“A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.”
Whether they are toted by sweaty stadium vendors up and down the grandstands at sporting events, being hawked street-side via cart and fresh from a “dirty-water” bath on a New York City street corner, or served around the kitchen table to hungry kids as a quick-and-easy lunch, hot dogs have become synonymous with the American way of life.
And though they may have received, perhaps, an unfair share of negative press in recent years (see: choking hazard, cancer-risk ), and yes, like most products there a lot, and I mean a lot of “hot dogs” there that are pure crap (I’m looking at you Bar-S) made from the cheapest pork, chicken, and turkey by-products that companies are able to scrape off of the floor, there are really few things that are as delicious and affordable — especially with the right toppings — as a quality dog.
A brief history.
Created in Frankfurt, Germany of which the names “frankfurter,” and “frank” cased sausages are claimed to have been created as early as the 15th century. In the early 1800’s residents of Vienna (Wein), Austria tried to lay their claim to the birth of the famous sausage, christening it the “weinerwurst” and later shortening that to “weiner.” It wasn’t util the mid-to-late 19th century that they made their way across the pond to the United States.
The man who is credited (albeit with some disagreement) with creating the first real, hot dogs meaning a frank served on a bun was Charles A. Feldman, a butcher from New York who began selling them from a cart on Coney Island in 1867.
The key to a good hot dog is found in the meat. As noted before, cheap multi-meat hot dog impostors are not to be confused with a quality frank. Many cities, especially in the northeast are home to locally owned producers of fine sausages, but when it comes to quality on a national level the two best options are Hebrew National (Kosher) hot dogs and Nathan’s Famous. I go with Nathan’s natural-casing hot dogs when available. Hebrew National doesn’t make natural-casings because it isn’t Kosher as the casing is usually made of pork intestines. I hear that Boar’s Head makes a great frank, but I’ve never had the opportunity to try them.
The next most important thing is the bun. It must be of good quality (Sara Lee hot dog buns are a good option), and if you really want it to taste good it must be steamed. In all honesty a quality hot dog whether boiled, grilled or steamed and placed on a warm, steamed bun tastes just fine on its own. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cover them with your favorite condiments, and with a hot dog there really is no limit to what you can put on them.
5 good regional variations on the hot dog.
1. New York style
This is, in my opinion, the holy-grail of hot dogs. Traditionally served from NYC street-carts the NYC style franks have been given moniker “dirty-water dogs” because many hot dog-vendors rarely change the water in which they boil then hold the franks. NYC style hot dogs come with a 100% all-beef frank (usually Sabrett brand), with a natural casing that snaps when you bite into it. The frank is boiled, placed on a bun and topped with spicy mustard (I prefer Gulden’s) and New Yorks famous, glistening, “sweet-onion sauce,” which is at the same time sweet, tangy (vinegar), and can go from mild to spicy depending on how much pepper is added. I like to as a little cayenne pepper for a bit more kick than the standard red pepper flakes.
2. Chicago Style
In Chicago, people like their hot dogs covered in vegetables. The typical Chicago Dog is 100% pure-beef dog, usually from Vienna Beef, and preferably in a natural-casing. The frank is usually steamed or simmered and served (this next part is important) on a steamed poppy-seed bun. Then comes a parade of condiments that once carefully piled on-top create the beautifully colorful Chicago Dog. By the way, you may see fit to omit an item or two from the Chicago Dog, but never, under any circumstances put ketchup on a Chicago Style dog.
Here is the rundown.
- Yellow Mustard goes directly on the frank (remember, wet condiments always go on first)
- Freshly diced onions are then placed on top of the mustard.
- Brightly colored green sweet relish is then spooned on top of the onions. (True Chicagoans use either Rolf’s or Vienna beef brand but if you can’t find any regular sweet relish is acceptable.)
- Next comes the tomatoes. They should be cut into wedges and placed on one side of the frank. (gotta save room for the pickle)
- On the opposite side of the tomatoes is a who dill pickle spear. Look for the refrigerated brands like Claussen as the snap is important.
- Place three or four “sport peppers” which are a kind of pickled pepper, that although not too hot add spice.
- Finally, the coup de grace, the creme de la creme of the Chicago Dog, celery salt is lightly sprinkled on to to complete the masterpiece.
3. West Virginia Slaw Dog
While some other variations on the hot dog may be more famous, one of the most unusual and delicious varieties is calls Appalachia home. It like the Chicago Dog is a multi-step process, but I assure you the end result will leave you begging for more of its gooey goodness. Warning: You may need a fork for this one.
- The Slaw Dog starts with a quality, steamed bun.
- Next, and order is important, comes the chili. The chili used for Slaw Dogs is is made with finely-ground beef, and has a cinnamon flavor uncommon in many chilies. The chili is place directly on the bun to aid in the gooey texture.
- Next comes the frank. West Virginians usually use pork franks. I personally break the rules and use the all-beef variety. Now all but the very top of the frank is surrounded by warm, flavorful chili sauce.
- Squeeze some yellow-mustard on to the frank.
- (optional) Some like to add a little extra chili on top of the mustard to completely surround the frank in meaty goodness.
- Finally, the Slaw. A sweeter variety of cole-slaw is preferred. It’s application is simple but it is the slaw that puts the dogs from West Virginia over the top.
- Finish of the whole thing with some freshly diced onions and you are well on your way to hot dog heaven.
4. The Coney Island Hot Dog
Though its name may lead one to believe otherwise the Coney Dog is from Michigan, specifically Flint and Detroit, and not Coney Island in New York. It is also important to note that for one to be a true Coney and not just another chili dog specific steps must be taken. First the frank itself must be all-beef or pork/beef hybrid with a natural casing, and it must be grilled, no exceptions. Second the chili must be a thick meaty substance made from beef-hearts. Recipe here Add some yellow mustard and some freshly diced onions and you have a genuine Coney Island Hot Dog.
For the cheesy Cincinatti variation on the Coney, click here.
5. The Mexican Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog
These beauties are one of southern California’s, more specifically Los Angeles’ great gifts. The Bacon Dog features a delicious cornucopia of flavors as diverse as the LA population. In fact these dogs are so good, they are illegal. Like Chicago Dogs and Slaw Dogs these puppies have a laundry list of steps to complete during construction.
- Raw bacon is wrapped around the frank (as usual all-beef is best), and the combo is placed on either a grill or flat-top depending on what is available.
- Meanwhile you want to start grilling some red and green peppers and onions (this should be on a flat-top or in a frying pan) in either butter or vegetable oil. The bun on a Bacon Dog gets grilled as well and should be started about halfway through cooking the frank. When the bacon is cooked the frank should be warmed (franks come pre-cooked so you don’t have to worry about them) and the peppers and onions should be perfectly grilled, and the bun should be slightly toasty.
- Place the frank on the bun and top with mayonnaise (this is NOT optional), and your choice of mustard, ketchup or BBQ sauce.
- Place a grilled poblano pepper on top and enjoy this delicious SoCal treat.
That is 5 first-class variations on an American classic that should leave your mouth watering and anyone who tries them begging for more.