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Back to Basics: Perfecting the Humble Hot Dog

Hedgehog Hot Dogs

Nothing says summer cookout like hotdogs. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into crisp, nicely browned skin and a meaty interior. In fact, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans consume over 7 billion hot dogs, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Association. (That’s 818 every second.) So it’s hard to imagine how to improve on a sausage that comes ready smoked and cooked. (All you really need to do is reheat it on the grill. But we’re going to try to improve it.)

We owe our obsession to a German immigrant named Charles Feltman, a baker by trade, who invented the first hot dog to showcase his fresh-baked buns–they allowed beach goers to skip niceties like plates and silverware. His “storefront” was a pie cart on the sand dunes of Coney Island. In 1916, one of Feltman’s bun slicers jumped ship and opened a frankfurter shop nearby. Of course, Nathan’s (and Feltman’s) are still in the hot dog business in a big way and are in grocery stores from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

As noted above, most hot dogs are pre-cooked when you purchase them. If you remember fondly the snappy hot dogs of your youth, buy butcher-style hot dogs with natural skins. (They often come in ropes and must be cut apart before grilling.) Grill them over medium indirect heat, or their steaming juices might cause them to split. You can lay them parallel or perpendicular to the grill grate. Steven likes to maximize the surface that will be caramelized by splitting the hot dog lengthwise or by “hedgehogging” it. Be sure to lightly butter the buns (split lengthwise) for 1 to 2 minutes so they’ll be hot when they receive the hot dog.

The sky’s the limit when adding condiments–you know the usual suspects. But there’s a wide world of dogs on planet barbecue. Here are some of the most interesting and enticing combinations.

Hot Dog Combinations

Brazilian Turbinado

A “jet propelled” hot dog heaped with mashed potatoes, crunchy shoestring potatoes, bacon bits, mayonnaise, and tomato-onion salsa. Brazil (specifically, Rio de Janeiro) is also the birthplace of the ” target=”_blank”>>samba dog, a popular late-night snack lavished with hard-cooked eggs and a piquant pepper-onion-olive relish.

Canadian “Japa Dog”

When in Vancouver, don’t miss the “Japa Dog,” which comes topped with seaweed, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and fried onions.

Japa dog

Photo by Heather Harvey via Creative Commons.

Colombian Perros Calientes

This dog comes drenched with salsa, pineapple sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, shredded lettuce, and crushed chili-flavored potato chips crowned with a boiled quail egg. Whew!

Chicago Dog

This mid-American classic starts with an all-beef hot dog on a soft poppy seed bun. Then it’s topped with tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, neon-green relish, chopped onions, yellow mustard (never ketchup), pickled sport peppers—kind of like pepperoncini—and a sprinkle of celery salt.

Chicago hot dog

Photo by Arnold Gatilao via Creative Commons.

Chilean Italiano

Mashed avocados, chopped tomatoes, and a scandalous amount of mayonnaise—colors that mimic the Italian flag—top these dogs. Order a completo, and you’ll get sauerkraut, too.

Chilean italiano hot dog

Photo by Vera & Jean-Christophe via Creative Commons.

6. Dutch “Stoner Dog,” a.k.a., “Pizza Dog”

Long famed for its “coffee” shops, Amsterdamers have an ingenious solution when the munchies strike and you can’t decide between hot dogs or pizza. The “stoner dog” features a frankfurter topped with pizza sauce, pepperoni, peppers, and a prodigious amount of cheese.

Filipino Hot Dog

Luridly red, these dogs are served with rice, a fried egg, and banana ketchup. But no bun.

Guatemalan Shuco Dog, a.k.a. “Dirty Dog”

This dog is served on a hero roll with guacamole or mashed avocado, mayonnaise, boiled cabbage, tomatoes, mustard, and hot sauce.

Icelandic Dog

A waterfront hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavik called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur plies the lunch and late-night crowd with lamb, pork, and beef hot dogs topped with rémoulade sauce (like tartar sauce), a sweet brown mustard called pylsussinep, ketchup, and French-fried onions.

New York System Weiners

Part of Rhode Island’s food culture since the early 1900s. To order this veal and pork dog like a local, ask for it “up the arm,” which requires the cook to balance the steamed buns on his forearm as he adds onions, celery salt, mustard, and cumin-scented meat sauce.

Swedish Tunnbrödsrulle

Don’t pass judgment on this improbable assemblage until you’ve stumbled out of a Stockholm bar at closing time in need of alcohol-absorbing sustenance. It starts with a soft tortilla-like wrap to which are added hot dogs, mashed potatoes, shrimp salad sloppy with mayonnaise, onions, shredded lettuce, and squiggles of ketchup and mustard. Really.

Check out our Grilled Hot Hog Challenge we did awhile back!

Grilled Hot Dogs Battle

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