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Learn How to Make a Grinder Sandwich

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Very few things bring me back to a time and place as much as food does. I’ve never felt that as much as I do now that I no longer live in my native Connecticut. When most people think of New England foods they probably think of clambakes, Maine lobster, and clam chowder, but to really eat like a southern New Englander, you will need to know how to make a grinder sandwich.

How to make a grinder sandwich

We haven’t been able to find a sandwich in Colorado that even comes close to the grinders that we grew up with so we were excited to try our hand at making them at home instead. For the first time in the three years that I’ve been away from New England, I had as close to a classic grinder as I think I’m going to get away from home!

What is a grinder sandwich?

Most people would call them a sub sandwich and while they are very similar, I recently called the sub the grinder’s underachieving cousin.

The one thing that makes or breaks a New England grinder is the bread. A grinder roll closely resembles Italian bread, but the inside is chewier and the outside has a nice crust on it, but it’s not too crispy.

Finding the perfect bread is a must then the rest of the sandwich will fall into place. Finally, I found rolls that looked and felt very much like grinder rolls on a recent shopping trip to Safeway. Could it really be? 

This, my friends, is how to make a grinder sandwich.

Grinder sandwich recipes. How to make a classic New England grinder sandwich

How to make a classic New England grinder sandwich

How to make a classic New England grinder sandwich

How to make a grinder sandwich

Slice the roll so that it’s open but not all the way; you want all of the ingredients to stay in the sandwich instead of all over your lap.

Liberally coat the bread with oil, then add a light sprinkle of oregano. Some people like mayo instead, but I prefer extra-virgin olive oil. 

Load the bread chock full of provolone cheese and delicious meats like ham, salami, turkey, or whatever you like. 

Now it’s time for the lettuce and tomato. One of the important parts of a true grinder is to shred the lettuce.  I use romaine lettuce, but you could use iceberg if you prefer. In Connecticut, you will also find some places that use green cabbage instead of lettuce which is also an excellent choice for even more flavor.

Once you’ve added the lettuce and tomato, drizzle the top with more extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, then sprinkle more oregano, salt, and course ground pepper.

How to make a classic New England grinder sandwich

There you have it. Now you know how to make a grinder sandwich. It may look and sound like a sub, but this Connecticut native insists that there is really no comparison. 

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29 Comments

  1. Susan Cope says:

    I’m getting homesick reading all of the comments. I too was born and raised in CT, North Windham to be exact. I spent a great deal of time in Mystic, Groton, and New London as we had a boat docked in Mystic. Of all the things to miss from CT, a grinder has to be the biggest thing I miss. I now live in VA and nothing comes close to the salami grinders I grew up eating. I’ve tried to make them many times, but I just can’t seem to find the right bread. Reading this “grinder” post has gotten me motivated to start trying again. Oftentimes, my mom and dad would bring home grinders or the fixings to make them at home. There was an old store at the lower end of Main St. in Willimantic where they sold penny candy and made the best grinders. Guess I’ll add this to my bucket list!! Thanks for the memories!!.

    1. Finding bread is definitely the hard part. I got lucky with one store that sold decent bread when we lived in Colorado. I live in Massachusetts now and I still have to go to SE CT or Westerly, RI to find the right bread.

  2. my wife is from Connecticut . She says her mother made there grinders out of cabbage . I made it that way for her and it was terrific. I am from york pa and we had a grinder shop that made cheeseburger grinders with cabbage. Made that one and it was again great wife asks for it all the time now instead of a plain old cheeseburger. Both grinders start with a good loaf and are drizzeled with olive oil and basil

    1. Yes! Some places do make them with cabbage, but it’s not as common as it should be. They are amazing with cabbage!

  3. Growing up in East Windsor Connecticut, I agree that there is nothing like an authentic grinder. I agree that the bread makes the grinder. Either hot or cold they are called grinders and is one of the foods that I miss the most. Hoagies and Subs do not compare. Growing up we had a Mom and Pop place called the Pizza House that served the best grinders and the best pizza. I no longer live in Connecticut and cannot find anything close.

    1. If you have a Jersey Mike’s where you are now, that’s closest we found when we lived in Colorado. Even now that we’re back in New England, we still go there sometimes.

  4. Tommy Bergam says:

    I was born and raised in New London, Ct. I’ve eaten hundreds of grinders during my lifetime. The best IMHO are made in New London or Groton. I no longer live in the US, so I have to make my own. Grinder roll is the challenge for me. I lived on Bank Street during High School. New London Fruit made the best grinders.

    1. I agree with you. I’m from Stonington/Mystic and haven’t had a better grinder than in that area. I don’t live there anymore but whenever I go back I make sure to get one.

  5. That’s a sub. It’s not a grinder if it isn’t toasted.

    1. I’m not sure where you’re from, but I know that in some parts of the country they call hot “subs” grinders, but in New England grinders aren’t necessarily toasted. They can be, but it isn’t standard. We don’t use the word “sub” in much of Southern New England and CT especially. They are ALL grinders, hot or cold.

  6. We miss grinders so much, For 17 years, this is the one thing I miss. Florida does not have anything close to a grinder. One of my snowbird friends keeps saying she’s going to find a way to bring some with her, but I’m still waiting. Thank you for this bit of nostalgia

  7. Susan Steinick says:

    A grinder in Iowa is hot sauce, ground beef, cooked & drained with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese in a grinder bun. Wrap in foil and put in oven for 15 min or so.

  8. I still live in New London county. Grinders are a thing unto themselves. First made on Bank St. New London at a mom and pop shop, The New London Fruit co. They aren’t a hoagie or a sub. A “regular” grinder is cooked salami. But any meat used is still called a grinder. There’s also meatless grinders, there’s eggplant Parmesan grinders, fried fish grinders, seafood salad grinders. All with provolone, lettuce, tomato and oil. My current go to grinder shop is Hamilton Market on Broad St. in New London. A tiny mother/daughter shop that has lines out the door. This however, is a point of contention like which New Haven Pizza is best; Pepe’s, Sallies or Modern. I’m retiring soon and CT is an awful place to retire but one of the strongest pulls is to stay close to a good grinder and pizza. A tough call that

    1. I haven’t been to New London in so long, but I’m willing to make the trip for a good grinder.

      When I lived in New Haven I tried Sally’s a few times and was underwhelmed. Pepe’s or Modern all the way for me.

  9. vicky smith says:

    I was from Uncasville and we had a great grinder shop. Alas it is gone and I haven’t found their grinder anywhere. No luck on the bread either. Is there a company that makes grinder bread?

    1. Westerly Bakery used to make the best grinder rolls and Kaiser rolls and they sold them at Stop & Shop and McQuade’s, but I don’t think they exist anymore. I have yet to find another great grinder bread since then outside of a restaurant. I’m always looking, though.

    2. Nope. In CT a grinder is any hoagie or sub. Doesn’t matter toasted or not.
      I also think they’re called grinders here so often is bc of all the submarines/navy etc on the SE part and other areas of the state.

    3. Was that grinder shop in Palmertown by the post office off of Maple Ave Extension? (I think it was call the corner or something- my ain’t went there often to grabunch for my uncle when I was a kid) Or are you thinking off of rt 32 by MoSun? That one was called Delia’s and made the best bread! They made the grinder rolls for Montville School system about 20ish yrs ago. They ve sadly closed, but I think still made bread for a yr or 2 after.

      1. OMD! There was a Delias Grinder in Riverside, California at least 60 years ago. I was a teenager and my mom and I loved to get a ham grinder. They sliced the french bread, then the oii on both halves, then layered the cheese, lettuce, salt, pepper, ham, tomatoes, more lettuce, and cheese. I’m in northern CA now for 50 years and have never found a grinder. They are all “subs” with mayo and mustard. That is NOT a grinder in my book. Sadly they closed maybe 50 years or so ago, if not longer.

        1. I stand corrected, I just looked up D’elia’s Grinder in Riverside, CA and they are still in business. Same place. They opened in 1955. from Norwich, Connecticut. I will most definitely go next time I get to Riverside.

          1. Yum! They probably get it right if they’re from Norwich. I’ll never know why this style of sandwich isn’t in more parts of the country. The closest we got when we lived in Colorado was Jersey Mike’s, which is good and we still go there sometimes even though we’re back in New England.

  10. I’m from Philly. I would call your sandwich a hoagie. I always thought grinders were heated in the oven either open face or wrapped in foil.

    1. Not in Connecticut and parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Any sub-style sandwich is called a grinder whether it’s hot or cold.

      When we lived in Colorado they also called hot “subs” grinders and cold ones subs. Being a Southeastern Connecticut native, that was a totally foreign concept for me.

  11. Roger Greenlaw says:

    being a fellow Connecticut Yankee, I don’t remember the meat being ham or turkey. It was always Genoa salami and/or prosciutto meats in a Grinder.

    1. Maybe different parts of the state have different ideas of what a grinder is. I was born and raised in the Mystic/Stonington area and we always referred to all subs, regardless of the kind, as grinders. It doesn’t matter if it’s genoa, ham, or even tuna – they’re all grinders if they’re on a long roll.

      1. Mark Roberts says:

        You’re spot on Regan. Heading down to Groton Long Point for July and can’t wait. One added clarification, you must slice tomatoes and onions paper thin – meat is laid out flat to hold lettuce and tomatoes as well as catch extra olive oil.

        1. Nice! My family is from Groton Long Point, Noank, Stonington, and Mystic. Enjoy and have a proper grinder for me.

          1. Rocco Basilica says:

            I’m originally from New London and grew up in the old Italian neighborhood near Shaw St. where the grinder was born. Your right the bread makes it or breaks it, plus the extra virgin olive oil and the fresh coarse ground pepper. The red wine vinegar came later and still prefer my grinder without it. I now live in Florida and found the chain Jersey”s Mike to be very close to the old grinder of New London.

          2. Nice to “meet” you! I was born in New London and grew up in Stonington and Mystic.

            We have Jersey Mike’s here in CO and I agree that they’re pretty good. It’s the closest we’ve found outside of CT.

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