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What is a Po'Boy Sandwich?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A poor boy or po'boy sandwich is a type of submarine sandwich which is closely associated with New Orleans. Like other submarine sandwiches, a po'boy is made with a large oblong loaf of bread which does distinctly resemble a submarine. A variety of ingredients may be used in a po'boyh, which can be served “dressed” with garnishes or “undressed” and plain. Outside of New Orleans, a po-boy sandwich may be better known as a sub or hoagie, depending on regional dialect.

Purists believe that the sandwich must be made with New Orleans French bread to be termed a true po'boy sandwich. The French bread of New Orleans has a distinctive crackly crust and a dense, chewy exterior. The small variations in the bread are caused by local yeasts, which are collected when bakeries make a bread starter. The bread is typically purchased from bakeries, rather than being baked on site, since many sandwich stands have very simple facilities.

In many cases, a po-boy is made with seafood such as oysters or shrimp, which may be battered and fried or stewed. In this case, the po'boy sandwich is served hot, and the bread is usually toasted so that it will not become soggy. Cold sandwiches made with meats like ham and roast beef are also not uncommon, and they may be slathered with hot gravy. Mustard is also a standard inclusion in a po'boy sandwich. If a sandwich is ordered “dressed,” it will include lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and mayonnaise.

It is generally believed that the po'boy was invented in the 1920s by the Martin brothers, two former streetcar drivers who wanted to support a streetcar strike. The brothers decided to hand out free sandwiches to the “poor boys” who were striking, and the sandwiches quickly became popular with others as well. By the 1930s, numerous po'boy sandwich stands were thriving.

The po'boy sandwich continues to be a cheap and popular meal in New Orleans, and it is a common lunch counter offering. Various sizes are available to cater to different appetites, with many people especially enjoying seafood po'boys. Small variations in the dressing are also not uncommon; some establishments, for example, use shredded cabbage instead of lettuce in “dressed” sandwiches. In some cases, a sandwich shop will offer only cold po'boys, saving costs by not installing stoves or a deep fryer, although it may keep gravy hot on a burner.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GlassAxe — On Jan 14, 2011

Those sound like great sandwiches. Someone needs to open a po'boy shop in Phoenix.

By Fiorite — On Jan 12, 2011

@ Amphibious- When I was in Alabama for school, I used to get French fry po'boys dressed dirty. It sounds weird, but it was a po'boy filled with spicy seasoned hand cut fries, and topped with dirty gravy. Dirty gravy was basically the roast beef gravy that the fresh roast sits over. When the cook shaves the roast beef of the rotisserie rack, all the little bits fall in the gravy, making for one heck of a po'boy.

The roast beef po'boys were, really good too. The beef was roasted, then placed on the rotisserie where it was brushed with their special seasonings before it was sliced and slapped between a piece of crusty French baguette. Those were the days...being able to eat a thousand calories in a single sandwich without gaining an inch.

By Amphibious54 — On Jan 11, 2011

When I lived in Tallahassee, I used to go to this little po'boy shack by my campus to get the best po'boys ever. I would always get a fried shrimp and oyster po'boy dressed with finely shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and topped with a spicy pickle remoulade.

They also had a fried green tomato po'boy that was out of this world. It had fried green tomatoes on a bed of shaved cabbage with pickled hot peppers (they were sweet pickled on site too), and a whole grain mustard and mayo sauce. After reading this article, I am craving a po'boy hardcore.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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