Hot dogs are an iconic mainstay of classic Americana, right up there with cowboy boots and apple pie. But for those in the know, the humble hot dog wears many hats (quite literally).
All across the country, different styles of preparation and topping make this handheld food one of the most customizable mainstream meals. Not a fan of mustard but prefer a spicy chopped pepper? Not a fan of mayo but love a drizzle of salsa verde? There’s a variety of hot dog out there for you.
Each regional hot dog is as diverse and distinct as the community that favors it, so why not celebrate them by re-creating your favorite at home?
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The History of the American Hot Dog
Hot dogs evolved from sausages brought to the United States by European immigrants in the late 1800s. In particular, frankfurters (pork sausages from Frankfurt, Germany) and wieners (German pork-and-beef sausages styled after those in Vienna) laid the foundation for modern dogs, which are typically made from beef or a blend of beef, pork, poultry, and/or veal. Whatever the meat, it's finely pulverized (so much so that it resembles a batter or emulsion), flavored with curing salt and seasonings (often garlic, pepper, coriander, and/or warm spices like nutmeg), stuffed into casings, fully cooked, and lightly smoked. The casings were originally made from sheep or pig intestines, but now cellulose casings are usually used during manufacturing and removed before packaging, creating the “skinless” dogs commonly available.
Hot dogs gained popularity in American cuisine primarily through street carts in the early 1900s (the same way they're often sold today). Starting in Coney Island, enterprising immigrants would hawk hot sausages as a working class lunch (originally without buns). As street-cart dogs' popularity grew, their reach broadened: Hot dogs became ballpark mainstays, and dedicated hot dog stalls and restaurants began popping up all over the country (some still operating today).
Gradually, hot dogs across the country developed their own identities; the type of dog and bun used, cooking methods, and toppings varied city to city depending on the demographics, available ingredients, and lifestyles of the region. Some of these local hot dog styles and the restaurants that sell them have become symbols of their hometowns' cuisines: No trip to Washington, D.C., is complete without sampling a famous half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl, for example, and Pink's is a landmark for tourists and locals alike in Los Angeles.
Simply tasting a hometown hot dog can paint a picture of a place, shedding light on its history and the people who live there. So if you're ready to embark on a culinary road trip from the comfort of your own kitchen, here are four of our favorite regional dogs to try at home.
An In-Depth Look at Four of Our Favorite Regional Hot Dogs
If there’s a town across the U.S. that’s grilling (or steaming) a hot dog, chances are they’re doing it a little bit differently from everyone else. While we couldn’t possibly compile every variety of regional American hot dog in one place, these are a few of the recipes that have continually cropped up throughout our research and development process.
Seattle-Style Hot Dogs
Seattle’s griddled, butterflied dogs, with a topping of cool cream cheese and sautéed onions, certainly deserve to be appreciated by a wider audience. They came to be in the late 1980s when a late-night street cart selling cream cheese–schmeared bagel sticks in Pioneer Square added hot dogs to the mix.
Seattle-Style Hot DogsCream cheese and sautéed onions are the keys to this regional hot dog.
Today, nearly every one of the numerous hot dog stands in Seattle offers Seattle-style dogs as an option, if not the default. While some may have additional sautéed veggies such as cabbage or jalapeños, all include a generous application of cream cheese, often squiggled from a caulk gun–like tool. Most stands also encourage patrons to customize their dogs with extra condiments: Ketchup and mustard are standard but so are sriracha, barbecue sauce, and sliced jalapeños.
Butterflying your dog allows for a more even ratio of meat-to-topping in each bite, creating an easy-to-eat canal of food within the bun. But not every variety of hot dog calls for you to butterfly. Feel free to experiment, and definitely employ this useful (and simple) technique when called for in a recipe.
How to Butterfly the Dogs
Split hot dogs lengthwise, keeping dogs hinged on 1 side.
Chicago-Style Hot Dogs
Chicago has one of the most clearly defined hot dog styles. With few exceptions, a Chicago-style dog is a steamed all-beef natural casing hot dog (preferably Vienna brand) in a poppy-seed bun with yellow mustard, neon green sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, fresh tomato wedges or slices, a dill pickle spear, spicy pickled sport peppers, and a sprinkling of celery salt (and never, ever ketchup). The Chicago-style hot dog originated at Fluky’s, a vendor that began as a vegetable cart in 1929. It was called the “Depression sandwich” and sold for $0.05 a dog.
Chicago-Style Hot DogsThese regional dogs are always all-beef and always steamed.
For styles such as the Chicago hot dog, both the bun and the dog are steamed for a soft (but not mushy) morsel. If you’re uncertain of how to go about steaming your dogs and buns, here’s a handy guide for how to do it.
How to Steam the Hot Dogs and Their Buns
1. Bring 1 cup water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Place steamer basket over boiling water. Place hot dogs in steamer basket; cover; and cook until heated through, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Arrange buns over hot dogs, overlapping log cabin–style as needed. Cook, uncovered, until softened and warmed, about 1 minute.
Sonoran Hot Dogs
The Sonoran hot dog is a popular offering in Tucson and the surrounding areas. Hailing from Hermosillo, the capital city of the dog’s namesake Mexican state of Sonora, this style crossed the border to Arizona in the 1980s.
Sonoran Hot DogsThese regional dogs are wrapped in bacon, crisped, and covered in beans.
It features a crispy griddled bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed inside a bolillo (a crusty, football-shaped Mexican roll). Most versions of the Sonoran dog are topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes and onions, salsa verde, mustard, and a scribble of mayonnaise.
Key Steps to Sonoran Hot Dogs
WRAP Stretch bacon and wrap around hot dog from end to end.
MASH Using spatula, coarsely mash one-third of beans until creamy.
ASSEMBLE Place hot dogs in slit rolls and spoon beans on top.
Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot Dogs
As Greek and Macedonian immigrants came to the United States through New York in the early 1900s, they observed the successful hot dog stands of Coney Island. Many of these immigrants then settled around the country and opened their own hot dog establishments, calling them “Coney Islands.” And although the style of hot dog commonly sold in New York was relatively unadorned, the new Coney Island restaurateurs usually topped hot dogs with a meaty chili sauce inspired by cooking traditions from their home countries.
Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot DogsIt's all about the chili when it comes to these regional hot dogs.
A Detroit-style Coney features a creamy, beefy chili sauce that’s relatively “wet” (as opposed to the “dry” style in nearby Flint): The chili should puddle on the dog, not mound. It’s typically made with ground beef heart and beef suet, features no beans, and is mildly spiced. The chili sauce smothers a natural casing hot dog (the casing is necessary for the signature “snap”), usually made from a blend of pork and beef. The sauced dogs are topped with a line of mustard and lots of chopped onions.
Keys to Detroit-Style Chili Sauce
BREAK UP Combine beef and water in saucepan and whisk to break up beef.
THICKEN Simmer sauce until creamy with consistency of gravy.
8 More Regional Hot Dogs
Here are some more hot dogs we came across in our research that are worth a look—and a taste!
Dirty Water Dogs: New York City
New York City is nearly synonymous with hot dogs. Street carts slinging “dirty water dogs” (hot dogs heated in steaming vats of water) are ubiquitous in the city, as are brick-and-mortar spots, like Gray’s Papaya. While the name may make them sound off-putting, the water that cooks the hot dogs simply contains a mixture of salt and fat released by the cooking dogs, making it look “dirty” without actually being unsanitary. A typical NYC dog will have sauerkraut, mustard, and a tangy-sweet topping made of onions cooked in tomato sauce.
The Italian Dog: New Jersey
New Jersey offers the Italian dog among its many sausage specialties, consisting of a deep-fried hot dog stuffed in a wedge of “pizza bread” and topped with sautéed onions, sweet peppers, and fried potato wedges. Jimmy Buff and his wife Mary Racioppi are credited with first creating the New Jersey Italian hot dog, and their family continues to run their restaurant, Jimmy Buff’s Italian Hot Dogs, to this day.
Slaw Dogs: Appalachia
West Virginia (and several other Southern states) have slaw dogs, which are chili dogs topped with mustard, onions, and, of course, coleslaw.
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The Half Smoke: Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., is known for the half smoke, a coarsely ground pork-and-beef sausage typically topped with chili, with the most famous version coming from Ben’s Chili Bowl.
The Scrambled Dog: Georgia
Columbus, Georgia, is home to the scrambled dog, a fork-and-knifer overflowing with chili, pickles, cheese, onions, and oyster crackers.
Texas Tommy: Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s Texas Tommy is a split dog filled with gooey cheese and wrapped in bacon.
Hawaiian Puka Hot Dogs: Hawaii
Hawaiian Puka dogs are served in a special bun, like a portion of baguette with a hole carved through the middle. They’re topped with garlic-lemon mayo, sweet mustard, and fruity relish.
Kansas City Hot Dog: Kansas City
Kansas City has a dog that’s akin to a reuben sandwich, with sauerkraut, melted Swiss, and brown mustard.
An Honorable Mention . . . (Los Angeles)
Pink’s in L.A. is one of the country’s most famous hot dog stands. It features countless styles of hot dogs, many named after the celebrities who ordered them, but its chili dog with mustard is a classic.