A Dog House Divided
Almost every city seems to have its own version of the beloved hot dog
July is the month for picnics, fireworks, beach days, and hot dogs. Best known for Independence Day, July is also National Hot Dog Month, which makes sense given how the sausage is the “official” meal of baseball, amusement parks, and sweltering city sidewalks.
As is the case with many foods, the hot dog’s history is an immigrant story. In the 1800s, German immigrants brought their sausages to America. Served on a roll and sold by street vendors, the hot dog became a cheap lunch for blue-collar workers in cities like New York.
In 1916, Nathan Handwerker opened a hot dog stand called Nathan’s in Coney Island, Brooklyn, and the hot dog as we know it was born. The hot dog stand hosts a now-famous annual hot dog eating competition on July fourth, which is considered a sporting event and televised as such on ESPN.
While we can generally agree that the hot dog is a delicious snack, how it’s prepared is a contentious matter. Each major city has its own particular hor dog: In Chicago, for example, a dog is “raked through the garden” with chopped onions, neon green relish, pickles, tomatoes, sport peppers, mustard, and celery salt. In New York City, a dog is simply dressed with spicy mustard and sauerkraut; and in Detroit, dogs are slathered with chili, cheese, and chopped onions.
Dennis McKinley serves dozens of different hot dogs from regions across America at his restaurant, the Original Hot Dog Factory. The flagship is located in Atlanta, with several locations throughout the South.
The Detroit native says he’s traveled across the country, sampling different dogs. “I was born and raised in Detroit, spent time in New York, and have a restaurant in Atlanta. No matter where you go — Boston, Texas, Charlotte, Seattle — there’s a hot dog that’s unique to the area.”
McKinley says that the difference in dogs makes perfect sense. “It all boils down to the culture of each region. You look at Los Angeles, and everyone has a veggie hot dog. In Texas, there’s barbecue sauce on everything because Texans love big flavor. And, in Boston, they love their baked beans, for real, so why not put them on a hot dog?”
In short, McKinley says that whatever is the local flavor gets thrown on that city’s hot dog.
But why hot dogs in the first place?
“At the end of the day, a hot dog is both comfort food and a portable meal. Nothing’s quicker than a hot dog. It’s also a celebration food. A hot dog is at birthdays, cookouts, Fourth of July — it symbolizes family.”
McKinley, who opened his first Original Hot Dog Factory in 2010, says that hot dogs are evolving. “There are multiple great options for vegans and hot dog trends — like the Korean hot dog (a hot dog fried in a sweet panko batter topped with powdered sugar).”
Still, he says, there’s nothing like the dog you grew up with. “I’m from Detroit. I have to stand with the Detroit Coney. You can’t beat an all-beef hot dog topped with chili, cheese, and onions.”