Image: Chicago-style hot dog at onesixtyblue, Chicago, Ill.
onesixtyblue
Windy City residents are as serious about hot dogs as they are about sports. At onesixtyblue, Chef Michael McDonald has upped the ante on the classic Chicago-style concoction.
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updated 7/31/2009 10:44:25 AM ET 2009-07-31T14:44:25

For years, hot dogs have been eclipsed by their rounder rival, the hamburger. The latter upped the culinary ante when chefs started taking liberties with ingredients, giving this staple of diner and fast-food fare a makeover worthy of an aging pop star.

Plain beef was replaced with Kobe, wagyu, foie gras and, in one case, adorned with gold leaf. But at one eatery, diners don't have to make a choice between hot dog and hamburger because mini Angus sliders are one of the hot dog toppings. This frank's name? The Grease Truck.

So consider the lowly wiener in all its finery. It is being spotted on the menus of multi-starred restaurants, and it’s been a long time coming.

Those who equate hot dogs with roadside shacks or kitschy diners might be surprised to hear that Homer, the great Greek poet, mentioned blood sausages in his epic "The Odyssey", back in 800 B.C., and today it is estimated that Americans wolf down about 20 billion of these bun-clad meats every year.

While the hot dogs we know from ballparks or backyard barbecues are made mostly from beef, pork or a combination of the two, for the purposes of this story, we are defining “hot dog” as any encased protein that is served in something bun-like, whether a proper hot dog bun, a crusty baguette or a “bun” made entirely of French fries, as fans of Korean street food might have experienced.

Interestingly, the hot dog culinary explosion seems limited to our continent—statistically, the top cities for scarfing dogs are New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago—as our friends across the ponds seem more taken with sausages. And while all hot dogs are, by definition, sausages, the reverse is not always true.

Image: Ditch Dog, Ditch Plains, New York, N.Y.
Quentin Bacon
When a restaurant serves breakfast all day and is open almost 7 days a week from 11 a.m.-2 a.m., they’re clearly catering to a comfort food crowd. Their Ditch Dog remains true to that mission—two all-beef hot dogs on potato rolls, topped with mac and cheese, and served on top of a basket of fries, $14.

Some of the over-the-top hot dogs are meaty enough to send cholesterol levels through the roof, while other "haute" dogs scored high with their sophisticated concoctions that, truth be told, might also do battle with cholesterol.

Is it fair to pit a creation like the bacon-wrapped and jalapeno-chili-cole-slaw-topped "Spicy Redneck" served at New York’s Crif Dogs against Chef Michael Mina's grand take on the corn dog, which pairs lobster mousse with meat-on-a-stick ethos?

You ate what?Searching for the most indulgent hot dogs, certain strange regional customs become apparent: Seattle natives put cream cheese on their dogs at local favorite Inferno, and we won't even talk about what Chicagoans do to theirs, replicated by onesixtyblue's interpretation of the Windy City frank. Then there are the new-fangled methods that aim to reduce condiment leakage, like at New York City's Dogmatic.

It seems the humble hot dog might end up being the great equalizer—the guilty pleasure that brings together all facets of the social and economic strata, whether at grills or gourmet establishments. What better time than this, National Hot Dog Month, to dig in?

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