The Quality Of Meat At 8 Sandwich Chains, Ranked Worst To Best

various deli meats
various deli meats - Factory16/Getty Images

The quality of meat at sandwich chains tends to vary between companies. For this reason, I often prefer making my own sandwiches at home, so that I'm in complete control over every ingredient. That said, I'm certainly not above hitting up sandwich chains when hunger strikes.

When it comes to sandwich meat quality, some of the variables at play include the deli meat's texture and consistency, whether the meat is pre-portioned or sliced to order, and the company's stance on sourcing sandwich meat that's been treated with antibiotics. Beyond these factors, there's also the quality of other, less common sandwich meats — like grilled chicken, canned tuna, and bacon strips — to consider. While it's true that each sandwich chain has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, there's no doubt that some companies give you a lot more bang for your buck in terms of the meat's quality, freshness, and flavor. Curious which ones made the cut and which ones fell flat? Read on to find out.

Read more: 6 Meats You Should And Shouldn't Buy From Walmart

Subway Italian sub
Subway Italian sub - Subway/Facebook

As one of the world's largest fast food chains, it's impossible to have a discussion about sandwich companies without bringing Subway into the conversation. That said, Subway is living proof that success doesn't necessarily hinge on quality. In fact, it's kind of amazing that Subway has managed to fortuitously rocket into such a prosperous position, considering its sandwiches are mediocre at best. To its credit, in 2023, Subway made an attempt to give its sandwiches a long-needed quality boost by finally deciding to slice its sandwich meats in-house instead of pre-slicing them. Its CEO even admitted to CNN that Subway was probably one of the last sandwich chains to pre-slice all of its meats ahead of time. The real question is: Why did it take so long for the company to finally realize that slicing sandwich meat to order is something it should've been doing all along?

Strangely, despite the rollout of meat slicers and a fresher approach, the sandwiches at Subway don't really taste all that different. The meat is still a little tough and spongy — and Subway's artificial-tasting bread isn't exactly helping. On the plus side, Subway has made a commitment to eliminating the use of antibiotics in all of its meat nationwide by 2025. The reason this is important is because the overuse of antibiotics in animals can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can cause serious outbreaks of disease.

Panera Bread sandwich meal
Panera Bread sandwich meal - Panera Bread/Facebook

Even the name Panera Bread signals the trouble ahead here, because while the chain has decent bread, the quality of its sandwich meat isn't exactly impressive. There's nothing really special or noteworthy about it. The bread is definitely the star of the show here, and each sandwich's proportions seem to confirm that, since there's often a stingy portion of meat wedged between two big, thick slices of bread. Considering the thickness of its bread, the amount of meat in Panera's sandwiches leaves much to be desired. That said, it's good to know that at least Panera doesn't sell any food with artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors.

Truth be told, I often enjoy Panera's soups more than its sandwiches, which is why I dig the fact that the company sells some of its soups at grocery stores. In fact, we even tasted and ranked Panera Bread soups and chose a favorite.

Jimmy John's cut sandwich
Jimmy John's cut sandwich - Jimmy John/Facebook

Using hand-sliced meats and featuring some specialty subs with generous portions of meat, Jimmy John's nudges ahead of some of its competitors. Some of the more massive subs on the menu include the Spicy East Coast Italian sub (with double salami and double prosciutto) and the Hunter's Club (with double roast beef, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise).

Jimmy John's also makes a surprisingly good tuna salad sandwich. Its tender flakes of tuna are mixed with the perfect amount of dressing. This may seem like a trivial detail, but at many other sandwich chains, tuna salad can be too dry or wet — which can completely ruin the sandwich. Jimmy John's strikes the perfect balance and gets it just right. Another bonus: Because the bread has a hinge, as the bottom and top of the bread are connected at one side rather than being completely sliced and separated, the tuna stays well-contained inside of the sandwich.

Jason's Deli Reuben sandwich meal
Jason's Deli Reuben sandwich meal - Jason's Deli/Facebook

With its emphasis on soups and sandwiches, Jason's Deli occupies similar territory to Panera Bread. It's not known for its sandwiches, and they aren't the best things on the menu. However, the difference is that Jason's Deli has a more extensive sandwich menu that includes muffulettas and corned beef Reubens. Overall, the sandwiches at Jason's Deli also feel more filling and substantial in size, which helps it beat out some of the other chains in our ranking. The company even offers two different types of turkey, giving customers a choice of smoked or roasted.

But above and beyond numerous options and sheer size, the company also offers several sandwich meats that are nitrite-free, including both flavors of its turkey, roast beef, ham, chicken salad, and tuna salad. The reason that some people may want to avoid nitrites is because nitrites in processed meats have been linked to stomach cancer. Opting for nitrite-free meats that are less processed is a good way to cut down on consuming potentially unhealthy additives.

Potbelly Sandwich Works sandwich
Potbelly Sandwich Works sandwich - Potbelly Sandwich Works/Facebook

Potbelly Sandwich Works is mostly known for its toasted subs that are crisped in a 500-degree Fahrenheit oven until everything is that beautiful combination of melty and crunchy. Another thing that sets Potbelly apart from the pack is its pulled pork, which is featured in limited-time offers like its Cubano sandwich. Potbelly's fan-favorite Cuban sandwich also comes with melted Swiss cheese, smoked ham, pickles, and brown mustard. Potbelly's pork is hand-pulled and contains a pleasantly surprising amount of fat that results in ultra-succulent meat. Big sub chains don't tend to offer pulled pork as a sandwich meat option, so Potbelly's victory with this feels even more exceptional.

The company also offers sandwich meats like all-natural chicken, Angus roast beef, and 100% albacore tuna, which are great options. Our only gripe here is that sometimes Potbelly's sandwiches seem like they could use a heftier portion of meat. The competitors ranked ahead of it here tend to do so with most of their sandwiches.

Firehouse Subs cut Italian sub
Firehouse Subs cut Italian sub - laurelshoppingcenter/Instagram

One thing that's earned Firehouse a high-ranking spot is its meatball sub. It's honestly straight-up shocking that a big sandwich chain like this is serving meatballs that are this good. Firehouse's meatballs are juicy and flavorful. The proportion of meatball to sauce and cheese is just right, melding with the bread in harmony. Whenever I go to Firehouse, it's nearly impossible for me to veer away from its meatball sub. For a lighter version, customers should keep in mind that Firehouse also sells a meatball sub made with chicken meatballs that's also delicious. I have never seen a chicken meatball sub at another sandwich chain before, so this is a clever niche for Firehouse to occupy.

Firehouse's brisket is another all-star on the menu, which is hickory-smoked for at least 10 hours. The restaurant's smokehouse brisket sandwich features tender slices of smoked brisket, melted cheddar, barbecue sauce, and mayonnaise.

open Cheba Hut sandwich
open Cheba Hut sandwich - Cheba Hut Toasted Subs/Facebook

Cheba Hut is known for its stoner-friendly atmosphere and creative flavor combinations. From a teriyaki chicken sub that features pineapple and pepper jack to a spicy club sandwich made with chipotle mayo, Cheba Hut is the kind of place that's ideal when the munchies kick in. Unlike every other chain on this list, most Cheba Hut locations also feature a full bar that serves cocktails and craft beer to ensure that customers can keep their buzz going.

Cheba Hut's recipes are made in-house, and the company slices its meats and cheeses fresh at each location. The company's chicken, which is featured in several different sandwiches, is also wonderfully tender and flavorful. This is important to note since Cheba Hut uses chicken in several of its signature sandwiches, including the White Widow, which is made with bacon, mushrooms, ranch, and provolone. Between its deliciously inventive menu and carefully curated meats and ingredients, Cheba Hut has some of the best quality meat of all of the sandwich chains.

Jersey Mike's sub
Jersey Mike's sub - Jersey Mike's/Facebook

Jersey Mike's has some of the best sandwiches in the business — and a big part of that comes down to the quality of the deli meat itself. Every time I've ordered a sub from Jersey Mike's, the sandwich makers slice the cheese and meat to order right there on the spot. As a result, the sandwich has a fresh flavor that always hits the spot. The company also really hooks it up, layering on lots of meat, so that the sandwich is extra filling.

To go the extra mile, Jersey Mike's also cooks its bacon from raw strips at its stores. While many other chains buy bacon that's pre-cooked and pre-packaged — resulting in bacon that's tough and ultra-processed — Jersey Mike's doesn't cut those same corners. By cooking bacon fresh on its griddles on-location, Jersey Mike's is setting a higher standard for bacon quality at its stores. The company also serves antibiotic-free pork and has also been serving antibiotic-free turkey since 2017. I'd recommend ordering your sandwich "Mike's Way" at Jersey Mike's, which will make it more balanced in flavor, but the truth is that with sandwiches this good, you can't lose.

closeup of sandwich
closeup of sandwich - Kajakiki/Getty Images

All sandwich chains in this article have been sampled by the author and were ranked based on personal experiences. Sandwich meat quality was rated based on flavor, texture, quantity, and freshness.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.