Tuesday 2 Jul, 2013

The United States of Hot Dogs

Every American city has it’s own unique personality and food is one of the ways those quirks and customs shine. As Americans across the country are warming up their grills for 4th of July celebrations, let’s explore how a few American cities have put their own spin on the humble, but tasty, hot dog.

A poppy seed bun, pickle spear, relish, tomato wedges, yellow mustard and a dash of celery salt? Must be a Chicago dog!
photo credit: flickr user stu_spivack


The Windy City serves up one of the most iconic dogs in America. And you had better follow the rules to perfect this “dragged through the garden” delight: It all starts with a poppy seed bun and an all-beef dog. Top it off with bright yellow mustard, chopped white onions, the “atomic green” sweet pickle relish, an entire dill pickle spear, tomato wedges (don’t chop ‘em!), pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. And don’t even think about putting ketchup on this colorful creation. That’s a cardinal sin for Chicago-dog purists.


Downtown Detroit neighbors Lafayette’s and American Coney Island both lay claim to the invention of the Coney Dog. photo credit: Michigan Municipal League

Though it’s called the Coney dog, that delicious frankfurter slathered in beef chili hails from the Motor City and not from the New York amusement park. However, many joints throughout the Midwest that serve up Coney dogs are called Coney Island (including one in my hometown in Illinois!) To top off the dog, make sure you have some raw onion along with the helping of chili. Our copywriter Michael A. suggests a Coney dog is best enjoyed grilled, in a steamed bun with the coney sauce (chili) generously applied. (And he should know. He spent his summers during college working at Koegels, which supplies many of the dogs that go on to become Coney dogs in Michigan.)

Kansas City

Okay, when you hear Kansas City, you may think barbeque before you think hot dog, but KC has its own special twist on the tradition dog. They took their cue from that sandwich classic, the Reuben. That’s right; Kansas City hot dogs are topped with melted cheese, caraway, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing.

The Kansas City dog brings together a hot dog and a classic reuben sandwich.
photo credits: flickr users avlxyz and stu_spivack

New York

Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan.
photo credit: Bernice, Abbott, April 08, 1936, from the New York Public Library collection

The hot dog cart is an iconic New York City street sighting. And the Big Apple likes to keep it simple: Dog, bun, maybe a little mustard (spicy brown preferred) or some onions (that have probably been sautéed with tomato paste) or a nice dollop of sauerkraut. The city has hundreds of hot dog vendors and also plenty of restaurants where you can chow down on a more complex dog like at Gray’s Papaya or Papaya King. And we can’t forget Nathan’s Famous on Coney Island, the host of the annual hot dog-eating contest.


Named for a region in Mexico, the Sonoran dog is a huge hit across the southwest US. photo credit: stu_spivack

In Arizona you’ll find the Sonoran (or Estilo Sonora) hot dog. The hot dog gets its name from the Sonora state in Mexico, but it’s a huge hit across the border in the U.S. as well. And it’s easy to see why: wrapped in smoky bacon, topped with pinto beans, onions, mustard, chopped tomatoes, jalapeños and mayonnaise; it’s a spicy, smoky dog that captures the flavors of the southwest in a bun.

San Francisco

When you get a dog in San Fran, it might remind you a little bit of a BLT. Makes sense, since the city of the Golden Gate Bridge is also the city that wraps its dogs in bacon, puts on a little mayo and adds the cool crunch of lettuce and tomatoes.


The Seattle dog is defined by cream cheese. How or why this came to be the staple topping of a Seattle-style hot dog remains unclear, but it is the topping that makes the dog of the Emerald City. Beyond the cream cheese, anything goes when it comes to toppings. From grilled onions to Sriracha sauce, you can do anything to make the dog your own.

For the perfect dog in San Fran, it’s all about the bacon. photo credit: flickr user arnold | inuyaki

You might think Philadelphia came up with a hot dog slathered in cream cheese, but that honor goes to Seattle. photo credit: misscrabette on flickr

Wait! What about the corn dog?

There’s plenty of debate over who and where the corn dog was invented. Texas claimed it happened at its state fair. Minnesotans would argue you had the fair part right, but the state was theirs and not Texas’. Cozy Dog Drive-in, in Springfield, Illinois, said they are the first to put the creation on a stick. But Hot Dog on a Stick in Santa Monica, California, would object that they came up with that idea. So when it comes to corn dogs, my advice is to simply embrace it as an American invention and enjoy!