Hot dogs an all-American holiday treat

It’s hard to imagine a July Fourth cookout without a few hot dogs thrown on the grill.

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The hot dog is a traditional favorite on the Fourth of July.
The hot dog is a traditional favorite on the Fourth of July.

It’s hard to imagine a July Fourth cookout without a few hot dogs thrown on the grill. In fact, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, Americans will eat about 150 million hot dogs on this holiday. That’s enough to stretch from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles over five times.

During the summer season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, we consume 7 billion of the tubular red things in the U.S. — that’s 818 hot dogs eaten every second.

The history of this processed food is fuzzy, with various sources taking credit for inventing it. Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany claims ownership and even celebrated the hot dog’s 500th birthday there in 1987. Citizens of Vienna (Wien), Austria, also claim ownership. In Europe, this meat was called “dachshund” sausage because of its shape. Various German immigrants to the U.S. are credited with thinking to serve the hot dog on a bun.

Dog-gone good recipes

To view some recipes from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, click here.

The most popular story of how the meat went from dachshund to hot dog is that New York Journal sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan was watching people eat the sausages on a cold day at the New York Polo Grounds in April 1901. He couldn’t spell dachshund, and so he coined the term “hot dog” for his caption. Some food historians say the term was being used before that in the 1890s when vendors pulled their wagons up to college dorms and sold hot dogs to students.

Regardless of their provenance, hot dogs remain wildly popular with no end in sight. In fact, in this time of economic crunch, hot dog sales are on the rise because they’re considered a good value, said Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, who also goes by the nickname, “The Queen of Wien.”

Preferred methods

In a poll, the council learned that steaming and grilling are the two favorite ways of cooking hot dogs. You’re never supposed to boil them, Riley said. To steam them, bring a pot of water to a boil, turn it off, drop the hot dogs in, put the lid on, and allow the hot dogs to steam for a while.

The way we like to eat our hot dogs varies by region. In New York, we like them with steamed onions and deli-style yellow mustard. Gus’ Hot Dogs in Watervliet adds one more topping, a homemade meat sauce from a secret family recipe that the restaurant has used since it opened in 1954 to make its specialty, “The Works.”

In Chicago, vendors top hot dogs with yellow mustard, dark green relish, chopped raw onions, tomato slices and a dash of celery salt and serve them in a poppy seed bun. In the South, you’ll get a hot dog that has been “dragged through the garden,” that is, topped with coleslaw. In the Midwest, hot dogs are dressed with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese and served up on a sesame seed bun.

Gus’ starts its process with hot dogs from Helmbolds in Troy that are delivered fresh daily. Helmbolds has been making hot dogs since 1913. Cooks at Gus’ prepare them on a seasoned, stainless steel gas grill. They only require five to six minutes to cook. “The grills they’re cooking on are over 50 years old,” said co-owner Steve Haita. “It develops its own flavor from that grill.”

Mini hot dog rolls are served steamed, or are toasted upon request. To steam a bun, Haita says, fill a stock pot with about one-quarter inch of water and bring it to a boil. Then turn it down so that it’s just simmering. Place a metal strainer, shallow enough so that it doesn’t touch the water, into the pot. Place the buns in the strainer and put the lid on. Steam the buns for about five minutes. Be careful, though, Haita warns. If you leave them to steam too long, they’ll get soggy.

Gus’ hot dogs are so popular that the restaurant even receives requests to ship them. The restaurant has mailed hot dogs to various places around the United States, as far away as Alaska and abroad to England and Japan.

Categories: Life and Arts

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