What’s the difference between a burger and a sandwich?
A burger could be considered a type of sandwich since it contains fillings between two bread-like buns, but not all sandwiches are burgers.
Explore how burgers are similar to many sandwiches and yet still so unique they deserve their own category.
Is a Hamburger Considered a Sandwich?
There’s no official governing body for food terms, so the decision to consider a hamburger a sandwich is mostly a personal one. However, there is a historical precedent for following this practice. At their inception in the 1890s, the earliest recorded notations for hamburgers almost always listed them as a “hamburger sandwich” or “Hamburg sandwich,” which indicates that the early creators of these dishes considered them another type of sandwich. While today’s modern hamburgers are a sandwich class all their own, most people still consider them a part of the larger category. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should expect to find a sandwich restaurant serving hamburgers. Yet most burger restaurants serve other sandwiches, even if they’re “hamburger style,” by being served on a bun rather than sliced bread.
What’s the Definition of a Sandwich?
The term sandwich is far broader than a burger and encompasses almost every dish involving two pieces of bread and a filling. Sandwiches can be sweet or savory, simple or complex. Some of the most popular broad sub-categories of sandwiches include:
- Hard roll sandwiches, which feature hard buns or rolls
- Soft bun sandwiches, including hamburgers and related dishes like fried chicken and fish sandwiches
- Hero, submarine, grinder sandwiches, which are all closely related and longer than other types
- Sliced bread sandwiches, including the club sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, and cucumber tea sandwich
- Kebabs, doner, and gyros, a related group of sliced meat and flatbread dishes some people consider sandwiches.
Burger vs. Sandwich: How Do Burgers Differ From Sandwiches?
The very first hamburger sandwiches were served tartare, which means they contained raw ground meat. Soon cooks began serving them cooked to prevent foodborne illnesses, which were still poorly understood in the early 1900s. Since then, burgers have always contained a patty of either cooked meat or a meat substitute, while a sandwich can be filled with practically anything. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich may seem very different from a burger, but they’re still more related than either food is to a bowl of soup. Sandwiches are found in practically every culture now due to the exchange of different dishes. While hamburgers are also widespread, they’re not quite as ubiquitous as sandwiches just yet. Hamburgers generally contain one or more beef patties, but other common fillings for modern variations include:
- Ground pork, chicken, turkey, or venison to take the place of the beef
- Cooked salmon or tuna mixed with binders and cooked a second time
- Meat-free mixtures based on beans, chickpeas, mushrooms, and other ingredients
- Fried green tomatoes or other deep-friend vegetables to serve as the patty
- A whole chicken breast deep or pan-friend served on a bun
- A mix of meat like beef or pork with a filler or cornmeal or ground soybeans, which is specifically known as a slugburger.
Of course, this just refers to differences in the patty of the burger itself. Most burgers feature many other toppings and fillings, such as cheese, condiments, vegetables like lettuce and tomato, and various pickled or fried foods. While many toppings used on burgers are also used as sandwich fillings separately, they’re not always found in the same combinations.
Burger Bun Variations
While we’ve stated that sandwiches can feature any type of bread while burgers use buns, that’s not strictly true. Many innovators chefs have experimented with replacing the usual soft bun with all sorts of interesting carbs. It’s possible to find burgers tucked into split glazed donuts, bagels, flatbreads, or even slices of cooked vegetables like potato and eggplant. People avoiding carbohydrates often eat burgers without any buns, which certainly stretches the dish’s interpretation as a sandwich. Without a bun, a burger is recognizable if it has a cooked patty as a center and a few toppings to complete it. Sloppers are a type of burger served on a plate and covered with chili that may look like they have no bun, but there’s usually a grilled bun bottom tucked in there at least to help soak up all the tasty toppings.
The Patty Melt: Where Burgers and Sandwiches Overlap the Most
If there’s any burger today that deserves the title of sandwich, it’s the patty melt. Most recipes called for cooking a hamburger patty as you would typically, usually with cheese and mushrooms on top, then tucking it into a set of toasted slices of bread instead of a bun. Some variations involve chopping the patty after it cooks so it fits more easily in the sliced bread. Most restaurants serving patty melts will list them as sandwiches, even if they also serve burgers. The melt part of the name refers to the cheese used to smother the patty, so it’s rarely removed from the equation without altering the dish’s identity.
Whether you love hamburgers, prefer other types of sandwiches, or want to create your very own new dish, now you’re better equipped to understand the burger vs. sandwich debate. It’s up to you whether to consider a hamburger a sandwich or not, but there’s sound historical evidence that the creators of this dish certainly thought it was one. No matter what you call it, try some new toppings for your hamburger inspired by some of your favorite sandwiches. You might just come up with the next hit flavor combination.