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What does a hero sandwich consist of?

A hero sandwich, also known as a sub, hoagie, grinder, or Italian sandwich, is a large sandwich made with an oblong bread roll split lengthwise and filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments. The key ingredients that make up a hero sandwich are the bread, meats, cheeses, vegetables, and spreads/sauces. Let’s take a closer look at what comprises this popular sandwich.

The Bread

The bread used for a hero sandwich is typically an oblong white Italian or French bread roll about 6–12 inches long. The bread roll is cut lengthwise and opened up to create a bread pocket or trough for the sandwich fillings. Some key features of bread used for hero sandwiches:

  • Soft, airy interior to absorb flavors and prevent ingredients from slipping out
  • Crispy crust on the outside
  • Oblong shape allows for layering of sandwich contents
  • Sturdy enough to contain ample fillings without tearing

In addition to classic white Italian bread, some other breads used for heroes include whole wheat, sourdough, ciabatta, baguettes, and hoagie rolls. The type of bread can vary regionally and by personal preferences.


Hero sandwiches are loaded up with thin slices of various cured meats. Typical meats found on a hero include:

  • Ham – Provides saltiness and sweetness.
  • Salami – Savory and salty flavor.
  • Pepperoni – Spicy and robust taste.
  • Capicola – Savory and mildly spicy taste.
  • Turkey – Lean meat with mild flavor.
  • Roast beef – Earthy, beefy flavor.
  • Pastrami – Smoky and peppery taste.

The meats are piled high in the sandwich, so you get plenty of protein. Two or more meats are usually layered in a single hero for more depth of flavor. The most common combo is ham, salami, capicola, and pepperoni.


To add more flavor and richness to a hero sandwich, cheese is a must. Some popular cheese choices are:

  • Provolone – Mild, buttery taste.
  • Swiss – Nutty, mellow flavor.
  • American – Mild cheddar flavor.
  • Mozzarella – Soft, mild milky flavor.

The cheese can be placed atop the meats or vegetables as a protective barrier to prevent the bread from getting soggy. Provolone and mozzarella are commonly used in Italian style heroes.


For texture, moisture, flavor, and nutrition, hero sandwiches contain an abundance of vegetables. Some typical veggies found in heroes are:

  • Lettuce – Romaine or iceberg provide crunch.
  • Tomatoes – Juicy, acidic taste.
  • Onions – Sharp, pungent flavor.
  • Pickles – Tart, briny taste.
  • Banana peppers – Mild heat and tang.
  • Jalapeños – Spicy kick of heat (optional).
  • Olives – Briny, salty flavor.

The cool crispness of the vegetables balances the richness of the meats and cheese. Veggies also add moisture to prevent the sandwich from being too dry.

Spreads and Sauces

Spreads and sauces are used to enhance flavor and bring all the ingredients together in a hero sandwich. Some typical condiments include:

  • Mayonnaise – Adds richness and moisture.
  • Mustard – Spicy, tangy flavor.
  • Oil and vinegar – Provides acidity to cut through fats.
  • Hot sauce – Brings heat and tang.
  • Oregano – Earthy, aromatic flavor.
  • Italian dressing – Savory flavor with herbs.

Oil and vinegar-based dressing gives an authentic Italian taste.Mayo and mustard add creaminess and zip. Hot pepper flakes can also be added to amp up the spice.


One of the great things about hero sandwiches is how customizable they are to individual tastes. You can load it up with your favorite meats and cheeses or keep it simple. Veggies can also be added or removed as desired. Some other ways to customize include:

  • Using different bread types like whole wheat, sourdough, or gluten-free.
  • Toasting or not toasting the bread.
  • Adding extra seasoning like oregano, garlic, or pepper.
  • Substituting salad greens like spinach or arugula for lettuce.
  • Drizzling balsamic vinegar or olive oil over the vegetables.
  • Spreading aioli, hummus, or tahini instead of traditional condiments.
  • Topping with avocado, bacon, roasted peppers or other extras.

There are endless ways to tweak a hero to match your tastes. Part of the fun is experimenting with new flavors and combinations!

Standard Ingredients

While heroes can have endless variations, most classic versions contain these standard ingredients:

Bread Italian bread, French bread, hoagie roll
Meats Ham, salami, pepperoni, capicola, turkey, roast beef
Cheese Provolone, Swiss, American, mozzarella
Veggies Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, peppers, olives
Spreads/Sauces Mayo, mustard, oil, vinegar, oregano, Italian dressing

Regional Variations

Hero sandwiches take on regional flare based on local tastes and ingredients. Here are some popular regional styles:

Philadelphia – The Philly Cheesesteak

Thinly sliced beef and melted cheese on a hoagie roll. Onions, mushrooms, and green peppers are also common additions.

New York – The Italian Combo

Salami, ham, provolone, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, oil, and vinegar on Italian bread.

Chicago – The Italian Beef

Thinly sliced roast beef soaked in au jus, topped with giardiniera (spicy vegetable mix). Served on Italian bread.

New Orleans – The Muffuletta

Salami, ham, mortadella, provolone, and olive salad on a round seeded Italian loaf.

Maine – The Lobster Roll

Lobster meat tossed with mayo and celery on a grilled New England style hot dog bun.

Serving Styles

Hero sandwiches can be served hot or cold. Some popular ways they are served up include:

  • Cold – Typical style with cold meats, veggies, and condiments. Best on a hot day!
  • Hot – Meat and veggies are warmed up for a hot, toasty sandwich.
  • Toasted – The bread is toasted to provide a crunch exterior.
  • By the half – Sandwich is cut in half for easier eating on the go.
  • As a whole – Keeping it whole allows for thicker, stacked ingredients.
  • Cut in thirds – Another way to serve manageable portions.
  • With sides – Pair it with fries, pickles, or salad for a heartier meal.

The serving style depends on personal preference. Toasting or heating it makes the flavors meld together more. Cutting it makes it easier to eat as a portable meal.

Nutritional Profile

Hero sandwiches pack a nutritional punch with their variety of ingredients. Here is the general nutrition profile of a 6-inch turkey and cheese hero made on white Italian bread with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil and vinegar:

Calories ~500
Total Fat 15g
Saturated Fat 4g
Sodium 1000mg
Total Carbohydrates 60g
Dietary Fiber 4g
Protein 28g

Key nutritional benefits of a hero sandwich:

  • High in protein from the deli meats, cheese, and bread.
  • Provides fiber from the vegetables and whole grain breads.
  • Contains essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, potassium, and calcium.
  • Packs a variety of flavors and textures to satisfy the appetite.
  • Can be modified to be lower in sodium and saturated fat.

Overall, hero sandwiches make a filling and flavorful meal any time of day!

History of the Hero Sandwich

The origins of the hero sandwich can be traced back to New York City in the late 19th/early 20th century. Some accounts of the history include:

  • First sold by Italian immigrants who worked at food carts in NYC.
  • The name may derive from “eroe” meaning hero in Italian.
  • It was a popular lunch food for Italian-American workers and laborers in the city.
  • One account claims it was first created when a food cart owner layered meats and cheeses between bread to feed workers rebuilding the Flatiron building in 1901.
  • Originally called a “wedge,” the name later evolved to hero or sub.
  • As Italian bread became the standard, the sandwich also took on the name “Italian sandwich.”
  • Over time, it spread via Italian-American populations throughout the Northeast region.

The hero is still a popular sandwich today, available everywhere from delis to fast food chains. While the original was an Italian creation, many cultures have now put their own spin on the classic sandwich. No matter how you customize it, the hero remains a trenches-satisfying meal!

Popular Brands

Hero sandwiches are served across the country at various restaurant chains and delis. Here are some of the most popular spots to grab a hero-style sandwich:


The #1 sandwich chain is known for its customizable sub sandwiches made with freshly baked bread. Signature meats include Black Forest ham, turkey, roast beef, and their famous chicken teriyaki.

Jersey Mike’s

This growing sub chain is known for authentic Northeast-style subs loaded up with quality meats, cheeses, and produce.

Firehouse Subs

This fast-casual restaurant specializes in hot and cold subs. Famous choices include the Hook & Ladder with smoked turkey and Virginia honey ham.

Jimmy John’s

Known for speedy service, Jimmy John’s offers cold and hot sandwiches with thin sliced meats and cheeses.


This Las Vegas-based chain is renowned for their cheesesteaks as well as classic Italian subs layered with meats and condiments.

Jersey Mike’s Subs

With locations across America, Jersey Mike’s is famous for East Coast-style submarine sandwiches piled high with quality ingredients.

Local Delis

Authentic hero sandwiches got their start at Italian delis and bakeries across the Northeast. For an original taste, check your local deli counter or mom-and-pop sandwich shop.

Price Range

Hero sandwiches range in price depending on size, ingredients, and where you purchase them. Some general price ranges are:

  • Fast food chains – $5 to $12 for a 6 to 12-inch sub.
  • Deli counters – $8 to $15 for a 8 to 16-inch sandwich.
  • Upscale sandwich shops – $12 to $18 for large signature subs.
  • Custom bakeries – $15+ for extra long heroes made with premium meats, cheeses, and bread.

Coupons and specials can reduce prices. Higher end ingredients like double meat or imported cheeses can increase cost. Overall, heroes offer good value for a handheld meal that can feed more than one person.

Sandwich Construction

There’s an art to constructing the perfect hero sandwich. Here are some tips on order and placement of ingredients:

  1. Slice bread lengthwise without cutting all the way through.
  2. Lightly dress the interior sides with oil, vinegar, mustard, mayo, or dressing.
  3. Place thinly sliced deli meats along the bottom.
  4. Top with sliced cheese for a barrier against soggy bread.
  5. Layer fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, onions next.
  6. Finish with more condiments, spices, or peppers.
  7. Close sandwich gently and slice in half or thirds to serve.

This order helps maximize flavors and textures in each bite. Constructing the hero right makes a big difference!


Hero sandwiches remain one of the most popular sandwich choices for a few key reasons:

  • They are very filling and hearty.
  • Customizable with diverse flavors and textures.
  • Portable for eating on the go.
  • A more affordable freshly made sandwich option.
  • Nostalgic throwback to old-school Italian delis and lunch spots.

While trendy gourmet sandwiches come and go, the hero sandwich remains a classic. Its layered construction showcases a variety of meats, cheeses, seasonings, and vegetables in each tasty bite. Hero sandwiches will likely continue satisfying customers for generations to come.


With its Italian origins and abundant fillings, the hero sandwich has secured its place as an American sandwich icon. While regional styles vary, most classic versions contain Italian or French bread, layers of deli meats and cheese, fresh vegetables, and zesty condiments. Part of the enjoyment comes from customizing the ingredients to individual preferences. When constructed properly, each bite packs a mouthwatering punch. Hero sandwiches make a shareable, satisfying meal any time of day. Next time hunger strikes, sink your teeth into a hearty hero sandwich!