Whether we call it a hot dog, frankfurter or just dog, the hotdog is the quintessential American summer food. And the familiar “wiener” popularized by the number one hot dog brand– Oscar Meyer. Served on a bun and usually topped by at least one topping, hot dogs are enjoyed at baseball games and barbecues all over America, mostly in summer but all throughout the year. The commonly-served variety can have pork or pork and beef, but some consumers like the all-beef variety. Still others prefer kosher hot dogs — the most famous brand of kosher hot dogs is Hebrew National. Even non-religious people like kosher hot dogs because they trust what’s in them; after all, as the commercial for Hebrew National states, “We have to answer to a higher authority”.
Hot dogs are prepared in many different ways. The usual way is on the grill or the barbecue. But inside the house, families can cook hot dogs in the broiler part of the oven, a separate table-top broiler. They can also be cooked in a stovetop grill. Some families even cook them in their fireplace. And hot dogs are the iconic camping staple — cooked on an outdoor bonfire or campfire. They can also be baked in a casserole, with beans, onions and cheese. In big cities, vendors sell hot dogs from carts, and cook them in boiling water. These hot dogs are often called “dirty water dogs”, although most of the carts are clean and the water is too. Despite that unappetizing name, millions of these hot dog carts do a booming business.
And there are expressions using the words “hot dog”. A hot dog can be a person who is a daredevil or just someone special. To express joy or excitement, the expression “hot dog!” or “hot diggity dog!” is screamed with delight. Hot dogs originated in Germany or Austria in the 15th century, and were brought to the United States in the 1800s. A Jewish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker sold hot dogs from a cart for five cents in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, New York in the early 1900s. A couple of decades later, Handwerker moved to a permanent structure near the Coney Island beach and famous boardwalk and “Nathan’s Famous” was born. Nowadays, Nathan’s Famous sells their iconic hot dogs in outlets all over the United States, and has even packaged their famous dogs and made them available in supermarkets.
Mustard is number one
Perhaps the number one topping for hot dog is mustard, whose colors can range from bright yellow to dark brown. The most popular American mustard is the yellow variety, which is mos ubiquitous on grocery store shelves. But in recent years, Americans have expanded their taste buds and darker mustards have become more popular. French Dijon mustard is an example of a mustard that is appearing more in groceries and delis, and thus on American hot dogs. There are even typical American food companies that have begun to produce their own versions of the French dark mustard.
Legends say that mustard originated in India as far back as 3000 BC and brought by travelers to the Roman Empire, where it was first used for pickling. Mustard was also used for medicinal purposes, as it was thought to stimulate circulation. And even today, mustard poultices are applied to relieve muscle aches.
Sauerkraut — for a sweet and tangy touch
Sauerkraut is the next popular topping for hot dogs, and is often paired with mustard. Sauerkraut originated in Germany, and is made by fermentation of shredded cabbage with lactic acid bacteria. The fermentation process ferments the sugar in the cabbage and forms lactic acid, which gives the sauerkraut a long shelf life and a sour taste. Recently, nutritionists have recognized the importance of fermented foods as a source of probiotics, and sauerkraut has been touted for its benefit to the digestive system. Sauerkraut also became popular with sailors in the last few centuries because it lasted without refrigeration and prevented scurvy.
Although sauerkraut, which means “sour cabbage” always contains cabbage, there are many variations. Any of the root vegetable [turnip, rutabaga] can be added, and carrots are also commonly added to sauerkraut for a bit of sweetness. Some of the other things that can be added to sauerkraut are celery, horseradish, radish, onions and even pumpkin or apples.
Ketchup — the condiment of contention
It seems counterintuitive and — to some — even sacrilege, but a lot of hot dog eaters top their dogs with ketchup. Since ketchup is the iconic topping for hamburgers, there is a controversy surrounding ketchup as a topping for hot dogs. In some restaurants around the United States, customers who ask for ketchup for their hot dogs, may even be thrown out.
Ketchup is a sweet and tangy sauce made out of tomatoes, vinegar, sweetener and other seasonings which may include onions, allspice, cloves, cinnamon or garlic. Aside from hot dogs and hamburgers, ketchup is typically slathered on French fries, various meats, and numerous other foods. Most American homes have a bottle of ketchup in the pantry or refrigerator.
Pickle relish — packaged or homemade
Another popular topping for hot dogs is pickle relish. There are hundreds of different recipes for pickle relish. Pickle relish can be sweet or salty, savory or even spicy. It can be made with sweet gherkins, dill pickles or sour pickles. Although the common denominator of all pickle relishes is pickles, that is where the similarity ends.
Ready-made jars of relish can be found on the shelves of grocery stores and deli counters. But, thousands of recipes for pickle relish abound on the internet and in cookbooks, especially those geared to cookouts, barbecues and tailgating parties. Classic ingredients are pickles, mustard and vinegar, with added ingredients which range from hot peppers and carrots to honey, sugar and even pineapple.
Chili — a regional favorite gone national
Chili has long been a popular topping for hot dogs in the Southwest and Pacific coast, but has caught on in the rest of the country a few decades ago. Chili dogs can also be topped with grilled onions and shredded cheese. There are a million ways to cook chili, and any kind of chili can sit on top of a hot dog.
The ingredients in chili are a matter of regionality or personal preference. ‘Chili con carne’ — chili with meat, has traditionally contained beef. But the meat can also be chicken, turkey, veal or even game meat, like venison. Some chilis are vegetarian, and have no meat at all. Whether chili contains beans, is often a topic of contention. When beans are used, they are usually red kidney beans or small pinto beans. Chili is pre-cooked and packaged for the grocery shelf in cans, under such brands as Bush, Heinz and Old El Paso.
‘Chili cook-offs’ are chili cooking contests held throughout the United States. Depending on region, these contest can have very strict guidelines, often award large cash prizes and prestige and are taken very seriously. Cook-offs are often held at state and county fairs.