Chicago-style hot dogs are not fancy, they are not French, and they don’t have any gourmet ingredients in them. But they are darn good, and perfect for Labor Day. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council reported in 2016, American consumers spent more than 2.4 billion on hot dogs in supermarkets. Los Angels got listed as having consumed more hot dogs than any other city, surprisingly beating out New York and Philadelphia. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was credited for having sold six times more hot dogs, (about 725,000 more) than Los Angeles International Airport and LaGuardia Airport combined. NHDSC goes on to state that during “peak hot dog season” (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) Americans will typically consume about 7 billion hot dogs, approximately 818 hot dogs get consumed every second during that period. An estimated 38%n or about $614 million of the total number of hot dogs are sold during this “season”. 10% of annual retail hot dog sales occur during the month of July, which has been designated as “National Hot Dog Month”. Simply amazing statistics. In all honestly, I don’t eat hot dogs all that often, but some situations like a ball game, a trip to Chicago or a Labor Day celebration simply require them.
The creation of the Chicago-style hot dog dates back to the Great Depression and the street car vendors. Money was scarce, and this was a “hot meal on a bun” for only a nickel. What makes these hot dogs unique? A few different yet very simple things really. Together, the ingredients create a balance of sweet and salty flavors, crunchy and soft textures, hot and cold temperatures, and tangy and spicy seasoning. It is something of a flavor blast. Let me break down the world-famous Chicago dog’s ingredients, to see how to make these treats in your own backyard.
The Dog: It’s called a Vienna dog, an all beef, natural casing hot dog that has a crispy “snap”when you bite into it. These special dogs are traditionally made by gently boiling them. That said, grilling them will enhance their delicious flavor and provide for an even crispier outside, just don’t char them!
The Bun: If you live in Chicago, S. Rosens poppy-seed buns are the “it” bun, untoasted of course. These buns are not so easy to find elsewhere, so flexibility is important. What you need is a fluffy, oversized bun. But remember, don’t toast it: you want the warm hot dog to almost melt the bun a bit. If you can’t find the original poppy-seed buns, my trick is to take a regular bun and to sprinkle the inside with some poppy seeds, to give it a similar taste/texture to the real deal.
The Mustard: I love mustard, the real fancy flavorful kinds, but they are of no use with Chicago dogs. You need a basic, very yellow mustard. Absolutely no Dijon or whole grain.
The Relish: Again, nothing fancy: good green, sweet relish. (Although in Chicago the relish is almost fluorescent green, I don’t see any need to try to replicate that aspect.)
The Tomato: Ripe, juicy tomatoes, cut in wedges preferably. Go for flavor here, so whatever is in season is best.
The Onion: Freshly diced white onion, not too big, not too small. This is a critical component for crunch, so don’t mess this part up. And whatever you do, don’t buy pre-diced onions, you will lose taste and texture.
The Pickle: A sliced, crispy dill pickle. Put enough slices to equal the entire length of the hot dog, you want a little pickle in every bite.
The Peppers: A couple sport peppers (or Pepperoncini will do) on top to garnish, rounding off the crispy/salty texture with just a touch of heat.
Celery Salt: (optional) This I omit, including because this is already a sodium bomb! But it’s considered traditional, so I’m listing it.
How you put one of these together does not seem to matter from what I’ve found. Just don’t skimp on toppings and keep it balanced for flavors and textures. In Chicago, if you want your dog with everything, you simply ask for it “dragged through the garden.” It is a meal on a bun, and a delicious one at that. I’m not a huge hot dog fan generally, but I’ll never pass on a Chicago-style dog, as it’s a celebrated culinary delicacy of a city I adore. Serve this with a chilled Chavala and you have all you need for a fun festive Labor Day celebration. If your interested in learning more about the best places in Chicago to find a real Chicago-style dog, check out this link, you just never know when this may come in handy.