I love hot dogs. I love snappy, hand-made, naturally-cased hot dogs with real sauerkraut and fiery French mustard and I love crappy road-side hot dogs topped with funky green relish and generic yellow mustard from sticky two-year-old packets. I keep an ever expanding list of hot dog joints on my phone so when I’m on the road I’m aware of the newfangled places that recently opened as well as the 50-year-old family establishment nearby. To me they are as much an American symbol as the bald eagle, baseball, the Statue of Liberty, or monster trucks. It’s both a blue-collar and a bourgeois meal. It crosses cultural and class boundaries and is seemingly a part of childhood’s (and adulthood’s) happiest memories. How many times did you sing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jingle as a kid? How many times have your kids shown you the Mickey Mouse hot dog dance? Without hot dogs baseball games would feel a little less American. Backyard cookouts without hog dogs sharing space on the grill with cheeseburgers is just wrong. Stumbling down Bourbon Street would be a little more disjointed without cramming a couple Lucky Dogs in your face. I can’t even begin to imagine how many hot dogs I’ve eaten in my life, but I know it’s sure as hell not enough. Those juicy tubes of meat lovingly hugged by a soft or griddled bun baked just for that singular purpose is a handheld snack of convenience and deliciousness that delivers mouth-sized portions of sausage, bun, and condiments in perfect distribution. I. Love. Hot dogs.
Discussions on regional styles of hot dogs, types of sausage, and favorite toppings can go on forever, but there’s one thing we can all agree on, ketchup has no place on a hot dog. Excuses can be made for the young or infirm, but beyond that there is no justification for putting ketchup on a hot dog. Sickly sweet with the uncanny ability to mask the flavor of anything it taints, ketchup is an abomination to a legit dog. There’s no argument here. The National Hot Dog Sausage Council (NHDSC), under its website’s Hot Dog Etiquette section, says so. Just look at its list of don’ts: “Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.” And in a video on their site: “We all have to grow up sometime. In Chicago, if you want ketchup on your dog, they’ll point you to the bottles used for garnishing French fries and tell you to ‘go ruin it yourself.'”The Roast Grill in downtown Raleigh, N.C. has a Heinz Ketchup T-shirt with a “No” symbol across it hanging in the shop. Their menu says: “ABSOLUTELY NO KETCHUP.”
Bob Swartz, a VP of famed Chicago dog producer Vienna Beef, wrote a great book called Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog that covers Chicago hot dog history and culture. He has this to say about the title of his book: “I do give other kids a pass. I tell their parents, ‘Maybe they’ll grow out of it, this affliction.'”
In the world’s least shocking quote, Anthony Bourdain has an opinion on the subject. From Anthony Bourdain’s alternative guide to drinking and eating in New York: “If you actually want a quality dog, the best is at Papaya King on East 86th Street. Be sure to enjoy it with a frothy delicious papaya drink — and if you put ketchup on your dog I will fucking kill you.”
Cecil Adams, author of the Straight Dope column in the Chicago Reader says, “Ketchup smothers the flavor of the hot dog because ketchup makers add sugar to their products. That takes the edge off the highly acidic tomatoes, but it takes the edge off everything else, too.”
Famed San Francisco cop Harry Callahan had this to say about putting ketchup on a hot dog: “No, this stuff isn’t gettin’ to me. The knifings, the beatings, old ladies being bashed in the head for their Social Security checks, teachers being thrown out of a fourth-floor window because they don’t give a shit. That doesn’t bother me a bit. Or this job, either. Having to wade through the scum of this city, being swept away by bigger and bigger waves of corruption, apathy and red tape. Nah, that doesn’t bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? Is watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody, I mean NOBODY puts ketchup on a hot dog.”
Are you going to argue with Dirty Harry? I don’t think so.
And like a true Chicagoan President Obama has the final word, “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog.”
OK. The truth is I can maybe give the ketchup question a pass as one of personal choice (a poor choice, that is), but there is one question that isn’t a matter of taste, but rather a matter of classification. Of taxonomy. A deeply philosophical question about the very nature of hot dogs, possibly the nature of food itself. One for which we may never have a definitive answer. One that has befuddled food philosophers since the invention of the hot dog. Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Merriam-Webster defines sandwich as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” The Oxford Dictionary says this: “An item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them, eaten as a light meal.”
That would seem pretty simple and settled. Bread, filling, sandwich, right? But there are other points. When you buy a package of hot dogs, are they not hot dogs, existing without a bun? When you put it in a bun does it become a hot dog sandwich? Would you order a hot dog sandwich? Just try that next time you’re at a hot dog joint. Is Joey Chestnut the sandwich eating champion? Hell no. He’s the goddamn hot dog eating champion. If a hot dog is a sandwich, then a taco is a sandwich. Madness. Do you really want to list the noble hot dog, emblem of American summers, side-by-side the PB&J and tuna fish? Our founding fathers are face-palming in their graves. Can you really relegate this powerful American symbol to mere sandwich-hood? An icon forever linked to our national pastime and to backyard cookouts? What is more American than a backyard cookout? A food so embedded in the culture of two of our greatest cities, New York and Chicago, that they’re known for their hot dogs, is just a sandwich? NHDSC says no:
“Limiting the hot dog’s significance by saying it’s ‘just a sandwich’ is like calling the Dalai Lama ‘just a guy.’ Perhaps at one time its importance could be limited by forcing it into a larger sandwich category (no disrespect to Reubens and others), but that time has passed. We therefore choose to take a cue from a great performer and declare our namesake be a “hot dog formerly known as a sandwich.”
Jimmy Kimmel, late night TV host (hot dog credentials unknown) has this to say — “If a hot dog is a sandwich then cereal is soup.”
Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor offers, “Naw, it’s not a sandwich, it’s in a bun.” When asked about burgers Taylor says, “A burger is a burger. When you go to a restaurant burgers are their own category. They’re not under sandwiches.”
Again, not surprisingly, Anthony Bourdain has an opinion. From a recent Reddit AMA:
“No. I don’t think it’s a sandwich. I don’t think a hamburger is a sandwich either … I mean, if you were to talk to any vendor of fine hot dogs, and ask for a hot dog sandwich, they would probably report you to the FBI. As they should.”
There have been countless articles, blog posts, fistfights, global wars, and drunken discussions to settle the question of hot dog’s sandwich grouping. Do hot dogs belong in their own classification? Are hamburgers a sandwich? What the hell is that gel around Vienna sausages? Why are clowns so creepy? Life’s deep questions. But for the purposes of this article, I enlisted the help of a few local F&B people to help shed light on the question of whether a hot dog is a sandwich, their favorite hot dog order, and the other most important hot dog question:
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Reid Henninger, Edmund’s Oast: “No, because it’s eaten vertically not horizontally.”
Scott Shor, Edmund’s Oast: “I think so, yes. It’s meat with bread on two sides, eaten with your hands… That must qualify.”
Griffin Bufkin, Southern Soul Barbeque, Saint Simons Island: “A hot dog is a hot dog unless it’s a sandwich.”
Colin Miles, Pigman Goods / Frank Satan: “I’m going to say yes. Because it’s in the vessel of bread, and once it is in the vessel of bread then it really is a sandwich.”
Shuai Wang, Short Grain: “It’s between buns, that’s a sandwich … What else would you call it? I guess hot dogs can be its own category, but that’s just hot dogs being pretentious.”
Aaron Siegel, Home Team BBQ: “Why does everybody have to be so technical? It’s good. It’s bread and meat. I’m not sure if “Sir Sandwich” what’s the guy’s name who came up with the sandwich? The Earl of Sandwich would call it one, but it is bread with something in-between it … a sandwich to me is a bread and filling. If a Philly cheesesteak is a sandwich then a hot dog is a sandwich.”
Air Casebier, Feast Charleston: “I agree with Jimmy Kimmel. A hot dog is its own magnificent creature.”
Bob Cook, Artisan Meat Share: “No. Because I said so.”
Chris Stewart, Glass Onion: “Yes, because it is a proper meal that can be held in the hand that consists of an efficient edible container with meat and veg.”
David Merritt, COAST Brewing: “No, a hot dog’s a hot dog. No it’s not sliced meat with bread, and mayonnaise, and mustard. And a hamburger is a hamburger. I figure sandwiches are like cold cuts. I don’t consider it a sandwich, no.”
Robert Moss, author/CCP contributor: “On the one hand a hot dog is a piece of meat between two pieces of bread which is technically the definition of a sandwich. But I take it from the point of view of a language consumer. Which is to say, if you went to a restaurant and said ‘Hey give me a list of your sandwiches’ and they gave you a list of their hot dogs, you would say ‘no I asked for your sandwiches.’ When you ask what kind of sandwiches you have and they say a hot dog, that’s not a sandwich. So I have to go with English language usage and say, a hot dog is not a sandwich.”
Jack Hurley, Jack’s Cosmic Dogs: “Of course! Meat between two slices of bread on hinged roll. A one handed snack anytime of the day!”
Jed Portman, Garden & Gun: “Our go-to reference at G&G is Merriam-Webster, which states a hot dog is, yes, a sandwich. In this case, though, I’ve got to use common sense instead and say no. If a hot dog is a sandwich, grits are cornmeal. We know better.”
Emily Hahn, Warehouse: “A hot dog is not a sandwich. The hot dog rules its own category. King of the tube meats!”
Michelle Weaver, Charleston Grill: “A hot dog is not a sandwich. A sandwich is two or more separate pieces of bread with fillings. A hot dog bun is technically one piece of bread cut open.”
What is your go-to hot dog order?
Reid Henninger, Edmund’s Oast: “Mustard, ketchup, relish, onion, and the dirtiest water.”
Scott Shor, Edmund’s Oast: “Mustard. Sometimes sauerkraut. That’s pretty much it.”
Griffin Bufkin, Southern Soul Barbeque: “In Order: steamed split-top bun, mustard, beef dog griddled till it splits, slaw on one side, minced onion on the other side, hotdog chili sauce. Pickle spear on side”
Colin Miles, Pigman Goods / Frank Satan: “I just want spicy mustard, pickle, and relish.”
David Merritt, COAST Brewing: “that’s tough because it depends on what kind of hot dog place it is. Everybody is kind of specific in their hot dogs. If I go to a place that does Chicago dogs, I’ll get a Chicago dog. If I go to a place with chili dogs, I get a chili dog. Chef’s choice I guess.”
Shuai Wang, Short Grain: “Mustard, chili, chopped onions, maybe cheese if I’m in the mood, but none of that fancy stuff — government shredded.”
Aaron Siegel, Home Team BBQ: “I love raw onions, relish, and mustard.”
Air Casebier, Feast Charleston: “My go-to dog has to have a natural casing for that snap. I prefer it to have just a bit of char. It’s dressed with sauerkraut, minced raw white onion, and yellow mustard. Plain Lays chips as the accompaniment.”
Bob Cook, Artisan Meat Share: “Simple answer if it’s at somewhere like a gas station without a condiment bar, I go with mustard and onions, maybe sauerkraut, if it’s hot sauerkraut. My ideal hotdog is like a Flint Michigan Style Coney dog with Coney sauce, ground meat, mustard, and onions.”
Chris Stewart, Glass Onion: “I’m a relish, onion, mustard guy. That’s pretty much it. I like the slaw, it’s good. I’d never had that before I moved to Charleston, bleu cheese slaw. That’s pretty good too. My wife is a huge hot dog condiment fan who will literally eat a hot dog with or without the hot dog and just fill it with all the stuff. For her the tube of meat is second.”
Robert Moss, author/ CCP contributor: “It depends. If it’s a hot dog place that has crazy combinations, I’m going to look down and find something interesting. But left to my own devices, and they don’t have any pre-made combinations, I would say … probably hot dog, chili, onions, and mustard.”
Jack Hurley, Jack’s Cosmic Dogs: “I started Jack’s Cosmic Dog with my signature Cosmic dog with our sweet potato mustard and blue cheese slaw, but when I am out and about, mustard and onion!”
Jed Portman, Garden & Gun: “In general, I like a hot dog with mustard and relish. In North Carolina, I’ll get chili and diced onions — and sprinkle Texas Pete on top. (Growing up, I ate most of my hot dogs chunked up in macaroni and cheese.)”
Emily Hahn, Warehouse: “I like it full on, fully loaded. I like the dog to be the gift that keeps on giving — chilli, cheese, mustard, relish, chopped onion, and whatever the hell else you would like to upset my stomach with later on top.”
Michelle Weaver, Charleston Grill: “Being a Southern girl, my favorite dog would be grilled (dog and bun) with mustard and coleslaw. Once in a while a chili dog with mustard and those little minced onions on top is just the ticket. Of course it goes with out saying that dog has to be served with a frosty mug of root beer.”
Does ketchup belong on a hot dog?
Reid Henninger, Edmund’s Oast: “Only in trace quantities.”
Scott Shor, Edmund’s Oast: “Absolutely not. I love ketchup, but never ever on a hot dog because it’s simply not right.”
Griffin Bufkin, Southern Soul Barbeque: “I love ketchup, but leave it off the dog. It is safe to dip your dog in ketchup if you have to.”
Shuai Wang, Short Grain: “I love ketchup. I put it on a lot of things (besides mayonnaise). I’d drink it if I could. But I can wholeheartedly say it does not belong on a hot dog. It doesn’t add anything to a hot dog except making it taste like ketchup.”
Air Casebier, Feast Charleston: “I’m of the mindset that as long as you’re not hurting anyone, I couldn’t care less what you do. You want ketchup on your dog, you get ketchup on your dog. We all like what we like, ya know?”
Aaron Siegel, Home Team BBQ: “I am not someone who is going to tell someone else what to do with their food. But I prefer mustard. But it’s not like I haven’t taken a hot dog straight off the grill and dipped it in some ketchup without a bun, therefore it’s not a sandwich. But I like my hot dogs without ketchup and I think mustard is a much better condiment for hot dogs.”
Bob Cook, Artisan Meat Share: “Ketchup does not belong on a hot dog. And I will admittedly say that I am a huge ketchup fan. There is a special place in my heart for ketchup on macaroni and cheese. But ketchup does not belong on a hot dog.”
Chris Stewart, Glass Onion: “I don’t put ketchup on anything.”
Colin Miles, Pigman Goods / Frank Satan: “I think there has to be a cut off. Age cut off. At some point you’re no longer a child and you need to realize that it’s a part of that experience. I’d say at the age of 12, once you become a teenager, I’d say man up. It’s called mustard.”
David Merritt, COAST Brewing: “Yes and no. For a five-year-old kid at a 4th of July party around a pool? Yeah, you can’t judge that… you ketchup hater. But as a grown man I will not put ketchup on a hot dog. I’ll put mayonnaise on a hot dog.”
Robert Moss, author/ CCP contributor: “Not under most circumstances. If the hot dog really sucked and the bun was terrible and it needed something, because the ketchup gives that umami that a bad hot dog likes. But if it is a good hot dog, no.”
Jack Hurley, Jack’s Cosmic Dogs: “Trick question as ketchup means puréed vegetable. Anything goes, kids love tomato ketchup on almost anything! Hey, I sell hot dogs, whatever you want.”
Jed Portman, Garden & Gun: “Sure. I could go the rest of my life without putting ketchup on a hot dog, but I’ve been guilty. Sometimes you don’t want to taste your gas station dog, though thankfully I don’t eat as many of them as I used to. If it feels good, do it.”
Emily Hahn, Warehouse: “My dad used to make the most amazing hot dogs. Always Nathan’s, always burnt from the charcoal grill, never on anything but paper plates, and always mustard and ketchup! Sometimes I order fries just to dip them in the ketchup. I wish sometimes there was a side of ketchup with French fry dip on a menu — high fructose corn syrup, I hate you and love you.”
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