Behold: The Fried Bologna Sandwich

Food Features fried bologna sandwich
Behold: The Fried Bologna Sandwich

The American South may be the country’s most misunderstood region. Those who aren’t from the South often view it as backward, culturally lacking or wholly conservative—all assumptions that deny the incredible diversity, strength and resilience of the region. But the South is also appropriately recognized for its food culture, and that recognition is deserved: It boasts some of the United States’ most delicious dishes, largely shaped by the contributions of various African and other immigrant cultures.

The fried bologna sandwich may not be found solely in the South, but it’s certainly a staple of budget-friendly Southern cuisine. Bologna itself, as the name suggests, originated in Bologna, Italy, but it reaches its peak form when it’s fried, or griddled, and sandwiched between two slices of white bread.

At their core, fried bologna sandwiches are all about simplicity: white bread, mayonnaise and, obviously, bologna, are the essential ingredients, although countless variations call for additions such as mustard, pimento cheese, lettuce and even butter. I personally think that fried, fatty, crispy bologna needs a fresh, zingy counterpart like sliced red onions. Fried bologna experts will tell you to cut slits into the edges of each slice of bologna to prevent the deli meat from curling up in the pan.

I love bologna, both straight out of the fridge and straight out of the frying pan, but admittedly, the texture of unfried bologna can be a turn-off to some. Bologna has a texturally bouncy and slightly slimy quality to it, which may not appeal to those who tend to opt for leaner, less highly processed deli meats. Frying the bologna, though, alters its odd textural quality, turning the fatty meat crispy. This is the primary appeal of a fried bologna sandwich: That crispness (or crunchiness, if you keep it in the pan even longer) is akin to bacon or other fried, fatty meats. When combined with the softness of (preferably untoasted) white bread, it’s an undeniably enjoyable textural combination with an accessible flavor that can be dressed up with the condiments of the eater’s choice.

Fried bologna sandwiches weren’t a common treat in my household growing up, despite living in the South for 15 years, although there were occasions when we would indulge in the simple but supremely tasty dish. It wasn’t until I got to college that I truly embraced the fried bologna sandwich. Since it’s made with such inexpensive ingredients, it was an easy snack to prepare after class or before going out to the bar. (This is the ideal pre- or post-drinking food thanks to its high fat and carb content.)

Although I do believe that fried bologna sandwiches deserve to rise to the top of the sandwich hierarchy, I admittedly have mixed feelings about them. They’re delicious, yes, but they’re also made with processed meat, which is undeniably bad for your health and for the environment. And although the same kind of sandwich could arguably be made with vegetarian meat, I don’t necessarily think a mass-produced, ultra-processed veggie deli slice is the answer to our fried bologna woes. Additionally, no veggie deli slice I’ve ever tried has the fattiness and the bouncy texture that makes bologna what it is.

Ultimately, it’s not a sandwich I eat on the regular—it’s not exactly a dish that easily fits into a balanced diet—but I can’t deny that whenever I do indulge in a fried bologna sandwich, I feel a bit more connected to my dubiously Southern roots, whatever that means for someone who was born in the Midwest but who came of age in the South. One thing is for sure: If you want to experience a Southern classic, a budget food staple for so many, a deliciously velvety, crispy sandwich that somehow blends simplicity with a cheeky sort of sophistication, a fried bologna sandwich is a must-try meal.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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