Some people like ‘em piled high with pickle relish, onions or chili.
Others will top it off with sauerkraut for some Old World flavor.
Cheddar cheese & bacon are just the ticket for the Midwestern palate.
In the Southwest desert, eateries serve it up with a selection of hot sauces & peppers.
Me, I keep it simple: a bun, the star attraction, ketchup & mustard, yellow, to be exact. That highbrow stuff ain’t bad but it ain’t welcome on this entrée. Oh yeah, and a paper napkin. Mustard stains are murder.
Three, maybe four bites and I’m ready to roll.
It’s the great American hot dog. The nation’s favorite hand-held meal.
It says Uncle Sam like tortillas say Mexico and lutefisk says Norway.
Sorry, McDonalds, you set the standard in fast food but the hot dog still reigns supreme.
Though I’ve gotta’ say, that classic barbecue battle between the hamburger and hot dog may never be settled in the minds of backyard connoisseurs. Sometimes a burger (or burrito) can‘t be beat: a bit of pink in the middle, slice of raw onion, cheese melted on toasted bun, chips on the side (no kettle or home-style, please) and you’re in business.
So why such high praise for the hot dog?
Convenience, for starters. Is there anything easier on which to heap a helping of what you hanker than a frankfurter-on-bun?
Price: For home, an 8-pack of all-beef wieners will run you under five bucks. On the street, the smart vender lets you eat for around $3. And at the stadium, it’s the best buy on the menu where a 10-spot gets you a kiddie Coke and a plain hot dog.
Tradition: Making the scene at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, the dog’s popularity quickly spread. It proved the perfect fit for a burgeoning, on-the-move America and found a home at ball-parks & fairs from coast to coast. Demand grew so fast for the new staple it out-paced an embryonic federal regulatory scheme on mass-produced meat products, a safety gap soon exposed in Upton Sinclair’s watershed work The Jungle (‘06).
Today’s tube steak is a marvel of modern food processing. It easily meets a standard of high quality that makes it worthy of the consumer confidence shown by the millions of wieners devoured daily across the land.
But with fame comes attention, some of it good, some not so good.
Case in point: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
That icon of American cuisine could not meet with a more demeaning demise than it does in this promotional sideshow conducted in Brooklyn every 4th of July. Putting aside the worldwide hunger issue that every gorge-contest scorns, washing down bread & meat with streams of water makes a disgusting mockery of the real hot dog eating experience.
Something else you never do with this culinary classic: turn it into a star. A clue is when the traveling food critic covers the subject dog with complimentary-condiments like “famous,” “extraordinary” and “unique“ (A Hot Dog Program / PBS / 3-12).”
The hot dog’s beauty, its essence lies in its succulent simplicity.
Pile it too high, get too creative or too persnickety (some hot dog havens won’t provide ketchup, chips, etcetera) and the dog becomes a status symbol in a culinary clique. Tasty enough, to be sure, but too highfalutin for this fan.
And like they say, location is everything. Where you eat your red hot can make all the difference.
The baseball grounds is a hot dog lovers’ dreamland. There’s something special about the confluence of sights, spirits, sounds & smells at the ball-park that all combine to work a serious flavor enhancement where every bite becomes a savory delight.
But the best hot dog won’t be had at the game or that famous restaurant you’ve seen on TV. It’s where tubular treats come with all your favorite fixings like bean soup and dill pickles (Milwaukee’s Midgets). That’s right, the best frankfurter is in your own home.
So drive on by the Taco Bell tonight and leave the veggie-burger in the freezer. Reach in the back of the fridge and you’ll find ’em, always there and always good. The great American hot dog.
Ahead of the Curve
Photo / picture credit: Paul Robinson, 5/7/10, WikiCommons
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.