I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t, at least secretly, have a passion for hot dogs. Perhaps they consume but once a year at a ballgame, or they may be a regular “vanilla” dog consumer: just a beef dog, a plain bun and squeeze of French’s mustard.
We consumer dogs en masse. According to Russell Van Krayenburg, author Haute Dog, we Americans consume 7 billion dogs in just the three months from Memorial to Labor Day. Russell himself grew up in Texas with some fame, or notoriety, as an avid dog consumer. Now a successful food writer, he’s has a brand new book out on his passion: hot dogs, well, as he puts it, Haute Dogs.
Is his book as elevated as the title implies? Yes. In fact, if you are one of the many many‑in‑a‑year consumers, then Haute Dog is a tidy volume you need to acquire before official hot dog season begins at the end of the month.
Haute Dog covers everything: history, classic American versions, new American ideas, South American, European, and recipes for doing it all from scratch — buns, dogs, and condiments of every color, flavor and intensity. There’s a section on how to cook them: from boiling water to gas grill to microwave and more. That set of rolling metal cylinders with dogs on them at your service station? They’re here.
Depending on how you take your dog, and your passion, you’ll find easy ways to spice up your dog life or incredible pathways to forging your own haute dog with every aspect made from scratch.
First, just a tad bit of history. We take bread for granted now in America, but historically — and for many worldwide still — bread has been the staple of life. Not a side food, but the main dish. In fact, Russell notes that the English words “lord” and “lady” are derived from the Old English for “keeper of the loaf” and “kneader of the loaf.”
Hot dogs as we know and call them are just over a century old and definitely an American concoction. It was only in the 1920’s that we started using “buns” instead of “rolls” in hot dog linguistics. Precooked and sliced bread was introduced in 1928 followed in 1935 in Chicago by a high-gluten, poppy seed studded bun with a texture sturdy enough to hold up to steaming hot dogs — previous critics, including H.L. Mencken, had complained about the effect of wet steam on regular bread. Meanwhile, in Vienna in 1904 German butcher Johan Georg Lahner created a pork-and-beef riff on the traditional smoked sausage. His creation was called a wiener.
By the time of the Depression, buns and wieners and mustard were necessities for many Americans. When the Depression and World War II ended, the dog acquired a status as a fun meal. No longer a snack, or the only thing that could be afforded, a whole class of hot dogs sprang up around the United States.
So I find Russell’s presentation of American hot dog history to be tantalizing:
- New York Style: sautéed onions and sauerkraut
- Depression Dog [from Chicago when veggies were extenders]: diced onions and whole peppers
- Chicago Dog: tomato wedges, dill pickle spear, neon-green relish, yellow mustard
- Coney Island Dog [from Detroit, NOT Brooklyn!]: Coney Island Sauce, diced white onions and yellow mustard
- Texas Style: Greek Sauce and spicy yellow mustard
- Michigan Dog: with chili sauce based on tomatoes, not meat
- New York System Wiener [created in Rhode Island actually]: Rhode Island Chili Sauce
- White Hot: the Rochester dog with Rochester Meat Sauce that vies with its nearby competitor from Buffalo
- Red Hot: that Buffalo creation made with horseradish mustard
That’s just a sample of the classics Russell describes. And one of these may tug at your heart as the “true” meaning of hot dog. I’ve learned that, just as the Middle Ages saw Crusaders off to find the True Cross, dog enthusiasts can be a tad competitive.
If your city or state wasn’t mentioned hear, take heart for there is a chapter devoted to Boston, Kansas City, Carolina, Seattle, other places, and even Tijuana.
Which leads us to South and Central America. After its creation here in the United States, dogs migrated south to be absorbed and transformed by those cultures. And I mean transformed. These dogs are unlike anything you might have imagined. The photos in this chapter seem to be pop-art. Consider the ingredients for the Loaded Guatemalan Meat Dog:
- Extra-long bun [really needed here]
- All-beef hot dog
- Tomato sauce
- Yellow mustard
- Hot sauce
- Boiled cabbage
- Sliced ham
- Cooked bacon strips
- Sliced pepperoni
- Longaniza [still another sausage]
When you see the picture, you realize Russell meant to say the bun should be extra-long and extra-wide. I almost want to buy a plane ticket.
Dogs have also migrated back to Europe and on to Africa and Asia. You need to look at the book to believe some of these idea. There is a Swedish Shrimp Dog that still has a pork hot dog in the middle but includes:
- Mashed potatoes
- Pickle mayo
- Shrimp salad
- Chopped white onions
- Shredded iceberg lettuce
I must say that Haute Dog has given me a new perspective here. I’m tempted. I’m a traditionalist, but I have to try some of these things — or invent my own. Let’s see: mashed potatoes but with scallions and melted cheese, and maybe some …
Haute Dog was just published. You’re going to clean your grill this month, so why not buy a book that will make that grill shine more than any of your elbow grease?
And, and, tomorrow, I’ll write about Russell’s take on Chili Sauce, with variations. As you may know, I need to duplicate [or revive] the sauce from Roakes in Portland, Oregon. This may be the way. From the list above, you see that Chili Sauce, in one regional form or another, is an essential ingredients. Let’s begin tomorrow.