Sandwiches may have been created by a British earl, but they are as American as apple pie and hot dogs (and no, we’re not getting into the “are they or aren’t they” debate over a hot dog‘s sandwich designation). Our brown-bagged lunches are sandwiches, sandwich chains are everywhere, and no matter what the season, a sandwich is the perfect answer.
Every state has their own iconic sandwich, too. They vary from cold to hot to spicy, from stacked to open face, and from famous nation-wide to local delicacies. But they are all, without a doubt, the best sandwiches in their home states.
Today we decided to round up some of our favorites from America’s heartland. A lot of maps disagree where exactly the heartland lies (sometimes it includes the midwest, sometimes it includes the southern states). Where ever you are, these fourteen sandwiches (in no particular order) are sure to fill you up.
1. Arkansas: Fried Catfish
Catfish is an Arkansas specialty and fried really is the best way to eat it. Most catfish served in restaurants these days comes from catfish farms (shallow ponds of water, usually built on land previously used for agriculture) and American farmed catfish is considered a Best Choice by Seafood Watch for sustainability and low chemical use. Fried catfish can be served as a Po’Boy in a French bread loaf or as a filet with mayo, lettuce, and tomato on a bun. Either way, don’t forget to order the hushpuppies as a side.
2. Indiana: Hoosier
This pork tenderloin sandwich is a version of weiner schnitzel, which is veal that has been pounded thin, breaded, and fried. In 1904, Nick Freienstein, the son of German immigrants to America, is credited with the idea when he began selling a version of this sandwich using deep-fried pork instead of veal and adding pickles and onions. Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington still sells the Hoosier, though you can get one pretty much anywhere across the state.
3. Illinois: Italian Beef
The Italian beef sandwich is a Midwest sandwich specialty; what makes it unique are the seasonings (oregano, basil, and other spices) and the use of peppers or giardiniera. There are a couple of stories about how the sandwich came to be, both centering on Chicago street peddlers who sold meat and sandwiches from a cart in the 1920s. While beef sandwiches existed prior to this time, the story goes that these two peddlers were inspired to provide thinly sliced beef for “peanut weddings” (weddings where the reception served cheap food that could be stretched to feed more people).
The sandwich grew in popularity, sparking beef stands across the city. The sandwich went nationwide in the 80s, when a little known comic named Jay Leno handed out Italian beef sandwiches from Mr. Beef (a downtown beef stand) to the audience on Late Night with David Letterman during his standup routine.
4. Kansas: Burnt Ends
The end of a piece of beef brisket are thinner than the middle, so after all that time in a smoker those ends tend to get a little dark and crispy. They also happen to be, no question, the best part of a beef brisket. All the flavor gets concentrated in the ends and caramelized; slap some of that burnt goodness on white bread with KC style barbecue sauce and enjoy the best sandwich in Kansas.
5. Kentucky: Hot Brown
If it’s Kentucky, it’s got to be the Hot Brown. First made in Louisville by Brown Hotel’s chef Fred Schmidt in 1926, the open-faced sandwich is still very much in demand. You can keep your subs run through an oven: Bread, turkey, tomatoes, a rich cream sauce, bacon, and cheese baked in a dish until hot and bubbly is the only way to go. Serve with a glass of Kentucky bourbon, of course.
6. Minnesota: Fried Walleye
The walleye is Minnesota’s official State Fish and no self-respecting Minnesota food joint would offer a menu without a walleye sandwich on it. The delicate, flaky fish can be grilled or pan fried, but deep fried is how you’ll find most walleye sandwiches fixed. The rest of the sandwich is simple: Crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and good tarter sauce are all you need to highlight this popular Minnesota fish.
7. Missouri: The St. Paul
There’s no clear answer to how this popular St. Louis sandwich got its name, but we can tell you how it came to exist as one of the best sandwiches in the state. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Chinese immigrants came to St. Louis to work on building railroads back in the late 1800s. They brought their food with them and eventually some of that cuisine was Americanized, which is why in St. Louis you’ll find the St. Paul sandwich: Egg foo young shaped into round patty and served on white bread with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles.
8. Nebraska: The Reuben
Where was the Reuben sandwich invented? You might think this deli specialty began in New York, but Nebraskans know that it was the creation of Reuben Kulakofsky, first made during a regular poker game at the Blackstone, a hotel in Omaha. Charles Schimmel, another one of the poker players who also owned the hotel, liked the sandwich idea so much that he put it on the hotel’s menu. Then in 1956, Fern Snider, a cook at the Blackstone, entered the Reuben into the very first National Sandwich Idea Contest, where it won, making the Reuben a household name.
9. North Dakota: Sloppy Joe
tasteatlas.com/sloppy-joe So, who is Joe? Many say that a cook named Joe in Sioux City, Iowa, in the 1920′ created a sandwich of “loose meat” served in bread, a “sloppy’ Joe. . 📷 photo by @mlavka_chef . ➡ Submit your local food and tag #tasteatlas . #foodlovers #foodpic #travelblogger #travel #foodblogger #instatravel #instafood #foodie #dish #chef #chefslife #instachef #tasty #golocal #traditional #authentic #sloppyjoe #sloppyjoes #sandwich #groundmeat #comfortfood #fastfood #american #unitedstates
There are multiple stories about the creation of the Sloppy Joe (it was either invented at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida or by a Sioux City, Iowa, diner cook named Joe), and in this part of the country, the Sloppy Joe is only one version of the “loose meat” sandwich. It’s a really good version, though; the ground beef is mixed with a sweet tomato sauce that gives definition to the sandwich’s messy name.
10. Oklahoma: Chicken-Fried Steak
Oklahoma doesn’t have an official state food, it has an official state meal (we approve): Fried okra, cornbread, barbecue pork, squash, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas. It also includes the best sandwich in Oklahoma, the chicken-fried steak.
The name probably became widely used in the 1930s, but a breaded, pan-fried steak similar to weiner schnitzel has been around longer than that. It is a sandwich, though traditionally the meat is bigger than the bread and it’s served with gravy, so plan to eat this Oklahoma favorite with a fork and knife.
11. South Dakota: Pheasant Salad
Pheasant is not a game bird you see on many menus, at least not as a sandwich. But in South Dakota, it’s a popular choice since the state is a prime location for hunting pheasant. The Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge in Brookings has been around since 1949 and the Pheasant Salad sandwich is a signature offering. Made like chicken salad, pheasant is mixed with apple, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, and melted Swiss cheese and served on toasted marble rye bread.
12. Tennessee: Hot Chicken
Hot chicken wasn’t a thing across the country before Prince’s in Nashville made it so. Hot chicken is fried chicken cooked with a mix of hot spices and served on white bread. The story goes that Thornton Prince’s came home after an evening out enjoying the local nightlife to find a rather upset girlfriend. To get her revenge, she made his favorite fried chicken but served it with a “devilish amount of peppers and spices.” Instead of reacting with pain, he loved it and hot chicken was born. Prince’s has been serving hot chicken for almost 100 years and visitors and residents alike still line up at Prince’s.
13. Texas: Beef Brisket
No question about it: The beef brisket sandwich tops the best sandwiches list in Texas. It doesn’t matter where you order it either. Road-side joint, upscale restaurant, or even a gas station, the beef brisket is the one sandwich you have to order when you’re in Texas.
14. Wisconsin: Grilled Cheese
Of course cheese features in Wisconsin’s signature sandwich. The state boasts multiple grilled cheese competitions using the state’s best known product and you can find the sandwich on restaurant menus across the state. One of the greatest things about grilled cheese (besides the fact that it’s the ultimate comfort food) is that you can customize it so many different ways. Go sweet or savory or spicy, or just stick to good old cheddar and dunk it in a bowl of tomato soup.