Subway Vs Jimmy Johns: How Far Will $10 Go?

Subway and Jimmy John's have become the go-to outlets for fresh made-to-order sub sandwiches. Though their menus offer similar options, each company has its own character, creating a tug-of-war for the lunch money of dedicated diners in both camps. At first glance, options at these fast food favorites may seem too similar to separate. But there are distinct differences that draw observant sandwich fans in one direction or the other. In the competition to claim customers, the Subway and Jimmy John's match comes down to two things: quality and quantity of food for your money. So which of these two sandwich servers steals the show when a $10 spending limit has been set?

We put our money on the table and tested the theory that either Subway or Jimmy John's would prove superior in the battle for the bucks. Knowing the pros and cons of the untold truth about Subway gave us a lead-in to what we might expect food-for-dollar-wise. With so many popular Jimmy John's menu items, choosing the best deal for the occasion was a bit of a challenge. We powered through and found two comparable combos with prices close enough to call things fair and square and placed our orders.

Subway served up a six-inch Cold Cut Combo

We steered clear of Subway's secret menu items and zeroed in on the hero that made the most sense for the least cents. A six-inch cold cut combo came in near the $10 mark — $10.60 before tax. This 10-spot titan included half a foot of sumptuous Subway sandwich with the traditional ham, salami, and bologna one-two-three punch landing inside the bread. We topped off with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayo, and American cheese. Sour cream and onion Lay's potato chips and a medium Diet Coke rounded out our order to keep the sandwich company.

The order may have been straightforward, but the disappointment at being corralled into choosing a six-inch sandwich instead of a foot-long stung a little. Anything fancier than the basic cold cut blend would add to the price, and a foot-long sandwich started at $9.99 without being part of a combo. Since the idea is to get as much as possible for $10, a six-inch was the only option. There was an offer on the table to replace the chips with two cookies, but the Lay's chips were non-negotiable. Although we opted out, it was refreshing to know a choice was available.

Jimmy John's jumped in with an eight-inch Original Combo

Having a half-sandwich combo as a baseline, our Jimmy John's order was a bit easier to manage. But in its eagerness to subdue its main sub competition, this sly sandwich slinger offers eight-inch subs as the small selection. Two extra inches of sandwich means more food for the money, giving Jimmy John's an edge right out of the gate. More similarly to Subway, the original combo rang up at $10.89 without the bells and whistles. Likewise, any premium meats or other add-ins upped the ante, so a ham and provolone-filled Pepe was where we buttered our bread. It came with a bag of the restaurant's signature chips in bold BBQ flavor and a medium Diet Coke to whet our whistle, which made the two orders more equal.

For hungry hunters in the fast-and-fresh jungle, premier options like Jimmy John's crunchy beef sandwich or the garlic aioli sub bring more substantial possibilities to the table. When the goal is to get as much fantastic food as possible for $10, those pie-in-the-sky sandwiches are out of reach. But what you do get for your tenner is a fair amount of fresh food.

Nutrition for the Subway meal

A company with the tag line "Eat Fresh" is bound to provide healthful eating, even among its budget-friendly offerings. Breaking down our combo's nutritional value, the numbers are relatively health-friendly as well. Totaling the sandwich and chips together, our meal came in at 540 calories and 25 grams of fat, nine-and-a-half of which were saturated fats. These numbers aren't too shabby for a sandwich and a side, especially one that includes such a large serving of bread. The sodium count of 1,570 milligrams was concerning, though. Considering the meal is mostly cold cuts and chips, a heavy salt count is to be expected, and seeing the actual numbers puts a finer point on it. On the upside, the 31 grams of protein from the combined meal is a favorable sum. Even at 30 ounces, the Diet Coke added no calories or sugar to the total, something to which we happily raise our glass — or, rather, our disposable cup.

There are healthier choices on the Subway menu, though anything beyond cold cuts exceeds our $10 limit. So while it may not be the most nutritious choice, it fits the bill for a complete meal at the desired price point.

Nutrition for the Jimmy John's meal

Jimmy John's announces its use of fresh produce and fresh-baked bread on its website as well as meats prepared with relatively little processing. For its dedication to wholesome ingredients, the nutritional rundown for the meal we chose is surprisingly uneven. The Pepe carries 600 calories, a reasonable sum for a loaded sandwich. But 260 of those calories bring with them a full 29 grams of fat, eight of which are saturated. The real eyepopper, though, is the sodium count. At 1,520 mighty milligrams, this single sub sandwich subsumes nearly half the recommended daily allowance. Add in the 290 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 230 grams of sodium from the chips, and you have a high-calorie, high-sodium combo that only offers one gram of protein more than the more health-minded Subway set-up. Considering that this was one meal out of a presumed three for the day, the remaining two required conscious choices to maintain mindful eating. The medium Diet Coke kept our beverage calorie free.

For the cautious eater, Jimmy John's does offer smaller versions of its eight-inch subs called Slims as well as Unwiches, which turn typical JJ's subs into lettuce wraps.

How did Subway fare?

We wouldn't say Subway is sub-par necessarily. But when the competition is to find the best quality food in the best quantity for $10 or so, Subway sinks. Maybe it's the familiarity with a Subway sandwich or the fact that the company aims to set a standard for a different kind of fast food. But even with our bespoke toppings, the sandwich was underwhelming. Cold cuts that include bologna give the impression of a school lunch, something most fast food fans would rather sidestep when spending their 10-spot on fresh food. A sprinkling of iceberg lettuce left us in the cold, and even sliced beefsteak tomatoes couldn't add enough flavor to save this sinking sub. And for an outlet that touts its bread selection, the basic sub roll is just that: basic to a fault. Lay's sour cream and onion chips were delicious as expected. Bonus points for a whopping 30-ounce medium drink.

Perhaps dropping a few more bills on the counter would have raised the quality of our combo considerably. If the goal is keeping well within your financial boundaries while selecting something slightly more custom, then $10 isn't enough to fill the take-out bag.

How did Jimmy John's stack up?

The quality of the Jimmy John's sandwich was a revelation, especially the bread. A classic sub roll might seem like an easy formula to master, but Double J's was tastier and had a chewier, more satisfying texture than Subway's bread. If you have to spend your bread on bread, this is the bread to pick. The fillings were fresh and flavorful, though being limited to ham and cheese, there wasn't much that could go wrong. Trim toppings were a bit of a surprise, but we kept coming back to the bread, which seemed to make up the difference. It was also a perfect complement to the ham and cheese, both of which reached lofty deli heights. The sweetness of the ham and the mellow creaminess of the provolone gave the impression of a much more expensive sandwich, from a diner somewhere without a drive-thru window. And the house brand chips were crispy and kettle-style, a delightful contrast to the relative softness of the sandwich.

Drink-wise, Jimmy John's medium-sized cup weighs in at 22 ounces, which is no small sipping, to be sure. When standing side-by-side with the hulking 30-ounce Subway medium, the difference is striking.

The verdict: Jimmy John's combo is a $10 knock-out

Far and away, our champion in this sub sandwich showdown is Jimmy John's Original Combo. Subway may claim to be fresh, but Jimmy John's nudged ahead with its combination of better bread, fresher fillings, and an extra two inches of sandwich. Even deducting points for the smaller drink couldn't diminish the delicious difference between these two fast food power players. If taste is the No. 1 consideration in your selection process, quantity is No. 2, and value is No. 3, then Jimmy John's comes through with flying colors on all fronts. 

For relatively little cash, JJ's makes sure you can enjoy a flavorful sandwich with your choice of chips and beverage. It's a fantastic option when the familiar fast food players feel played out, and you're looking to fill your plate with fresher options. Depending on how you arrange your order, you might even walk out with a little change in your pocket.

All things considered with our price-centered comparison, the nutritional value of the Jimmy John's combo is absolutely bested by the Subway meal, something to consider if health is front of mind when choosing how to spend your dining dollars.