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The Incredible All-American Hot Dog

There’s no food that says Fourth of July more than the hot dog. It’s one of those foods that is quintessential American, at least in its current state inside a long soft roll topped with mustard, relish, and onions. That said, however, most culinary historians will tell you that the hot dog is far from American, even though the largest consumption of hot dogs happens in the U.S. during the summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day when they’re found on barbecue grills throughout the country, at ballpark concession stands, and on the street corners of large cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

So, as you celebrate America’s independence, think of the hot dog as one of those foods that is representative of the many groups of people who came to the U.S. from different countries, in search of freedom and a better life for themselves and their families, but also as a food that later became a great symbol of America.

Hot Dog History

The origins of the hot dog are a little cloudy though there are many theories as to its development and how it gained popularity the world over.

It is believed that the frankfurter, the forerunner of the food we know as the hot dog, was developed in Frankfort, Germany in the late 15th century.  In 1987, the city celebrated the 500th anniversary of the tasty little food that eventually achieved world wide fame. However, another legend places the development of the hot dog in the 17th century with a butcher from Coburg, Germany who made small sausages he called “dachsunds” – little dogs. It is said that he later went to Frankfort and the surrounding areas to promote his food invention.

The German connection remains as these sausages make their way to America. It is believed that German immigrants were the first to sell hot dogs in the U.S., purportedly in New York’s Bowery in the 1860s, where many German immigrants had settled. The first Coney Island hot dog stand opened around that time as well. Later, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair popularized the easy-to-eat food and brought it to other parts of the country.
No one actually knows, however, when the word “frankfurter” or “weiner” went out of style and the term “hot dog” became popular. One theory traces it to a N.Y. Giants game in the early 20th century, but that legend has been largely disputed.

Cooking Hot Dogs

Technically, when you buy hot dogs in a package at the grocery store, they’re already fully cooked. You just need to find your favorite way to heat them up.

For the Fourth of July, of course, the preferred method is on the grill. Dogs cook on a hot grill in just a few minutes so you’ll need to watch them quite carefully. If you don’t like them really charred, as some people do, you should cook them over medium heat. Turn them often so that each side browns evenly. Some grillers choose to score them with a knife to be sure that they heat all the way through. Remember also to warm or toast the buns on the top shelf of the grill or over indirect heat for the complete package!

The hot dogs you buy at the ball park are often cooked on a rolling grill. This method produces a delicious end result and is probably the 2nd most preferred method of cooking a hot dog.

At home, if you’re cooking indoors, you have a few different options. You can fry them in a non-stick skillet or on a griddle. Frying your hot dogs produces a nice crispy outer crust, if desired, or else you can gently brown the dog for just a few minutes on each side. For best results, many people split the hot dog in half when frying.

Hot dogs can also be boiled, but frankfurter connoisseurs say this is the least desirable method of cooking. However, if you replace the water with beer, you’ll find that they turn out to be quite tasty.

Hot Dog Toppings

What you put atop your hot dog is a very personal thing! The standard topping, of course, is yellow mustard. However, many kids put ketchup on their hot dogs until the time their taste buds are ready for the more sophisticated taste of mustard.

The U.S. Hot Dog Council reports that hot dog toppings are often determined by what region of the U.S. you reside. New York hot dogs, for example, are most often topped with pale yellow mustard and chopped onion. Chicago franks, on the other hand, include mustard, onion, relish, tomato slices, and often sauerkraut. They’re served on a poppy seed bun. In Detroit, however, the chili dog is king and toppings include chili sauce, onions, and mustard. Atlanta’s hot dogs include coleslaw while those served in Texas usually feature chili, cheese, and jalapeno peppers.