I ate the same meal at America’s 3 largest sub chains to see which shop does fresh sandwiches best, and the differences were stark

What makes a sub from Subway different from a sub from Jimmy John's? And what makes those different from a Jersey Mike's sub?

caption
What makes a sub from Subway different from a sub from Jimmy John’s? And what makes those different from a Jersey Mike’s sub?
source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

  • All sub sandwiches are equal in a way, but some are better than others.
  • The top three sub chains in term of sales in America are Subway, Jimmy John’s, and Jersey Mikes, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
  • I went to all three sandwich chains and ordered the same meal at each one to see how they compared.
  • While Jersey Mike’s put up a good fight, Jimmy John’s won me over with its speedy, friendly service and all-around delicious food.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A sub by any other name – hero, hoagie, grinder – is just as delicious.

But what makes a sub at Subway different from one at Jimmy John’s? And what makes those different from a Jersey Mike’s sub? That’s what I wanted to find out.

Read more: I ate the cheapest cheeseburgers from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King. Wendy’s was best by a slice.

Since every day is sub day if you want it to be, I decided to have three sub days: one at Subway, one at Jimmy John’s, and one at Jersey Mike’s. I ordered the same meal at each place: an Italian-style sub sandwich with chips, a cookie, and a drink.

My goal: to find out how these hoagie hawkers stack up.

Two feet of bread, meat, cheese, and lettuce later, I had my answer.


I went to the Subway in Manhattan’s Financial District just steps from the office.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was a narrow, grimly lit space with sky-high ceilings. It’d been a few years since I’d been to a Subway, so I kind of forgot how to order. Subway doesn’t really have instructions; they’ve been around for long enough that they just sort of assume you know how.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I went to Jimmy John’s in Jersey City, New Jersey, at about 11 a.m., right after it opened for the day.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Compared with Subway, Jimmy John’s had cozy digs. There were only two guys behind the counter and only two seats in the shop. Though the space was small, it was clean, brightly lit, and welcoming.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The store manager explained to me proudly that Jimmy John’s used local produce and all-natural deli meats. He was very proud of the fact that the store used Hellman’s Mayonnaise, and by the looks of the shelves in the kitchen, it used a lot of it.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Jersey Mike’s had just opened a location in Hoboken, New Jersey. A line extended out the door.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Inside, it was packed, noisy, and a little confusing. But the staff seemed to know what they were doing.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

At Subway, I asked my sandwich artist whether I could take pictures, and then I ordered a 6-inch Subway club sandwich on nine-grain honey-oat bread.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I was pretty disappointed by the meager two slices of turkey and beef each. I felt rushed through the line without having time to decide what to put on my sandwich.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Subway is the only sandwich shop out of the three that offers to toast your sandwich. I got mine toasted. But as my sandwich was toasting, I was yelled at to stop taking pictures and told to leave the store.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I’d obtained consent from my sandwich artist, but fair enough. My sandwich was already in the oven, so eventually, the manager decided I could finish ordering my meal. Still, this interaction left a bad taste in my mouth as I took my meal to a table in the back.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

At Jimmy John’s, I ordered an 8-inch Italian Night Club on nine-grain bread. There isn’t as much of an opportunity to customize, but sometimes I appreciate having my food choices made for me.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The manager made my sandwich at breakneck speed, first slicing fresh bread, then stacking meats and toppings onto a layer of mayo with remarkable accuracy.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The manager told me the bread used for sandwiches was fresh-baked and had been sitting for no longer than four hours. Leftover bread is sold the next day for $.49 a baguette.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Read more: I ate chicken wings from 5 major chains, and a little-known newcomer beat out all the classics


At Jersey Mike’s, I ordered a Number 6: a beef provolone sandwich Mike’s way with relish and white bread.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Each person on the sandwich line had one specific job. There was a guy whose sole job was to slice and arrange deli meats, and then there was lettuce, tomato, and vinegar guy, and then there was a cut-and-wrap guy.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The toppings were pretty much like the ones at Jimmy John’s: lettuce, tomato, and a generous squirt of vinegar.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

My sandwich moved down the line with stunning efficiency, yet everyone was friendly. It was fast, but I didn’t feel rushed.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

My meal at Subway consisted of a 6-inch sub, a bag of chips, a macadamia cookie, and a ridiculously huge soft drink. It ran me $11.07 plus tax.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

This was by far the smallest, flattest sandwich of the bunch. The people making it had seemed reluctant to put stuff on it, so it turned out like this.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

My sandwich artists seemed to have been inspired by Jackson Pollock. I’d asked for light mayo as a topping, so a sandwich artist squeezed a terrifying glob onto one side of the sandwich.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It tasted better than I expected even though it was a relatively flat sandwich and the ingredients weren’t as fresh or high-quality as I’d like.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

But doused in mayo and mustard, it was acceptable, if not especially filling.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

My meal at Jimmy John’s consisted of an 8-inch sub sandwich, a pickle, a bag of salt and vinegar chips, and a chocolate-chunk cookie — all Jimmy John’s brand. It cost me $15.41 plus tax.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

My Italian Night Club was significantly more substantial than my Subway Club had been. It was heavy. It had weight. It didn’t fall apart at a poke of the finger.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Holy mother of hoagies, this sandwich was delicious. The bread was slightly crusty, the lettuce crunchy, and the meat thinly sliced and sublimely soft.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Everything in the sandwich tasted fresh. Lettuce was plentiful, which I loved. But what really made the sandwich was its signature coat of Hellman’s mayo.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I’d gone to Jimmy John’s in high school a few times, but I don’t remember its meats being that high quality. However, the salami in my sandwich was a standout.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Read more: I tried chicken sandwiches from 8 major chains, and Popeyes’ was a major standout for several reasons


At Jersey Mike’s, my meal consisted of a Number 6 beef with provolone sandwich, Mike’s style, sour-cream-and-onion chips, and a house-brand stack of cookies. The meal ran $12.93.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Jersey Mike’s makes a Goliath grinder, a respectable meat-on-bread monstrosity.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was wet on the bottom from the vinegar, but I was impressed by the dappled waves of rare roast beef speckled with red flecks of relish.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The Jersey Mike’s sandwich was definitely the most visually appealing. The ingredients inside were top-quality, though I didn’t like the overall flavor of it quite as much as I liked the flavor of the Jimmy John’s Italian Night Club.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

While the beef was incredibly tender, I found the vinegar to be overpowering and the bread to be relatively unmemorable.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Subway offers a variety of chip choices. I chose the only Miss Vickie’s flavor available because kettle chips are better than all other chips.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I also bought a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie at Subway, which had a half-baked texture.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was way too sweet and tasted mostly of preservatives and artificial flavorings.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I was impressed that Jimmy John’s had its own brand of kettle chips.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

And they were pretty good! They were more salt than vinegar, but all-in-all, they were perfectly satisfactory.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The Jimmy John’s pickle was vibrant, crunchy, and refreshing.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The Jimmy John’s-brand triple-chocolate-chunk cookie had a prepackaged texture. It was stiff and seemed as if it would have tasted better after 10 seconds in a microwave.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

But it tasted like chocolatey, buttery goodness. I couldn’t tell what all the kinds of chocolate were in the cookie, but I wasn’t complaining.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Jersey Mike’s offers a small selection of chips to go with your meal. Again, I chose a bag of Miss Vickie’s.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

However, Jersey Mike’s cookies are house-made. I got a stack of three sugar cookies.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

They were soft to a fault and broke apart very easily. They felt slightly undercooked, but they were pleasantly sweet and buttery.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Jersey Mike’s impressed me with its fresh-sliced deli meats, remarkable efficiency, and staff friendliness. It was clear that everything in the store met a pretty high standard for quality. The sandwich itself, however, was simply too vinegary for the rest of the ingredients to get the taste bud time they deserved.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

All I can say about my meal at Subway is: never again. I left feeling dissatisfied and slightly sick. Despite all the good memories I have of cheap meals at the Subway in my college town, I can’t imagine voluntarily going back to one now that I have other choices.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The surprising winner of this comparison was Jimmy John’s, for providing a consistently satisfying experience all-around. I could tell the staff took pride in their work and paid close attention to detail. All my food was delicious, and getting it was easy and quick. Jimmy John’s all the way.

source
Irene Jiang / Business Insider