Introduction: Dagwood Sandwiches

About: I'm a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University. I do a lot of hobbies, including amateur astronomy, woodworking, and Lego modeling among many others.

I love sandwiches, as do many here on Instructables if the search results for "sandwich" are an indicator (there's an entire Channel under Cooking).

Out in the wide world, we all have our favorite sandwich shops. My favorites happen to be The Pickle Barrel in Bozeman, MT, Sub Shop #21 in La Grande, OR, and Togo's, up and down the west coast. Like many of you, I've tried to replicate my favorites at home, but the magic is in the precise ingredients each shop uses. In the end, sandwiches at home have their own style and flavor that is as consistent as your favorite sandwich shop.

This Instructable is for the most famous of home-built sandwiches, the "Dagwood Sandwich." It is named for Dagwood Bumstead from the comic "Blondie." As illustrated traditionally in the Blondie comic strip, a Dagwood has anything and everything in it -- whatever you can find in the fridge! This makes the perfect Pandemic 2020 food, as left-overs at home seem to be stacking up.

Unlike some sandwiches, I take the Dagwood to be a philosophy of making a sandwich, not a fixed recipe -- that is its charm! So let us proceed!

Step 1: Ingredients

In general, I do not use any regular ingredients in Dagwood sandwiches -- it is form only, constructed from whatever is in my fridge. I think of a Dagwood with five basic elements: the bread, cheese, meats, vegetables, and dressings.

The beauty of Dagwood sandwiches is each time you make it is different, because it is built from the instantaneous contents of your refrigerator. I have no standard ingredients, but if I shop to add something then it is always olive loaf, because if there is a perfect lunchmeat it is definitely olive loaf (IMHO).

Some general guidance on the 5 classes:

  • BREAD: Really any bread will do, but given the general size of a Dagwood, bread that can hold up is best. We almost always have deli bread of some sort around, like sourdough or rye, so that is what I tend to use. I've successfully built dagwoods on hoagie rolls, which make it much more like an Ultimate Sub. :-)
  • DRESSINGS: Classic dressings that go on any sandwich are the norm. I like dressing on the bread only, but some people in Dagwood circles like oil and vinegar ("the juice" say the Jersey Mike's lovers). The key is to look at your fridge creatively. For instance, salad dressings make excellent additions to Dagwoods -- some people like Italian dressing, but if I add dressing it is usually Russian or French. Frank's Red Hot (or Tabasco) also has its place as a condiment if you like 'em hot.
  • CHEESE: Any cheese will work, but it does pay to be adventuresome here. The hardest cheeses to use are crumbly ones (like blue cheese), but they can add a great boost to your sandwich. I discovered to my great delight a few Dagwoods ago that shredded parmesan is excellent on a sandwich!
  • VEGETABLES: Despite the loud objections of some that "salad" does not belong on a sandwich, I do think vegetables are an essential part of the Dagwood experience. For me, vegetables include anything like pickles, relish, giardinera, banana peppers, etc. The only vegetables I do tend to avoid are really crunchy ones (carrots and celery), though thin sliced raw cauliflower was surprisingly good! Avocados are always awesome.
  • MEATS: In the classic cartoon Dagwoods, you see all kinds of cold cuts and meats, ranging from bologna, to fish, to crawdads, to salami. Our fridge usually has a variety of lunchmeat so that forms the foundation of most of my Dagwoods, but thin sliced left-over steak or shredded chicken work great; left-over chicken wings pulled off the bone are an excellent addition! If bacon somehow survives in your house, you could add it -- all I ever have left are bacon bits! I've never done seafood, so if you try it let me know how it goes in the comments!

Step 2: Bread & Condiments

I mostly put condiments directly on my bread. Mustard is always on one of my sandwiches, and my only "rule" is that lettuce goes against the mustard. I'm not a mayonnaise person, but I often use ranch dressing in its stead, and that goes on the other slice of bread. Ranch chip dip is an excellent and awesome addition or substitute for ranch dressing; so is french onion chip dip.

I never just glop the condiment on the bread -- it's got to be spread all the way to the edge to make sure you get some in every bite!

Step 3: Layers

There is some debate among my sandwich loving friends about how to assemble a Dagwood. Some of my friends advocate for keeping ingredients of a type together -- meats with meats, veggies with veggies, etc -- much as you might find in a sandwich from your local shop. I'm of a different mind -- I interleave ingredients, so not every kind of ingredient is together. I think this helps with flavor and, as it turns out, is more authentic to the way Dagwoods were drawn in the original comic strip.

In addition to layering, some Dagwoods are enormous -- creators often interleave extra layers of bread followed by new layers of middle contents. I tend to not do this, as I do enjoy being able to hold and eat my Dagwood as a sandwich.

Step 4: Secret: Capturing Ingredients

Because a Dagwood is made from anything and everything, it is not always constructed from ingredients that like to lay flat in a sandwich -- like cherry tomatoes, or chunky giardinera.

When possible, I try to layer the sandwich so adjacent layers capture things that tend to slide around -- lettuce is particularly good for this task, as are rings of onion slices and large tomato slices with mushy centers. Pickle planks, especially if they are ridge cut, also provide good adhesion for things that like to slide around.

If you have a loose layer, making the next layer droopy lunchmeat often serves as an excellent blanket to hold everything in place.

Step 5: Cutting & Eating

Dagwood sandwiches lend themselves to being large. My Dagwood stacks are usually small enough to hold in your hands, but too large to eat without cutting it in half. Additionally, they are quite a large meal, so I tend to eat half, and save the other half for my next meal/lunch. Depending on how wet you make you sandwich, they may or may not rest well until the next day -- the bread gets soggy.

The pile of vegetables that are too crunchy to put on the sandwich can always be eaten on the side (though thin sliced radishes could go on the sandwich).

A toothpick with an olive is just garnish, the ultimate token of sophistication if you are making sandwiches for friends who are sandwich connoisseurs or trying to impress a date. :-)

Step 6: Nom Nom Nom!

Step 7: Dagwoods I Have Known

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable, and it inspires you to make good use of all that stuff piling up in your fridge! I leave you with some shots of Dagwood sandwiches I have known. They were all delicious!

Please leave some photos of your best Dagwoods in the comments! Happy sandwiching!

Sandwich Challenge 2020

First Prize in the
Sandwich Challenge 2020