Man Bites Dog! Plus, 10 Top American Hot Dogs

David Raichlen's Fiance Eating the Sonoran Dog

Americans love their dogs — their hot dogs, that is — consuming 7 billion of them each summer, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Some people will eat more than their share: Last year, the winner in the men’s division of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest on Coney Island dispatched 68 at a single sitting.

Frankfurters became part of the American diet in the late 19th century, introduced by German immigrants. They were traditionally precooked sausages made from finely ground or emulsified pork and/or veal, or beef; contemporary versions sometimes contain turkey or chicken. Your options range from humble (skinless bologna-like dogs sold eight to a pack) to haute (natural casing hot dogs from premium sausage purveyors sold by the link). You can even buy Wagyu beef hot dogs online and franks enriched with foie gras. (Chicago hot dog mecca Hot Doug’s sometimes has them on the menu, but for the record, will be closed on July 4.)

Like most people, I have a preference for the hot dogs of my childhood. My grandfather, Sam Raichlen, loved his Hebrew National-brand all-beef hot dogs butterflied, pan-fried in butter, swathed in slices of fried bologna, and topped with spicy mustard, sauerkraut, and pickles. (He even requested one from his deathbed.)

To this day, I seek out Hebrew National dogs, but I prefer mine grilled as I like the subtle smokiness and snappier crunch of the casing. You know Raichlen’s Rule: “If something tastes good fried, baked, boiled, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled.”

But which dog is top dog? Here are some of our favorite regional America variations. And tell us on the BBQ Board, which hot dog howls the loudest for you.

  • Sonoran – Found in Tucson, Nogales, and Phoenix, Arizona, these all-beef dogs are spiraled with bacon, sandwiched in a soft Mexican bolillo roll, then buried under layers of pinto beans, chopped onions, diced tomatoes and avocado, cheese, salsa verde, thinned mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. (It’s pictured, above, with my cousin David Raichlen’s fiance enjoying one.)
  • New York System Wiener – Name notwithstanding, this Rhode Island sandwich is anchored by a thin pork and veal frankfurter served on a steamed bun with celery salt, yellow mustard, chopped onions, and a cumin-inflected ground meat sauce.
  • Red Snapper – Your retinas, if not your taste buds, will fixate on these luridly-dyed, natural casing beef and pork franks. A staple in Maine, they usually come grilled — alright! — requiring only a squirt or two of yellow mustard.
  • New York Hot Dog – Not to be confused with its Rhode Island twin above, this is the dog New Yorkers clamor for — dished up from the ubiquitous pushcarts. These “dirty water dogs” normally come boiled (hum) — a lowly condition improved by a tomatoey onion sauce or sauerkraut and yellow mustard — or better yet, all three.
  • Puka Dog – The focus is on the bun — made from Hawaii’s distinctive sweet bread dough, then impaled lengthwise on a preheated rod so they’re toasted on the inside. A Polish sausage — consider it a hot dog on steroids — is inserted into the toasty tunnel, and served with your choice of fruit salsas and/or mustard.
  • Chicago Dog – If you’re generally hostile to “the works” on your dogs, reserve final judgment until you try this iconic masterpiece from the Windy City: A skinless all-beef dog from Vienna Beef in a poppy seed-dusted bun, plus yellow mustard, fluorescent green sweet pickle relish, tomato wedges, chopped onions, piquant pickled green peppers (called “sport peppers” in Chi-Town), a dill pickle spear, and a dusting of celery salt. But absolutely no ketchup. Ever. Unless you’re from Kenosha.
  • Rochester White Hot – Natives of Western New York State know that the question, “White or red?” refers to hot dogs, with “white” being pale and porky bratwurst-like dogs that were once cheaper alternatives to their pinkish-red counterparts. Mustard, raw chopped white onions, and a thin meat sauce are traditional accompaniments.
  • Kansas City Dog – Best described as a hot dog masquerading as a Reuben sandwich. Melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, caraway seed, and all-beef hot dogs on a sesame seed bun are a mainstay of K.C. sporting events.
  • Southern Slaw Dog – Some people south of the Mason-Dixon line refer to this as a dog that’s been “dragged through the garden.” A righteous dog topped with tangy coleslaw.
  • Coney Island – Deceptively named, this frank is topped with a pebbly all-meat chili, raw onions, yellow mustard, and shredded cheddar cheese. Find it in Detroit, Michigan. Not on Coney Island.


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