By Mike Stines, Ph.B.
Frankfurters, franks, weenies, wieners, dogs, red hots, hot dogs, tube steaks, or less-politely, rat sticks—whatever you call them—are traditional fare across the country for summer cookouts and at ballparks.
According to the latest statistics from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, more than 21.2 million hot dogs were sold in Los Angeles last year (more than anywhere else in the country), followed by New York with 14.3 million, San Antonio/Corpus Christie with 19 million, and Houston with 14 million. Chicago, considered a Mecca for hot dogs by some, came in fifth place with 13.2 million. We're talking real dogs here, beef and pork, not the turkey, chicken, or tofu-stuffed variety.
There are several different theories about the hot dog's origin. Traditionally, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, is credited with originating the frankfurter but other food historians suggest the sausage was created in the 1600s by Johann Georghehner, a butcher in Coburg, Germany. Vienna (Wien in German), Austria, however, points to the term "wiener" to stake their claim.
There's also disagreement where—and when—the hot dog was introduced in the States. In the 1860s German immigrants called them "dachshund sausages" and sold them from pushcarts in New York City, placing them in a bun with a serving of sauerkraut and mustard on top. In 1871, a German butcher named Charles Feltman began selling them at his Coney Island, New York, restaurant.
Food historians also note that sausages were sold at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and again at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis where Anton Feuchtwanger, a sausage concessionaire, ran out of the protective gloves he handed out to keep his customers from burning their fingers when eating. As a solution, he supposedly approached his brother-in-law, a baker, and asked him to create bread sturdy enough to hold the sausage.
Legend also has it that "hot dog" was coined during a New York Giants baseball game on a cold April day in 1902. Concessionaire Harry Stevens was losing money trying to sell cold items and sent his salesmen out to buy up all the "dachshund sausages" they could find and an equal number of rolls. Vendors hawked them from portable hot-water tanks while yelling, "They're red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they're red hot!"
Yet others contend New York Journal sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan gave the hot dog its name. He wanted to sketch Polo Ground vendors selling barking sausages in a roll at a ballgame and yelling: "Get your dachshund sausages while they're red hot!" But Dorgan was unsure how to spell "dachshund," so he simply wrote "Hot Dog!" and the name stuck.
MLB.com says an average of 862,702 hot dogs are eaten in each of the league's ballparks during the season, noting each ballpark has its specialty. At Turner Field in Atlanta, there are some 20 different varieties offered to fans. The Chicago-style dog, smothered in onions, tomatoes, banana peppers, dill pickle spears, celery salt, and mustard on a poppy seed bun, remains the most popular at Wrigley Field. In Boston, home of the world-champion Red Sox, it's Fenway Franks, boiled and grilled, with mustard and relish. Los Angeles offers Dodger Dogs, a foot-long pork frank served in a steamed bun with mustard and relish. Yankee stadium sells more hot dogs than any other ballpark, followed by Dodger Stadium.
Two Popular Varieties: Natural and Skinless
While some argue hot dogs are nothing more than trimmings and leftovers from butchering, the actual ingredients are carefully regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA. Hot dogs, whether all-beef or pork, or a combination of pork and beef, are sold either "skinless" or with "natural casings" that give the dog its traditional "snap" when bitten. All hot dogs are made by pumping a meat mixture and seasonings including coriander, garlic, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt, sugar, and white pepper, known as batter, into casings, either natural (animal intestines) or cellulose, and cooking the links in a smokehouse with a variety of woods. After cooking, dogs made with cellulose casings are sent to a peeler to remove the casing.
"Each region definitely puts its own touch on their hot dogs and franks and we're no exception," says Jennifer Dimler, marketing manager of New England's Kayem Foods, the region's top hot dog purveyor. "New York area hot dogs tend to be beefier and a bit spicier profile than most New England-style hot dogs. New Englanders tend to prefer a pork-beef blend and a milder spice profile. And in Maine they like the same blend but they like their hot dogs died bright red, hence the name 'Old Tyme Reds.'"
Breeds of Dogs
- In New York, the deli-style dog is an all-beef frank grilled (sometimes boiled first), but not spilt unless that's the way you want it, and usually topped with sauerkraut and deli mustard. Street carts usually offer boiled Hebrew National all-beef dogs topped with an onion sauce (or steamed onions) and deli mustard.
- Chicago's Red Hot features a Vienna beef hot dog in a poppy seed roll smothered with mustard, green sweet pickle relish, chopped onion, tomato wedges, a pickle spear, and celery salt.
- Los Angeles' Dodger Dog is a foot-long pork hot dog in a steamed bun with mustard and relish.
- Fenway Franks, named after Boston's famed baseball park, are either boiled or grilled and served with mustard and relish. The largest hot dog purveyor in New England is Kayem, makers of Old Tyme Natural Casing Franks and Old Tyme Reds Natural Casing Franks—both a beef and pork combination—from their smokehouse in Chelsea, just outside of Boston where hickory and oak smoke the wieners. Kayem has been owned and operated by the same family since 1909.
- In Cincinnati, a Vienna beef frank is served with chili, cheddar cheese, onions, and mustard.
- For folks in Milwaukee, it's a bratwurst instead of a hot dog. Topped with sauerkraut and brown mustard and served on a crusty roll.
- Texas lays claim to the corn dog, created for the 1942 Texas State fair by vendor Neil Fletcher. It's an all-beef hot dog dipped in cornmeal batter, deep-fried, and served with coleslaw and mustard. (Iowa also claims to have invented the corn dog as does the Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois that purports they created and served the first deep-fried corn dog, called a Cozy Dog, in July 1946.) Texas wieners, not corn dogs, are served with chili sauce, mustard, and onions.
- And in Kansas City dogs come with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese on a sesame seed bun.
Putting On the Dog
Hot dog connoisseurs note condiments should be applied in a specific order. Mustard and chili are first; followed by relish, onions, and sauerkraut; followed by shredded cheese; and then spices like celery salt or pepper. Dress the dog, not the bun they say… condiments should go between the bun and the dog, not on top of the dog.
Americans are not the only ones who love hot dogs. The Spanish call them perritos calientes; in Italian, it's cane caldo; the French refer to them as chien chaud; Germans call them Heisser Hund; and the Dutch have their worstjes.
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates Americans will eat at least seven billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. During Fourth of July weekend - the biggest hot dog holiday in the United States--we'll eat 155 million hot dogs. July is also National Hot Dog Month and the month for the Hot Dog Festival in Frankfurter...I mean, Frankfort, Indiana.
Coney Island Landmark
Nathan's, founded by Nathan Handwerker in 1916 as a nickel hot dog stand on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island, has become a must-go-to destination for the hot dog aficionado. Handwerker borrowed $300 from his friends, Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, to open his stand. Nathan's, now a major franchise operation, offers their all-beef hot dog topped with cheddar cheese, mild chili, or both chili and cheese. Side orders include crispy, crinkle-cut fries and beer-battered onion rings.
Los Angeles Has Pink's
On the left coast, Pink's (on the corner of Melrose Avenue and N. LaBrea Boulevard) is known as the hot dog stand of the stars and scores of autographed 8- by 10-inch photographs attest to that. Paul Pink started his hot dog stand, actually a pushcart, in 1939. Pink's chili dogs—all-beef franks with natural casings—with a warmed bun, mustard, onions, and thick chili sold for 10 cents each. Today, Pink's chili dogs sell for $2.50.
Buns & Bread
Hot dog buns, like their filling, vary in different regions of the country. The choices are top loading—a New England favorite—and side loading, preferred throughout the rest of the country.
The advantage of a top loader is that it holds the hot dog securely and fits nicely into those three-sided holders at the ballpark. Top loaders are baked side by side and torn apart as needed, leaving two flat side surfaces for toasting. Side loaders have more dough and tend to sop up all the juices from chili or sauerkraut without falling apart.
Regardless of the type of bun, they taste best warmed, either steamed or grilled. Arrange the buns on a cookie sheet and bake them at 400 degrees F. for about 10 minutes, turning once. Buns may also be steamed in a steamer tray or buttered and grilled over medium-hot coals.
Hot dogs—much like barbecue sauces— have regional styles and favorites. In the South, folks like their hot dogs "dragged through the garden" with a coleslaw-style topping. New Yorkers prefer theirs with steamed onions and pale mustard. In Chicago, dogs come on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, raw onion, pickle, relish, sliced tomato, and celery salt. Iowa, Texas, and Illinois all lay claim to the deep-fried corn dog. (Pronto Pups, another type of deep-fried hot dog, also have a disputed history with several areas of the country laying claim to the wheat flour batter and deep-fried dog on a stick.)
Preferred Cooking Methods
How, or even whether, a hot dog is cooked is personal preference. Although hot dogs are fully cooked when purchased, there are only few who will snack on unheated dogs. Grilled, fried, or steamed are the preferred methods for reheating wieners. Many eschew boiling dogs.
Grilling is generally preferred, if not actually on a grill then in a stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat. Watch them carefully and turn frequently. On an outdoor grill, cook hot dogs over medium heat and turn as soon as one side starts to brown. Grilled dogs need only a couple of minutes on each side.
To steam dogs, place a steamer rack in a medium stockpot and add water, stock, or beer to just below the rack. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer, and add the hot dogs. Cover and steam 5 to 7 minutes or until the dogs are completely heated.
Wrigley Field Chicago-style Grill Cart Hot Dog
All-beef hot dogs, as needed
Poppy seed buns, as needed
Grilled sliced onions
Mild banana peppers
Sweet green relish
On a medium-high direct heat grill, cook the hot dogs until well-browned and hot. Transfer the hot dogs to warmed buns. Serve with toppings.
New York-style Street Cart "Red Hots" Sauce
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
On a 14-inch by 14-inch piece of aluminum foil, mix all ingredients together; stir until well blended. Form the foil into a pouch, sealing tightly. Place the pouch on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
Alternate method: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir continually while bringing to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened.
Yield: 1 cup
Cackalacky® Wiener Sauce
In New York City, hot dog and pretzel vendors ply the streets offering their wares to all who pass. This recipe is an adaptation of the classic hot dog sauce served from push carts throughout the city. Cackalacky® Combo Condiment™ is a combination of tomatoes, mustard, onions, pickles, chili spice, and a bunch of "secret ingredients" that will elevate the humble Red Hot to a new pinnacle of epicurean delight. Cackalacky products are available at www.cackalacky.com or by calling (866) 470-0938.
1 cup diced sweet onion (Maui®, Walla Walla, or Vidalia®)
1 (10-ounce) bottle Cackalacky® Combo Condiment™ sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
Toppings: Grilled sliced sweet onions, diced red onions, diced tomatoes, celery salt, sauerkraut, chili, and melted Velveeta® cheese.
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir continually while bringing to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Spoon a generous serving into toasted hot dog buns, place a grilled hot dog atop and serve with your favorite toppings.
Hillbilly Hors d'Oeuvres
Ron Boyle of Porky's Gourmet Foods in Gallatin, Tennessee, offers this recipe for hot dog appetizers. "It will make your tongue slap the top of your mouth for more!" he says. His products are available at porkysgourmet.com or by calling (800) 767-5911.
1 (16-ounce) package all-beef hot dogs
1 (14.4-ounce) bottle Historic Lynchburg Tennessee Whiskey Barbeque Sauce (any flavor)
1 (11-ounce) bag Tostitos tortilla chip scoops
1 (16-ounce) bottle Bellycheer Wow Chow relish (mild or hot)
1 (5-ounce) bottle Bellycheer Jalapeño Pepper Sauce
Cut the hot dogs crosswise into 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch pieces. Put them into a medium saucepan over medium heat and cover with Historic Lynchburg Tennessee Whiskey Barbeque Sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until hot. Using chef's tongs take a piece of the warmed wiener and place it atop a Tostitos scoop, add a dollop of Wow Chow relish, and a drop or two of jalapeño pepper sauce.
Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
New York-Style Onion Sauce
This recipe makes an onion sauce similar to the famed onion sauce served from New York City's push carts.
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin and diced
4 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until the onions are wilted. Add water, tomato paste, corn syrup, cornstarch, salt, and red pepper flakes, and stir.
Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the vinegar. Continue to simmer for an additiona1 30 to 45 minutes or until most of the liquid has reduced and the sauce is thick.
Yield: 1 cup
Prepare the smoker for 225 degrees F smoking using lump charwood and a few chunks of hickory wood. Place hot dogs on the cooking grate, cover, and smoke-cook for 1 hour.
Editor's Note: Mike Stines, Ph.B., former executive editor of The BBQer magazine, is the author of Mastering Barbecue (Ten Speed Press, 2005). A resident of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, he is a culinary instructor, a food writer, and a professional chef.