October 13, 2004

Hot Dog Rules

by psu

I have an almost irrational fondness for sausage that extends even more irrationally to hot dogs. A good hot dog can be a thing of beauty and a stupendous culinary experience besides. A bad hot dog is at best sad and at worst something that will make you vomit in a dark alley somewhere far away from home.

After some years of obtaining hot dogs in various locales on this planet, here are some guidelines for their proper construction.

1. Fried or grilled are much better than steamed or boiled.

2. Generally, you want more dog than bun. Too much bun is bad. I don't really go for poppy-seed buns either.

3. A limited number of condiments is better than putting a whole salad bar on top of the poor piece of sausage. There is no reason to ever have more than three things on the dog at once.

4. It is not always the case that chili and/or cheese on a hot dog is a sin.

5. Under no circumstances, however, should you ever put ketchup on a hot dog.

6. Some people like sauerkraut. I'm neutral.

7. Never, under any circumstances except possibly the threat of death to you and your entire extended family, buy a "hot dog" in Paris, France. Almost everything related to food is better in Paris, but they know nothing about hot dogs.

8. Hot dogs taste better at the ball park.

My favorite hot dogs are made at a place called The Original, or "The O" in Pittsburgh. My favorite O dogs are the big all beef dogs with onions, a bit of mustard and maybe pickles or relish. I also love the same dogs with chili and/or cheese and onions if I'm in the mood. O dogs are grilled on a big flat grill for hours so they have a nice crunchy crust to them that is a pleasure to bite into. They also tend to be larger than the bun.

Of course, what I like may not be what you like. So on the one hand, the list above is really just my own personal set of guidelines. On the other hand, if you disagree with them, chances are you are a sniveling freak who wouldn't know good food if it came up to you and bit you on the ass. Just my friendly opinion.

Posted by psu at October 13, 2004 03:39 PM | Bookmark This

No ketchup on hot dogs? Good god, are you mad?

Also, what do you think of Frankfurters up in Bellevue?

Posted by Nat Lanza at October 13, 2004 05:48 PM

My favorite hot dogs are the ones from street vendors in Toronto, as I've written about here. But The O has the best hot dogs in Pittsburgh. I also agree with you about their big beef dogs being the best of the best. The problem with them, though, is that they are -damn- expensive. The only menu I can find online dates from 2000, and they were $3 then. I assume prices can only have gone up.

I'll never understand ketchup on hot dogs until my dying day. For me, the standard topings are mustard and sauerkraut, and sometimes onions. If I'm in a weird mood I'll sometimes have relish instead of kraut.

I don't like chilli or cheese on my hot dog -- usually the chilli sucks, and if it doesn't suck, why ruin it by putting it on a bun? Just eat a bowl.

Now I want a hot dog.

Posted by peterb at October 13, 2004 05:51 PM

Pete's draconian Maoist orthodoxy of food is sometimes lunacy, but he knows the Truth about Hot Dogs. Ketchup is simply Wrong.

I want a hot dog, too.

Speaking as a former Southerner, I have to say that the "red" Jesse Jones dogs are pretty good. Small, but good, with mustard and a bun about the same size.

Posted by Alex Groce at October 13, 2004 06:15 PM

Frankenfurters is OK. But not as good as the O. But I've only been once.

Pete misses the point of the chili dog. The point is that the chili is *supposed* to be that crappy canned bullshit chili. That's what makes it good.

I believe I can actually tolerate tiny amounts of ketchup on a dog. But I have found in my later years that if I can taste the ketchup, the experience is ruined. Therefore, I conclude that it's better to just avoid it entirely.

Posted by psu at October 13, 2004 06:25 PM

I guess it's Frankfurters. oops.

Posted by psu at October 13, 2004 06:33 PM

Try a dog at Coney Island in Johnstown. They make a killer chili-dog... the chili is largely a slurry made of ground-up hot dogs from the day before.

You forgot to mention cooked over open flame as an acceptable (preferred?) method of cooking.

Of course, I put ketchup (Heinz only) on my dogs.

Posted by Mark Denovich at October 13, 2004 07:42 PM

In the little town of Pittston, PA, at the bottom of the hill, there is a little hot dog shop run by a Greek family, and they serve chili dogs (among other things). The procedure is this: they grill the dog over flame. They steam the bun. On the bun goes a slather of brown mustard, the hot dog, and a good bit of onion minced so fine as to nearly be a paste. Over this goes chili.

The chili they use, they make. It is the consistancy of thick soup, and rich with meat and oils. It is heavy and heady with cinnamon and other spices. It is a small slice of heaven.

In Oakland, I eat hot dogs from Scott's hot dog cart, and I eat them with ketchup and onions. They're good that way.

Posted by PGM at October 13, 2004 08:33 PM

The O is also my poison of choice. Three thoughts:

First, I really don't like ketchup on my hot dogs. But I don't think it's a sin. I *do* think that it implies an entirely different set of condiment choices, though. What those choices should be, I'm not sure, but the traditional topping flavors just don't mix with ketchup's flavor well at all.

Second, hot dog chili is a special kind of thing. PGM mentions a chili "the consistancy of thick soup"--and that's exactly what you want. Some lesser hotdog shops I've been to don't understand this--you get a sort of chili that's very dry, with a lot of beans. A hotdog chili needs to be a sauce, mostly liquid, with any solids (meat and beans both) subsumed by the sauciness.

Finally, my favorite combination at the O (at CMU, and yes, the beef dogs are somewhere above $3.00 now) is chili, pepper jack cheese, mustard (a spicy brown type), onions (not pureed--solid and very tart at times), and hot sauce (almost watery, but adds a nice tang). This breaks the "three toppings rule", but is acceptable. The real rule is that you don't want clashing tastes on your hot dog--here, all of the flavors compliment and enhance each other. A friend of mine adds bacon, which I think is a bit silly. With all of the above on the hot dog, you can't even taste the bacon.

When I don't go all-out, my preferred hot dog toppings are just mustard an onions, which has a sort of sublime simplicity.

In the end, hot dog topping is an excercise kind of like font choice in graphic design. If you apply many toppings without thought, you get clashing flavors in your mouth with every bite. Sweet and sour is interesting. Sweet, sour, savory, another kind of sweet, and more and more, and it all gets muddled. Thus, when you put more than three flavors together, you need to balance them out somehow.

The killer dog I described above works precisely because the chili, onions, and hot sauce flavors come together into a single strong chili flavor, complimented by the cheese flavor, and then rounded out by the exclamation point of the spicy mustard. If you leave out the hot sauce, the mustard and cheese flavors together are pretty overwhelming and override the chili. If you leave out the mustard, then you have a lot more leeway--you don't need to balance it against the hot sauce, but you lose that extra "bite" that makes the dog fun.

Anyway, it's all good. At least until I come to the next local shop that decides that dry chili topped with dry grated cheese on a boiled dog is a good thing.

Posted by John Prevost at October 14, 2004 12:06 AM

Marty's hot dogs at Frakfurters are about the
best that I've had. They do a slaw dog there
that gets high marks in my book. I do like the O quite a bit, but I think that their fries are much better than their dogs.

Another fine dog is made over at D's Six Pack in
Swissvale. They make a great Chicago dog...as
does Yovi's on Liberty Ave in downtown Pittsburgh.

Also have to agree with someone's recommendation
on the Coney Island in Johnstown. My grandparents
are from there and we grew up going there. If
you are in a non-dog mood I suggest trying a
Sundowner...heart attack on a bun!!

What I don't recommend though is the Brighton Hot
Dog Shoppe - any of them. The dogs are puny,
and not really all that great. And I've been to
more than one of these stores where the staff is
downright rude...turns me off all the way around.

Posted by torq at October 21, 2004 03:36 PM

D's and Frankfurters are both good, but neither has anything like the big beef dogs at the O, IMHO.

Posted by psu at October 22, 2004 08:41 PM

Ketchup IS an acceptable hot dog topping, but there are conditions to this: it must be the only topping. Ketchup on hot dogs should not be combined with what I admit are more proper toppings. The only exception to this condition is onions. Ketchup and onions are allowed.

What is quite odd is that the subject of hot dogs just came up in my IRC channel and I decided to pop it in to Google, so here I am.

Posted by Gruntwilligar at October 25, 2004 12:18 AM

i've tried almost all the brighton hot dog shops,they are generally good,fair price,the people treat you ok."but" the ellwood city, brighton hot dog shop is cheap, they are lacking in the amount of cheese and chilli they put on their fries(when you are used to the others)i even ordered 1 order with extra cheese and chilli to see the difference(there wasn't) so i feel i got ripped off. compared to the other shops this ones a shame.

Posted by mark at November 4, 2004 07:42 PM

One of the best hot dog I've eaten is at Jimmy's Quick Lunch, Broad St., Hazleton, PA.
Grilled hot dog on steamed bun w/ mustard, chili & onions.
I've traveled the Country, these are amoung the best I've eaten,tied with Katz's - NYC, Syd's - NJ and Tommy's - NJ and Clark St. Hot Dogs - Chicago.

Posted by JoeA at July 2, 2005 10:17 PM

Well, I am so excited to see everyone so involved with the HotDog; myself and my good friends constantly try out different methods (no toppings, to using Indian Nann bread instead of buns, to crunchy onion in Norway!) - seriously though (can't believe I'm getting serious about a sausage!) the best way to eat a dog in the UK (if preparing your own) is to simmer them in brine and pop in some dried onion. Serving on small buns, so the dog overpowers the bread. Toppings, obviously a touchy subject, I love a little chilli ketchup (Heinz) and a can of Grolsch. Hot Dog Heaven.

Posted by Dylano at March 22, 2006 04:35 AM

Hebrew National Kosher hot dogs are superior to all other hot dogs available at your grocer. I'm frugal and I will still shell out the extra $$ for these puppies.

Posted by partyboobytrap at March 27, 2006 01:23 AM

I like zucchinni relish on mine.

I once had a friend whose parents were vegan. They really didn't want to be though. They would buy these fake hotdogs that were such faithful reproductions they had fake bits of gristle in them. But then I've always been against fake meat. Tofu is fine. I love tofu. Just don't pretend it ran around munching grass and going moo.

Posted by Doug at March 27, 2006 03:50 PM

Ever try the all-beef kosher dog at Joe's, the hot dog stand that near Tepper during the week and on Walnut in Shadyside on Saturday? I'd be interested in the comparison to the O.

I'm a big fan of Joe's. Yummy dogs at a good price and excellent customer service. When I had the occasional dog craving when I was pregnant Chris (Joe's wife) ALWAYS checked the internal temp of my dogs.

Posted by Kim at March 29, 2006 09:38 PM

I have had those dogs, and they are pretty good. Don't have the satisfying snap of the O dog, but they are good.

Posted by psu at March 29, 2006 09:58 PM

Tony Packo's in Toledo, OH really exists, and is probably the best hot dog I've ever had in my life, and I used to go to Coney Island every summer for most of my childhood and eat Nathans' original Coney Dogs -- which were the *second* best. IMHO, nothing in the world beats a Packo's chilli dog. The things are huge, meaty, spicy, and the chilli isn't too thick or overpowering. The cheese is nicely sharp, and there's plenty of chopped onion if you want it.

With a bowl of chilli mac to go along with it, a Packo's dog is a serious meal. And while I like a regular old theater or stadium dog with ketchup and mustard (brown, please), don't get ketchup near a Packo's dog. Ever. The universe will implode.

Posted by Gwen at April 8, 2006 05:59 PM

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