A guide to making the classic sandwich
Grinder, hoagie, Italian sandwich, hero, sub, wedge, zep, bomber, torpedo. Depending where you are from, this iconic sandwich has a different name and connotation. For most, it is as nostalgic as a classic cheese slice from your childhood pizzeria. By definition a grinder is: a large sandwich on a long, split roll filled with layers of ingredients. That’s a pretty broad description and everyone has their own interpretation of what it should look and taste like.
To really understand how to make a great grinder, you have to know the different elements and composition of one. The physical sandwich can be broken down into: the roll, the filling and the toppings. Just like when I am creating a pizza, I try to make the flavor profile as cohesive as possible.
For me, the roll is just as important as the filling. The worst thing is to get a grinder that has an incredible filling only to realize that roll doesn’t hold up or is super dry. A few characteristics of a great roll:
- Structurally sound. Your roll should hold up to the ingredients it is supporting. In my mind, a grinder is full of saucy, messy, saliva-inducing ingredients but that doesn’t mean that it should fall apart when you eat it.
- Texture. You don’t want a roll that’s too hard to bite into or so soft it turns to mush. The perfect balance is a roll that is stiff or crunchy on the outside with a chewy, developed interior.
- Flavorful. Don’t count out the roll for adding flavor to the overall sandwich. The bread itself should be able to stand up on its own. You can always add sesame or poppy seeds, dried onions or Italian mix or even brush the top with garlic oil for a little extra up level.
- Size. I think that the roll and the filling proportions should be close to equal. You don’t want so much bread that it overtakes the filling, but enough that it stands up to it.
I’m a huge fan of making everything in-house. This means all the components on our Meatball Grinder — from the meatballs to the sauce to the roll—are prepped and cooked in our slice house. You don’t need to over complicate things. You can make your rolls using the same flour, or even dough, as you do your pizza. If you don’t feel up to making your own, or simply don’t have the time and labor force to do so, try to seek out a bakery close to your shop. Not only is it going to be superior quality to a mass-produced roll, but it is also great cross promotion to work with and support another local business.
Obviously, the filling is just as important as the roll. I like my fillings saucy, full of flavor, with a good helping of cheese and a little on the messy side. I know a lot of people might disagree with the latter option. My husband, specifically, hates a messy sandwich. He likes everything contained and proportional. Whereas I say messier is usually more flavorful. Neatness aside, there are a few elements that create a good grinder filling.
• Cheese. Unless you are trying to make it vegan or dairy free, I would argue that cheese is an essential component of a grinder. Not only does it add a creamy, salty, cohesive flavor and texture to the overall sandwich, it is also a big component of making it structurally sound. If you’re making a grinder that is especially saucy or has ingredients that are on the wetter side (such as veggies liked cooked spinach, roasted eggplant or anything pickled), it can act as an in-between layer to protect the bread from getting overly soggy. By melting the cheese on top of the filling in the oven, it is great for sealing everything together.
• Sauce. Whether you are making a hot meatball grinder or a cold Italian one, the sauce you use is vital to the flavor profile. I like my tomato sauce for hot sandwiches slightly thicker than I use on my pizzas, with a sweeter edge to it. For cold sandwiches, I’m a huge fan of a good extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar or a homemade Italian dressing. If you’re looking to change up the sauce on a hot grinder, try pesto. We do a great hot veggie with pesto, veggies, melted mozzarella, and topped with arugula and sweetie drops after it comes out of the oven. A few other great cold sandwich sauces include: flavored mayonnaise (such as garlic, roasted red pepper, jalapeño), any and all salad dressings, compound butters, infused oils and pestos.
• Pickled Veggies and Greens. These are great for contrasting flavors and textures. You can cut through heavier meats and sauces with the addition of a few pickled jalapeños or a handful of arugula.
• Main meat or vegetable. Since this is the star of the show, make sure it’s delicious. To me, a great meatball grinder is simple: meatballs, sauce, cheese and the roll. That being said, you need every element to be well executed. Don’t forget the eggplant grinder for an equally delicious veggie option.
As you can see, there are so many ways to make the perfect hot and saucy sub. Just make sure you put thought into each element, try to keep it simple and make it structurally sound.
Eggplant Parm is a classic for any pizzeria but if your shop is small and limited to just your pizza oven, frying eggplant (or anything for that matter) isn’t always an option. In this recipe I use roasted eggplant, layered with sauce, ricotta and mozzarella and I think it is every bit as comforting and delicious as its fried sister.
Roasted Eggplant Parmesan Grinder
Audrey Kelly owns Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, Colorado.