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A Modest Sandwich Plea

Big sandwich culture has gone too far

A Burger King Thailand ad featuring a sandwich with 20 slices of American cheese.
Burger King Thailand

Burger King Thailand has just released a sandwich precisely calibrated to elicit the response “have you seen this shit?” It’s 20 slices of American cheese on a bun, a pile that even the biggest cheese enthusiast might think is a little much. Of course it’s designed to get attention more than anything else, to go viral, to bring in the stunt TikToks. But it’s also emblematic of a problem in food right now: The sandwiches are too damn big.

There is of course a tradition of the overstuffed pastrami sandwich that could actually be five sandwiches. But now it feels like every sandwich is like that. TikTok is driving trends that are designed more for the camera than human consumption. A good sandwich requires a careful build, but it seems like so many sandwiches coming across our plates are more concerned with being the cheesiest, the meatiest, or just the most. There is hope — Ryan Sutton recently wrote in his newsletter that New York is veering toward smaller, more affordable burgers — but still, it’s rough out there. So for anyone thinking their path to success is via an overstuffed sandwich, please stop right now and read everything that’s wrong with them instead.

The proportions are all off

The reason I eat a sandwich is because I want to eat a little bit of a lot of good things — meat, cheese, veggies, spread, really good bread — all at once. As sandwiches swell larger and larger, that calculus gets thrown off. I end up with a bite that’s all meat, another that’s just veggies, and that uncanny situation where the center of the sandwich protrudes out too far compared to the rest of it, only exacerbating the unbalanced bite problem.

I understand why these hulking, overstuffed sandwiches have taken over: They look great on Instagram, where it’s all about that sweet cross-section shot, but this has come at the expense of the eating experience. The best sandwiches I’ve had recently have looked modest in pictures, but they’ve resulted in perfect bite after perfect bite since I can squish the whole thing down and actually eat every element at the same time.

They’re inconvenient by every definition

Not only do these sandwich makers ignore the sandwich’s proportions qua sandwich, they ignore them in relation to how people actually eat sandwiches. The whole point of a sandwich is that it’s a convenience food. The bread keeps your hands dry, and protects its innards such that the whole thing is portable. But the bigger the sandwich, the further away we get from this noble goal. First there is the physical inconvenience — a half pound of turkey loaded on a roll, or one of these overloaded viral numbers, is often too much to physically ingest in one sitting. Which means there will be leftovers, which means the double inconvenience of these monster sandwiches not having the structural integrity to withstand wrapping up and taking home. I can’t remember the last time I saw a toothpick on a club sandwich actually reach the bottom slice of bread. What’s the point if you need a knife and a fork?

My jaw deserves better

So many sandwich purveyors of all types insist on making their pastrami-on-ryes and clubs several inches thick, which seems impractical when you consider that the average adult can only open their mouths about 2 inches wide, according to science. All innuendo aside, if you have no trouble chomping into one of these massive sandwiches, I’m thrilled for you. But for the rest of us, a towering sandwich is just uncomfortable to eat. Who wants to hear their jaw click every time they take a bite of their muffaletta? It’s just unsettling. Eating a sandwich should not be physically painful, and one certainly shouldn’t risk a dislocated jaw in pursuit of lunch, a thing that has actually happened.

They’re just too showy

Giant sandwiches are all over Instagram for one reason: they simply scream “look at me!” And that is absolutely the last energy I want when I’m sitting in the middle of a crowded deli, shoveling a sandwich into my face. I do not want to be perceived at all during lunch, especially whilst my mouth is hanging wide open like some deranged Venom doppelganger. And sure, you could argue that everyone else in the deli is too busy eating their own enormous sandwiches to notice, but I know they see my shame.