By John Thomas
If you’re from the Philadelphia area, you might call your sub a “hoagie.” If you’re from the New York area, it might be a “hero” to you. The New England folks will call their sub a “grinder,” and New Orleans residents will refer to it as a “po’boy.”
I’m sure there are other areas of the country I’m leaving out, but regardless of what you call it, a large roll, filled with a tasty meat and some sort of delicious topping, is a fantastic and often overlooked meal.
Subs are easily transportable and don’t require any utensils. Just pick your sub up and start eating. No matter your sub of choice, the key to any great sub is high-quality ingredients.
Check out these easy sub recipes to take your sub game to a whole new level.
The roll defines your sub – it’s the first thing you bite into and what holds it all together.
It has the potential to fall apart or get soggy on you. On the other hand, it has the potential to provide structure, flavor, and lots of room for toppings.
When shopping for a roll, there are a few things to consider: When and where was it made? How long is it? How many toppings can fit on the roll? Is it pre-sliced?
I’m a fan of fresh-baked bread. There is a clear difference between a roll that was freshly baked, and one that was baked in a factory and put in a bag to sit for a few weeks on a grocery store shelf.
Try to find a grocery store that has a bakery section and scout your rolls from there. If you can’t find a grocer with a bakery, try going to a sub shop (any fast-food retailer that sells subs) and asking whether you can buy a bag of fresh rolls.
Usually they will have the option to sell a bag of rolls to you. After you find your fresh roll, you need to consider the size. If the roll is too long, you’ll have to cut it in half. If the roll is too skinny (small in girth, like a hotdog roll) you won’t be able to fit much within.
I prefer a roll that is about 6-10 inches long with a rather large area for toppings. You always end up overstuffing a homemade sub, so why go small?
The Italian cold cut is the ultimate hoagie. When I think of Philadelphia, of course I think of cheese steaks (see below), but next I think of the Italian hoagie, a sub, loaded with thin-sliced Italian meats, fresh toppings, and hoagie oil drizzled over top.
For toppings, you’ll need iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, and a jar of hot or sweet peppers. Slice the tomato and onion as thinly as possible and dice the iceberg lettuce into small slivers. Open the fresh roll and place a thick layer of meats on the bottom of the roll, then top with a slice of provolone. On top of the cheese, add the lettuce, tomato, and onions.
Drizzle a tablespoon or so of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil on top, or you can use any store-bought hoagie oil. Shake some oregano on top and add the hot or sweet peppers and you are set.
These hoagies can be wrapped in foil or wax paper and put in the fridge until it’s time to eat.
The meatball sub is classic comfort food that is perfect for a cold winter day. You might think it’s straightforward to put together, but there is one ingredient that is usually not considered: pepperoni. Adding pepperoni to a meatball sub takes it to a whole new level.
The grocery store usually sells some rather high-quality, premade meatballs that work perfectly for subs (certainly any Internet meatball recipe will work perfectly, too). They come frozen and you can put them in a pot with your favorite marinara sauce.
Two cheeses are common for the meatball sub: mozzarella and provolone. Regardless of which one you prefer, grab the sandwich slices of cheese rather than shredded, as it makes for a more dramatic presentation when it’s melted over top.
Bring the marinara sauce to a boil to thoroughly cook the meatballs. If you are outside for a tailgate, the sauce can be heated over direct heat on the grill. After the sauce and meatballs are cooked, place the sliced rolls on the side of the grill with indirect heat.
One trick to a good sub of any kind is to have a warm toasted roll. If the ingredients are hot, you certainly don’t want the roll to be cold. When the roll is warmed and lightly toasted, line the bottom of the roll with sliced pepperoni. The pepperoni also protects the bottom of the roll from any sauce that might soak through.
Add about four to five meatballs, depending on the length of your roll, and then top with two to three slices of cheese, allowing the slices to come over the top of the edge of the roll.
Return the subs to the indirect side of the grill and close the dome until the cheese is completely melted. Or, if you are inside, place your sub in an oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes to melt the cheese.
Cheese Steak Sub
This might be the sub that is defined most by high-quality ingredients. If you use low-quality, chewy steak, you’ll have a disaster.
This recipe is for a typical Philly cheese steak sub that is “wit” onions and “whiz” (in Philly you say “wit,” and that means you want your sub with onions on top).
The best cheese steak that I have encountered in Philadelphia is from a place called Jim’s Steaks on South Street. They use fresh rolls, thin-sliced rib-eye steak, sautéed onions, and Cheese Whiz. For those not familiar, Cheese Whiz is a melted cheddar cheese sauce. You either love it or hate it.
Look for ribeye steaks in the butcher section of your grocery store. A time-saving tip is to use a food processor with a slicing blade. Put the rib-eye steak in the top of the processor and pulse the machine until the steak gets sliced thin.
If you have a meat slicer, you can also use that to get thin-cut steak. Sautee the onions in a bit of oil in a frying pan until they are soft and lightly browned. Remove the onions from the pan and then add the sliced steak to the pan.
When the steak is cooking, be sure to add salt and pepper to season the meat. The steak is done when the color is no longer pink. This can be done on a grill if you put the pan/griddle on top of direct heat.
Once the steak is cooked, warm the rolls either in an oven or on the indirect side of the grill. Once the rolls are warmed, using a spatula, apply a heavy spread of Cheese Whiz to the inside of the roll on both sides. Then generously apply the sliced rib-eye and sliced sautéed onions.
Smoked Chicken Breast Sub
For a lighter option, I love a smoked chicken breast sub. Buy a whole chicken, clean it, and generously apply salt and pepper to the skin.
Smoke the chicken on your BBQ smoker for about two to four hours at 225 to 250 degrees until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165 degrees.
During the smoking process, I recommend tossing in some apple or cherry wood chunks to provide a mild, nondominant smoke flavor to the chicken. Remove the chicken from the smoker and slice the breast, then let it cool.
On the roll, apply a generous amount of mayonnaise, some fresh iceberg lettuce, and the sliced smoked chicken breast. A mild cheese can also be applied, such as provolone.
This is a basic sub where the dominant flavor is provided by the smoked chicken and is slightly enhanced by the mayonnaise, cheese, and the crunch of the lettuce.
Hopefully, these recipes will inspire you to make a delicious homemade sub. Whether you call it a hero, a grinder, a po’boy, or a hoagie, just remember that a high-quality fresh roll might just be the most important ingredient you can include.
Give these recipes a try and let me know what you think.
John Thomas is a grilling expert from outside Baltimore. He pens the popular barbecue blog, Grilling 24×7, where he writes about everything from tailgating to smoker-building, with a lot more in between.