What is a Dagwood? Let’s not over complicate it. It’s really just any very large sandwich with multiple meats. Sure, you can stretch the definition to include uncut clubhouses and Subway cold cut combos if you wish. I even saw a nice fella on YouTube trying to sell a BELT on thin sliced multigrain as a Dagwood.
Here’s the thing, if your sub, club or extra tall Bacon sandwich is a WAF Dagwood impostor, you’ll know in your heart. Presumably if you’re attempting a Dagwood at all, you’re at minimum familiar with the first requirement that it be large. Larger at least than your average sandwich.
If you’re not familiar with this requirement and you feel that putting a egg on a BLT is enough to qualify, I am here help you.
Gather round. Bring your partner, your kids, your grandparents, and let them bask in the warm glow of the screen as I recount as briefly as possible the history and origin of the Dagwood Sandwich.
In the 1930’s there was a comic strip called Blondie. The namesake heroine of the comic had a husband named Dagwood Bumstead. Dagwood would often raid the leftovers in the refrigerator to make enormous, multilayered, cartoonishly exaggerated sandwiches. They tended to have some sausage, cold cuts, leftover roast was often pictured, lettuce, tomato, sometimes a fish, an egg, even a lobster? It was goddamn full anyway, and ingredients were stacked stories high on sandwich bread. So high that no one could reasonably ever take a full bite.
The sandwiches were a gag that reflected something deep within the psyche of the stereotypical North American dads, husbands, and general male identifying persons of the time. We could really dive deep into that, but for now suffice it to say that affordable household Freon refrigerators were still quite new at the time, and represented a new ‘plenty’ for the average North American.
With plenty comes a new opportunity to overindulge. Since time immemorial, If we have had the materials available, we are going to test the limits of scale with those materials. When a large array of ‘leftovers’ become suddenly available because of a newly available technology, it’s inevitable that some dude is going to push it to the limits. If dad would typically would make a sandwich with one day’s worth of leftovers, imagine what he could do with several days worth? It doesn’t matter that it’s stupidly large and not at all practical. Its something to marvel at. An accomplishment to be recounted to friends, co-workers, and other like minded individuals (certainly other weird dads).
Dagwood’s cartoon sandwiches were a reflection and an inspiration to the real life sandwich loving dads of the era. Over the enduring 80 years, there have of course been many imitations. Because the cartoon version was much too exaggerated (and sometimes gross looking) to be practical, real life versions were mostly scaled down. Supermarkets sold cold cuts with Dagwood’s face on them, and restaurants across the continent came up with their own approximations, often called ‘The Dagwood’.
Officially, in 1999 a Blondie themed restaurant (Blondie’s) opened in the Universal Studios Florida theme park, and billed themselves ‘Home of The Dagwood Sandwich’. Their version is a large onion and poppy-seed roll, cut horizontally into 3 layers, filled with ham, roast beef, turkey, Swiss and American cheese, tomato, lettuce, mayo and mustard. Though they came pretty late to the Dagwood Sandwich party we’d all been having for 50 years already, they were officially associated with the comic, giving them some clout insofar as defining a ‘Dagwood’. Because they came so late however, the decades of differently built Dagwoods before them have kept the official definition more or less ambiguous.
Ok history lesson over. Back to being editorial.
In my opinion, this ambiguity is a beautiful and wonderful thing. And not just because I find cutting a roll in 3 to be especially dumb. Dagwood’s sandwich often had multiple bread layers, so I understand the urge to do so, but if you look carefully, layers were not cannon in the comics and are therefore not mandatory. As I said at the start, size is the requirement, not pieces of bread. If Blondie’s just cut their roll once, their sandwich would still be the same size.
That said, the rest of the sandwich, to me, is exactly what you should minimally expect of a Dagwood. Ham, Turkey and Roast Beef. If you’ve had to read this far just searching for what the hell you’re supposed to put in a Dagwood, I’m sorry. But there it is. It makes the most sense. Ham, roast and turkey are 3 meats that could presumably be leftover in a refrigerator. Throw on some basic vegetables (lettuce, tomato), condiments (mustard and mayo), and as long as it’s a good deal larger than your average sandwich, then that’s a Dagwood.
BUT, that’s yer most basic Dagwood. That’s the minimum. Like I said before, you can call your club or sub a Dagwood if you feel you need to. Just know that if it doesn’t meet the minimum, you are lying to yourself, and you can do better. I believe in you.
Change it up. Try something strange and new. Go to your local bakery and buy a specialty loaf, cut it horizontal, and get busy. Go by a local butcher see what they’ve got for cured meats you’ve never tried. Get some farmers market veggies, discover new condiments and cheeses. Or go to the supermarket and see how big you can build for the cheapest.
No matter what, when building a Dagwood, you should always take it to the limit. If you’re not basic, then why should your Dagwood be?
A Dagwood is not a recipe. A Dagwood is the pure spirit of sandwich building. Treat it as such, and you will be successful every time.
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