Insider food reporter Nancy Luna reviews Subway versus Jersey Mike’s.
This summer, Subway introduced a new line of meat and cheese-heavy sandwiches dubbed Deli Heroes.
The subs were designed to showcase the chain’s new automated deli slicers.
We compared the subs to equivalent sandwiches at Jersey Mike’s. Our results were surprising.
When I told my friends over lunch that I was planning a taste test of Subway versus Jersey Mike’s, they laughed while munching on their favorite Jersey Mike’s order.
“There’s no comparison,” one friend said. “I would resort to a grocery store sub before eating Subway.”
But I wanted to give Subway a chance.
In July, a month before Subway was purchased by a private equity firm, the chain rolled out four meat-heavy deli sandwiches to showcase the adoption of automated meat slicers in stores. Jersey Mike’s hand-slices its meat and cheeses before customers, so comparing the two brands seemed like a legit mano a mano challenge.
Still, some might think it’s an unfair matchup to compare Jersey Mike’s to Subway, as my friend suggested.
But, I was surprised by what I discovered after comparing each chain on taste, presentation, value, and speed of service.
All subs were purchased at restaurants in Orange, California, so prices may vary elsewhere.
The meat and cheese-heavy subs were designed to showcase the chain’s new automated deli slicers, which were recently installed in nearly all of the chain’s approximately 20,500 locations.
Two sandwiches, Titan Turkey and Grand Slam Ham, have 33% more meat than a traditional sub, according to the company.
Total cost for the four, six-inch subs: $27.66
These four sandwiches closely resembled their counterparts at Subway, except for the accouterments. In the case of the Original Italian at Jersey Mike’s, it has five meats like Subway’s The Beast but the meats are different.
I ordered each sandwich “Mike’s Way” — Jersey Mike’s signature toppings of onions, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and spices.
Total cost $40.10
Jersey Mike’s regular-size subs are seven inches, so they’re bigger than a six-inch sub at Subway. I understand bigger sandwiches warrant a bigger markup. But, Jersey Mike’s sandwiches cost 45% more than Subway’s. That’s a lot.
Value: Subway wins.
One of the trade-offs of eating at Jersey Mike’s is the wait times. It often takes a while to order multiple subs because the workers are hand-slicing and making sandwiches to order. But, the worker who prepared my four sandwiches was fast.
Still, there’s no real customization at Jersey Mike’s, and not as many ingredients to work with compared to Subway. In that way, they have an advantage over Subway because fewer options make it easier for workers to build sandwiches.
I was shocked that it took longer for Subway’s two friendly employees to prepare my sandwiches, which had pre-set ingredients.
I told them to make it as described on the menu. Yet, they kept asking me if I wanted dressing or provolone cheese – all the items that come with the sandwiches.
Maybe the habit of asking what people want on their sandwiches all the time is hard to break for these “sandwich artists,” the term Subway uses for its employees who make sandwiches.
Subway does not slice meats to order. Instead, employees slice meats during prep hours from automated machines, according to the company.
“You basically press the button, and it slices,” Trevor Haynes, Subway’s outgoing President of North America and an advisor to the chain, told me in late June.
Slicing to order would be “very slow and cumbersome” for the customer, Haynes added.
Jersey Mike’s proved Haynes wrong during my recent visit.
They were much faster and more efficient.
Speed of service: Jersey Mike’s wins.
Subway rolled out its slicers with a good deal of fanfare over the summer. But, during my visit, I discovered Subway is not slicing every meat served on the subs.
“We don’t slice the roast beef,” a worker told me as she prepared my #17 sandwich, Garlic Roast Beef.
Then, she pointed to the sign on the deli window that notes the store only slices “turkey, ham, pepperoni, and salami.”
So technically, two of the “Deli Heroes” sandwiches I ordered, Garlic Roast Beef and The Beast, are not made with all deli-sliced meats.
According to Subway, I happened to walk into a store that wasn’t slicing roast beef.
“The rollout of freshly sliced meats across more than 20,000 US restaurants was completed in phases,” the company told Insider in a statement. “All restaurants are currently slicing turkey, ham, pepperoni and salami. The majority of restaurants are also freshly slicing roast beef today. Due to supply chain limitations, the full rollout will be completed by the end of October.”
I weighed both groups of sandwiches. Jersey Mike’s weighed 3.4 pounds, and Subway’s four “meat and cheese heavy” sandwiches weighed 2.8 pounds.
The weight difference surprised me, given that Subway promotes these deli sandwiches as containing more meat and cheese. I thought Subway’s sandwiches would be closer in weight to Jersey Mike’s even though the chain had a slightly larger 7-inch sandwich.
Pound-for-pound value: Jersey Mike’s wins. I paid, on average, about $3 more per sandwich at Jersey Mike’s. But at least I know I’m getting what I paid for – a meat-heavy deli sandwich.
I took one bite of Subway’s Titan Turkey sub and could only taste mayo. It was drenched. The iceberg lettuce gave the sandwich a nice crunch. Maybe they saturated it in mayo to compensate for the super dry white bread.
“The bread tastes like particle board,” my eating partner said.
Tip: Luckily, I ordered a side of Subway’s MVP Vinaigrette. I dipped the sandwich in the dressing to give it some flavor. It tasted much better.
After one bite of Jersey Mike’s turkey and provolone sandwich, I could taste the difference in quality.
The bread was light, airy and squishy. The turkey was thinly sliced the way it should be while the turkey on the Subway sandwich looked like it was processed and shipped from a distribution supplier.
The main fault with the Jersey Mike’s sub was the ‘Mike’s Way’ application. I couldn’t taste any of the red wine vinegar and spices.
Jersey Mike’s: $9.95
Jersey Mike’s wins on flavor and presentation.
I was excited to eat Subway’s Garlic Roast Beef sub because I tried it twice this summer. Both times, I thought the sandwich was delicious. It contains a garlic aïoli sauce that adds flavor to the sandwich even with the dry bread.
But the sandwich I ordered for this taste test was terrible. I could barely taste the roast beef or garlic sauce. The inconsistency surprised me.
Maybe I was influenced by the fact that they were not slicing the roast beef? The only thing I could taste was the chewy bread, which gummed up in my mouth.
Roast beef and provolone is my go-to sandwich at Jersey Mike’s. It was good, but not great. This sandwich contained less meat than I’ve received in the past. And, again, the ‘Mike’s Way’ application was not up to par.
Jersey Mike’s: $10.45
I call this one a tie.
The Beast sounds like an intimidating sandwich. I thought I’d have trouble biting into it as it comes with pepperoni, salami, turkey, ham, roast beef, and double provolone cheese.
I compared it to Jersey Mike’s Original Italian sandwich, which contains provolone, ham, prosciuttini, cappacuolo, salami, and pepperoni.
The Beast was slathered in MVP Vinaigrette, which gave the sandwich a nice flavor. But, all the deli meats were tightly bound by the rubbery bread. It was like eating compressed food. You couldn’t enjoy the flavors of each of the meats.
The Italian sandwich was full-flavored with generous portions. The meat and cheese were overflowing out of the edges of the sandwich, which is appealing.
Jersey Mike’s: $10.45
Jersey Mike’s wins on flavor and presentation.
I looked at the cross-section of the halved six-inch Subway Grand Slam Ham sub and immediately noticed airy gaps. The meat was not tightly packed compared to the ham and provolone sandwich at Jersey Mike’s, which was airtight and stacked with meat.
Still, the Subway sandwich, made with ham, double provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and mayo, was quite delicious. I could taste all the ingredients. All the flavors stood out. The bread was still dry, but it didn’t drag down the rest of the sandwich as it did with the other Subway subs.
This was clearly the best of the four Deli Heroes sandwiches.
But was it better than Jersey Mike’s ham and provolone? No.
Jersey Mike’s ham and cheese sub was superior. But, again, the Mike’s Way vinegar and seasoning were lacking.
Jersey Mike’s: $9.25
Subway wins because the value is much better for nearly the same quality sub if you can get over the lousy bread.
Overall, Jersey Mike’s had much more expensive but higher quality sandwichs than Subway. I think we all knew that going in.
But Subway, which was recently bought by the owner of Jimmy John’s, wins on value and customization. You can get a sandwich any way you want for a much cheaper price.
Still, Jersey Mike’s offers a more satisfying sandwich. I’m willing to pay a few dollars more for that quality. And I’m not alone. In 2022, Jersey Mike’s was one of the top growing restaurants chains in the US, according to Restaurant Business. In 2022, the chain added nearly 300 new locations. Mike’s has about 2,400 locations.
But if you’re looking for value, I recommend giving Subway’s Deli Heroes a shot. They’re much better than the chain’s core subs lineup.
If you’re a bread snob, stay away from Subway. The artisan Italian bread, added to the menu in 2021, is terrible. If Subway’s new owner can fix the bread and continue to develop higher quality sandwiches like the Deli Heroes, they might be able to compete with Jersey Mike’s in the future.
Are you a Subway or Jersey Mike’s insider with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected]. Or 714-269-8873