs, sliced chicken, etc.

Sub: "Sub" is pretty much ubiquitous nationwide (thanks, perhaps, to Subway), though it seems the vaguest of the three terms. There are hot subs and cold subs, subs with cold cuts (turkey), subs with hot meats (chicken parmesan), subs that are short, subs that are long.

Some of you may also wonder why the po-boy and the gyro (hero) are not included in this meditation on sandwiches. The short answer is that I see both as more readily distinguished by their distinctive components and less tenuous links to different ethnic groups.

So, perhaps all grinders are subs but not all subs are grinders? Are hoagies and subs basically interchangeable? Readers, please weigh in on what if anything differentiates these sandwiches and how you use these terms.


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18 comments
Rhonda Hare
Rhonda Hare

~ "Hoagies & Grinders, Hoagies & Grinders, Navy beans, Navy beans, Meatloaf sandwich,.. Sloppy Joe, Slop Sloppy Joe"

Larry Chiri
Larry Chiri

and poboys, you can't forget poboys.

jsoleary
jsoleary

Indeed, johnnybench, you should apologize for the unforgivable way in which your pesky questions have sullied this comment thread.

Har :-)

No, I write "gryo" when I mean "hero" since that is, I think, the correct pronunciation. A "GY-ro" or "Ji-ro" sounds to me like something I buy at Lowe's.

Alexander_Bites
Alexander_Bites

I had a girlfriend a while back who was from New York. She always touted the praises of a sandwish called a "spiedie". The way she explained you could get either a beef or chicken spiedie. 

TA

Timp
Timp

'long spherical' - cylindrical is the word you want there... As for your dismissal of po-boys from the discussion because of their 'distinctive components', the only truly distinctive aspect of a po-boy is the bread. After that, pretty much anything goes.

jeeterbug
jeeterbug

star pizza has a "pizza grinder" on their sandwich menu

Becky Ardell Downs
Becky Ardell Downs

more importantly, where can you get a great Philly hoagie in Houston?

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

What are the distinctive components of a gyro?  It seems like any typical deli sandwich when you pick one up from a bodega/deli in New York.

jsoleary
jsoleary

@Timp Thanks, Tim. You know as I was writing I knew "long spherical" wasn't quite right. But as to your second point, I think you are being too generous as I feel like there HAVE to be some ingredients that off off-limits to the po-boy...say veal parm?

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

@jsoleary @johnnybench Ah.  That type of gyro (which I always thought was pronounced "year-o").  I confused your reference with a hero sandwich, which is sold in New York City corner stores and is virtually indistinguishable from a grinder or hoagie or sub.  Sorry for mucking things up any further!

golferslk230
golferslk230

@johnnybench @jsoleary In Chicago, many years ago, at the corner of Addison and Western, down the street from Wrigley Field, there was a hero sandwich store that sold the sub/grinder/etc cold cut sandwich which is totally different from the gyro sandwich that was on the menu in Greek restaurants.  I think Chicago Greek cuisine originated the gyros.

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