There isn’t much in the world of food that I enjoy more than hot dogs. I love that they can be completely simple, or that condiments can take them to a level of gourmet extravagance. In celebration of this summer cookout star, let’s delve into the history and variety of the hot dog.
The hot dog originated in Europe as a less spicy version of Bratwurst, Germany’s famous sausage. In 1871, the hot dog made its debut in America at Coney Island with the original Feltman’s hot dog stand. In 1916, Nathan Handwerker, a Feltman’s employee, opened his own hot dog stand on Coney Island, adding a special spice recipe from his mother and undercutting Feltman’s price by half. Nathan’s now holds the crown as the world’s most famous hot dog purveyor.
Here are four regional variations to try:
New York City: The majority of NYC dogs are all-beef with natural casings, including those found at Nathan’s and Sabrett’s vendors. Hebrew National carts do not use natural casings and are Kosher. To create the iconic New York dog, first cook it in boiling water, then top it with mustard and sauerkraut, staying away from the ketchup (a big NY “no-no”). You may find the tomato sauce-cooked onions to be optional, but I won’t have a NYC dog without them.
Cincinnati: A “Cincinnati dog” usually refers to the addition of Cincinnati-style chili. However, when I was recently in Cincinnati, I had a unique grilled mettwurst (cured and smoked German pork sausage) on a brioche bun and covered in peperonata, dubbed the “AKA Cincinnati Dog.” The sausage was wonderfully spicy, enveloped in a sweet and spicy pepper relish to which I added a bit of mayo to lend a creamier texture.
Chicago: Like New York, a Chicago dog is comprised of beef in a natural casing. However, instead of being cooked in a water bath, the dog is steamed. It’s then topped with diced white onions, sliced tomato, a dill pickle spear, sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt — all served on a poppy seed bun. This is a delicious hot dog, but I found the amount of condiments to be a bit of a mouthful and difficult to enjoy in every bite.
Miami: The hot dog is transformed into a “Supermoon Perro” at Miami Colombian restaurant La Moon by using a chorizo sausage, adding bacon, and then topping the whole thing — bun and all — with five sauces, including mustard, a ketchup/mayo blend, pineapple sauce and some whose recipes are secret. Add mozzarella cheese, skinny Ruffles sticks and a boiled quail egg and enjoy. I know this may sound a bit crazy and overwhelming, but it somehow works. The sauces add flavor without overpowering the beefy dog, and the Ruffles sticks gives it a fabulous crunch. The egg may seem irrelevant, but it adds something unusual and delightful to the dish. This Supermoon Perro has won my heart and is now my favorite regional hot dog. I have yet to discover what those secret sauces are, but as soon as I find out, I will let you in on it.