Culinary Chronicles by David White

Apropos of July having been “National Hot Dog Month” let me pose this question: What do summertime, baseball and Americans have in common? Answer: Hotdogs! Between Memorial Day and Labor Day we consume over 7 billion of these tubular delights. The top 10 cities for hotdog consumption also feature…wait….you guessed it…professional baseball teams.

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Smack dab in the middle of this seasonal hotdog “gold” rush lies the biggest consumption day of them all. On July 4th we consumed roughly 155 million hot dogs in various proteins, buns and topping combinations. Out of curiosity, do the sales of antacids see an uptick during this same time period? Admittedly, the only discomfort I’ve ever experienced from eating hotdogs is an elevated euphoric state.

I have seen how the sausage is made and I’m still undeterred in my enthusiasm, my appetite, my desire and my love for hotdogs. For the record, hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that contain mainly pork, beef, chicken or turkey and the occasional buffalo, deer, antelope or sea creature. More recently, spurred on by consumer desire for increased options in plant-based meat, the market has seen growth in this area.

From a most humble beginning of comminuted meat parts, forced into a tubular shape, seasoned gently or robustly and perhaps kissed with a light smoke, this gustatory platform onto which some combination of mustard, sauerkraut, onions, ketchup, etc., has expanded to capture and carry flavor combinations from across the United States and around the globe.

Based on recent consumption and sales numbers it seems I’m far from alone in my love affair with the foodstuff that started out, here in the United States, as the aptly named “dachshund” dog. From the small carts of yesteryear (1860’s) in New York City, the hot dog can now be found from East to West and North to South still in its’ recognizable tubular form, nestled in a bun with toppings.

What may not be so familiar to many is the effect of our increased exposure to global flavor influences and the excitement around the accessibility of global ingredients with which to innovate. The term “endless innovation” comes quickly to mind when I think of hotdogs. I don’t know if it’s possible to capture, in a reasonable amount of time, the amount of innovation that has happened in hotdog toppings over the past 10 years.

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Here are a few of my favorites from the past couple of years –

Tres Salsas Dog at “Out of the Park Burgers” in Central Islip, LI. Featuring pineapple, cilantro garlic and pink mayo sauces; topped with grilled onions, melted mozzarella, bacon bits and crushed potato chips

Alligator Dog at “Dat Dog” in New Orleans. Slathered with BBQ sauce and Creole mustard; topped with bacon, grilled onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños

The Sonoran at “Big Star” in Chicago. A quarter-pound Vienna Beef dog wrapped in bacon, topped with pinto beans, onions and green hot sauce, topped with lime mayonnaise and mustard and served in a bolillo roll.

• Kauai Special Puka Dog at “Puka Dog” in Koloa, HI. A Polish sausage stuffed into a hollowed out sweet roll with spicy garlic lemon secret sauce, Kauai Special (mango relish), and Aunty Lilikoi's passion fruit mustard.

• Steamed Dog with Everything at Danny’s Dogs in Brunswick, ME. This is still my nostalgic favorite as I worked at Danny’s during high school and even had him cater my wedding a number of decades ago. This dog is a study in perfection…steamed, split top bun filled with a steamed, natural casing red hot, topped with spicy brown mustard, relish, ketchup and a dusting of celery salt. This is the one that started me down the path…

These examples above are but a speck on the tip of an iceberg. I encourage you to seek out and experience hot dogs whenever and wherever you can. It’s so much fun to explore the United States and the world in this seemingly simple marriage of 3 items – hotdog, bun, topping….however, with a bit of creativity, the complexity that can be achieved with textures, flavors and ingredients is on par with a 4 star dining experience.

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