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What is a Hoagie? Unveiling the Delicious Secrets of a Classic Sandwich

Editorial Team
Updated May 16, 2024
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What is a Hoagie?

When traversing the diverse culinary landscape of the United States, one might encounter a beloved staple: the hoagie. A survey by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) revealed that sandwiches, including hoagies, are purchased by 60% of consumers at least once a week). 

This regional favorite is a generous assembly of cold cuts and cheese nestled in a long, crusty bun akin to a French baguette. The culinary delight goes by many names—grinder, hero, submarine, or torpedo. In the Pennsylvania/New York region, the term 'hoagie' is particularly prevalent. While the name may vary, what is a hoagie remains a question of local vernacular rather than ingredients.

There are several different meat-and-cheese combinations generally offered in a hoagie shop, but the two most common types are American and Italian-style. An American-style sandwich often contains common luncheon meats such as bologna, ham, and salami. The Italian-style version usually omits the bologna and includes a spicier Capicola ham along with salami and a mild white cheese. Some sandwich makers scoop out a portion of the bun to accommodate all of the meats, cheese, and condiments. The removed bread may be placed back on the plate, along with the ends of the sliced roll.

A distinctive feature of the traditional hoagie is an abundance of condiments. Mounds of freshly-shredded lettuce may be added, along with thin slivers of onions, bell peppers, Greek banana peppers, and tomatoes. A sandwich is often dressed with a generous drizzle of oil and vinegar or an oil-based Italian sandwich dressing. A traditional sub is usually served cold, wrapped tightly in butcher paper for easier carrying.

There are several theories surrounding the origin of the hoagie, all of which center around Philadelphia during the late 19th century. One theory suggests that sandwich makers in Philadelphia created an overstuffed and portable sandwich that became very popular with men who worked at Hog Island, a large shipyard near Philadelphia. These large sandwiches were called "hoggies," both for their size and their association with Hog Island workers. Eventually, the largely immigrant population would corrupt the name into "hoagies."

Another theory also has its roots in Philadelphia's substantial immigrant population. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were street vendors who offered a wide range of consumables, from ice cream to vegetables to sandwiches. These vendors became known as "hokey-pokey men," and their goods were often called "hokeys." As the popularity of the sandwiches grew, name shifted to what it's known as now.

Whatever the true story of the sandwich's origin may be, it remains popular all across the United States. Many sandwich shops now use the name interchangeably with submarine or hero, although some purists might argue that a true hoagie is always served cold. The custom-baked bread may still be warm from the oven, but the meat and condiments should remain cool.

The popularity of hoagies produced in local sandwich shops in the Pennsylvania and New York area can lead to the formation of huge lines around the buildings. Traditional shops often contract with a local bakery to provide the unique bread for their sandwiches, and once that supply is exhausted, the day is over for store owners and customers alike.

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By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

Discussion Comments

By anon305312 — On Nov 25, 2012

The hoagie is actually unique and got its name from Hog Island ship workers, as noted above.

As for the sandwich itself, most folks not in the Philly area do not call it a hoagie ("sub" or "hero") and anywhere from central Jersey up to New York, but the reality is that Philly folks will tell you that it does all start with the bread, and quite simply, the Philadelphia area has the best rolls that have taste and texture. This is why a lot of great sandwiches come from Philly including roast beef, roast pork / broccoli rabe / sharp provolone, tripe, steaks, cutlets, etc.

By SZapper — On Sep 04, 2012

It's interesting that the word "hoagie" has two possible origins. I think it's also kind of funny that in both stories, the sandwiches weren't originally called hoagies.

The first theory says the sandwiches were first called "hoggies" after men that worked on Hog Island and the second story has them called "hokeys" after the "hokey-pokey men" who worked as street vendors.

I can kind of see how either of those words could become "hoagie" if said enough times, so who knows which story of the origin of the word is really true?

By KaBoom — On Sep 04, 2012

As far as I know, I've never eaten a sandwich with some of the bread scooped out of the roll. I think that actually sounds like a good idea though. I'd rather eat all the delicious stuff inside the sandwich instead of eating an overabundance of bread.

By Pharoah — On Sep 03, 2012

I live on the East Coast (not in Philly or New York though), and we don't call sandwiches hoagies around here. Even a turkey sandwich similar to what the article describes (cold, lots of condiments) wouldn't be called a turkey hoagie around here. I would probably refer to something like that as a turkey sub.

Regional differences regarding food lingo are so interesting. The exact same thing can be referred to in several different ways. For example, most people in the Midwest refer to soda as pop, but they mean the same thing we do when we say soda.

By eidetic — On Sep 03, 2012

@anon38191 - I'm not from Philadelphia, but it was always my understanding that the traditional way to serve a Philly cheese steak sub was with cheez whiz. However, I can see how this would be gross on a hoagie, since they are supposed to be served cold.

Un-melted cheez whiz on a sandwich sounds positively disgusting.

By anon285550 — On Aug 16, 2012

For your information, it's not just a Philly/NY thing. Jersey people call them hoagies too.

By anon102756 — On Aug 09, 2010

The secret to Philadelphia Hoagies and cheese steaks is the roll. If you start with one that you need to scoop out, you are using the wrong roll! Hoagie or Hogie is a shortened version of Hog Island ship yard where they were first sold by a vendor who made them at home to sell to the workers at the shipyard.

By anon91192 — On Jun 20, 2010

Scooped out bread is called "Inside out" and is used for cheese steaks mostly. And if you want true awesomeness get bread from the Sarcone bakery in the Italian market, some delis do get bread from there every day, (closed monday).

As far as origin goes I saw a plaque in the Navy Shipyard (in a civilian operated food place) that indicates the Hog Island sandwich theory, but it may have been a mix of both, really.

By anon38191 — On Jul 24, 2009

Take it from a true south phillian; the hoagie does not and will never have bologna as an ingredient! That must be a poor person's version of a hoagie. Removing the bread from center is done to eliminate the breadiness taste when the maker does not put enough meat on the sandwich. And, like bologna, vinegar is never an ingredient...and never is Cheez Whiz. Provolone all the way!

By anon21979 — On Nov 25, 2008

I've seen the sliced end and scooped out insides, usually in chains. Subway used to do something like this, for instance. Quiznos still cuts the ends off, dependent on what size sandwich you order, but never have I gone into a hoagie shop and seen this done.

As for bologna on a hoagie, try Wawa - they let you put anything on it, no matter how bizarre the final result. But they use Amoroso rolls and it quite simply doesn't get better than Amoroso =]

By anon16271 — On Aug 02, 2008

first of all never in my life have I ever seen a hoagie with bologna on it. also never heard of the scooped bread and sliced end thing. lastly, a true hoagie never gets vinegar.

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