Hot dogs, a quintessentially “American” food that brings to mind summer and days spent at the baseball stadium. They’re inexpensive as far as mealtime favorites and backyard barbecues are concerned. Hot dogs also have a fandom that borderlines obsession in some; but the big question is where did they come from? The origin of the hot dog is a journey into the past as far back as 850 BC, and as recently as 1939. (We won’t count hot dog eating contests.) Let’s have some fun with hot dogs while we’re at it too! Exploring regional preferences and unique ways to dress up a plain dog.
A History of Hot Dogs
The first mention of tubular meat in a casing can be traced back 2700 years ago to a passage in Homer’s The Odyssey written in 850 BC. It speaks of a man by the fire, who fills a “sausage” with fat and blood, eager to see it cooked.
Not long after Odysseys’ journey in The Odyssey, Emperor Nero’s chef Gaius (37 AD) discovered the intestines of pigs, which weren’t cleaned and prepped before roasting, puffed in heat. Knowing that he had made a great discovery, Gaius then stuffed the pig intestines with ground game, spices, and wheat (not unlike the modern day Haggis of Scotland). Gaius’ concoction eventually traveled to Germany, presumably through the Roman expansion across Europe, and in the 15th century, Frankfurt and Vienna (who both claim to be the inventor) developed the Frankfurter and Wienerwurst.
Again, the hot dog traveled, this time to America, where it gained popularity as a portable food. A St. Louis bar owner who also owned the St. Louis Browns introduced them to baseball parks in 1893. There are several other origin stories around this time. One talks of a polish immigrant who popularized hot dogs when he opened a stand on Coney Island. Underpricing his competitor, he put them out of business. In the end, Nathan’s Famous became so popular that President Roosevelt even served them to King George VI at a picnic in 1939.
Those small and thin hot dogs weren’t always known by that moniker. Before becoming popular they were called dachshund sausages and were served on a milk roll with sauerkraut from a pushcart. The term hot dog is said to be the work of a cartoonist who didn’t know how to spell dachshund when doing a sketch of vendors yelling that their sausages were red-hot. However, there is no physical evidence of this happening, even after exhaustive searches, only an anecdote passed down over the years. Likely the term is a joke from German immigrants’ long and thin dogs of the same name. They used to refer to their dachshund sausages as little dogs.
Making it Their Own
Like each region of the United States having its own grilling style, each area has its own way of making the hot dog a unique eating experience. Here are the top ten hot dog styles in America.
Read more about unique grilling styles in the ‘States here.
1. New York Style
A classic hot dog served with mustard and steamed onions
2. Chicago Style
Mustard, tomato, pickle, hot pepper, sweet onion, relish on a poppy seed bun
3. Detroit Style
A big hot dog served with chili, shredded cheddar, raw onions, and mustard
4. Boston Style
Also known as the Fenway Frank Boiled then grilled, topped with mustard and relish, on a New England bun. Sometimes topped with Boston baked beans
5. Atlanta Style
Top it off with some coleslaw
6. Kansas Style
Beef hot dogs served with melted Swiss cheese, caraway sauerkraut and nestled in a sesame seed bun
7. Arizona Style
The hot dog is wrapped in bacon then topped with pinto beans, mustard, mayo, relish, tomato, onion, and jalapeño salsa
8. Milwaukee Style
The hot dog is served on a toasted hard roll with butter, spicy mayo, sweet pickles, and sauerkraut
9. Texas Style
Easy does it in Texas, top your dog with chili, cheese, and jalapeno
10. San Francisco Style
Another bacon wrapped hot dog, but this one is simply topped with mayo
Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
If the different hot dog styles based on different regions aren’t tickling your fancy, try dressing your hot dogs with some other interesting topping combinations.
- Mac n cheese - we have a few good recipes for that here
- Sour Cream, cheese, and black bean salsa
- Make it Canadian by topping the dog with poutine
- Greek out with tzatziki, cucumber, tomato and red onion
- Make it a BLT with lettuce, tomato, and bacon, then add ranch dressing
- Banh Mi Dog has spicy mayo, cucumber, carrot, and mint
- Tahini dog is topped with red cabbage slaw and tahini sauce (sesame paste, lemon juice, and garlic)
- Guac n’ salsa dog
The hot dog has been around for ages untold. From the origin of the hot dog hiding in Homer’s Odyssey to a presidential picnic, they’ve been enjoyed in some form or another for ages. Every place has made them a unique experience. The next time I fire up the grill, I will certainly look at hot dogs in a different light. They’re not boring by any means. When you grill next, what will you do to have fun with hot dogs?