Hot dogs are among America’s favorite foods.
Every year, on average, Americans consume 60 hot dogs, according to the What’s Cooking America web site, http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/HotDog/HDIndex.htm. Most are eaten between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
American nostalgia for the hot dog is almost unequaled; the hot dog is synonymous with summertime, baseball and camping. Although the history of sausage goes back to the time of Homer and is mentioned in his “Odyssey” as far back as the 9th Century B.C., hot dogs are considered as American as apple pie.
Also called frankfurters, franks, weenies, wienies, wieners, dogs, and red hots, a hot dog is actually a cooked sausage that consists of a combination of beef and pork or all beef, which is cured, smoked and cooked. Seasonings may include coriander, garlic, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt, sugar and white pepper, among others. Hot dogs are fully cooked, but are usually served hot. Sizes range from big dinner frankfurters to tiny cocktail size.
It is likely that the North American hot dog derives its origin from a common European sausage brought here by butchers of several nationalities and that German immigrants first served the sausage with a roll. These same immigrants also brought dachshund dogs, which resemble sausages, with them.
Hot dog historian Bruce Kraig, Ph.D., retired professor emeritus at Roosevelt University, says the Germans always ate the sausages with bread. Since the sausage culture is German, it is likely that Germans introduced the practice of eating the sausages nestled in a bun.
One report says a German immigrant sold hot dogs, along with milk rolls and sauerkraut, from a push cart in New York City’s Bowery during the 1860s. In 1871, Charles Feltman, a German butcher, opened up the first Coney Island hot dog stand selling 3,684 dachshund sausages in a milk roll during his first year in business.
There is no certain origin of the term “hot dog,” according to the Home Cooking web site, http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/hotdoghistory.htm.
Some say the word “hot dog” was coined in 1901 at the New York Polo Grounds on a cold April day. Vendors were hawking hot dogs from portable hot water tanks shouting “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!”
A New York Journal sports cartoonist, T.A. “Tad” Dorgan, observed the scene and hastily drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages nestled warmly in rolls. Not sure how to spell “dachshund” he simply wrote “hot dog!” The cartoon is said to have been a sensation, thus coining the term “hot dog.” However, historians have been unable to find this cartoon, despite Dorgan’s enormous body of work and his popularity.
The year, 1893, was an important date in hot dog history, according to the American Meat Institute web site, http://www.hot-dog.org/ht/d/sp/i/38594/pid/38594.
In Chicago that year, the Colombian Exposition brought hordes of visitors who consumed large quantities of sausages sold by vendors. People liked this food that was easy to eat, convenient and inexpensive.
Also in 1893, sausages became the standard fare at baseball parks. This tradition is believed to have been started by a St. Louis bar owner, Chris Von de Ahe, a German immigrant who also owned the St. Louis Browns major league baseball team.
Like many of our other national habits, the hot dog is complicated. For example, the deep-fried “Texas hot weiner” is not from Texas — it was invented in Paterson, N.J., by a Greek immigrant who drew on his own cultural roots to create a “Texas chili dog” with a chili reminiscent of Greek spaghetti sauce.
The “Coney” should not be confused with a hot dog from Coney Island — Coneys (chili dogs as interpreted by Macedonian immigrants) are a Midwestern tradition. And “New York System” is the name of a type of dog sold in Providence, Rhode Island.
According to Felisa Rogers, freelance writer and editor, there’s a hot dog to reflect every facet of America’s cultural landscape. In Anchorage, Alaska, reindeer dogs reign supreme. Southerners tout slaw dogs. In Texas one can order a deep-friend coyote tail, or a hot dog wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep fried.
The Tijuana dog, wrapped in bacon and piled with traditional taco toppings and conventional dog condiments, has been slowly migrating across the country since the 1950s. An East Coast variation called the Jersey breakfast dog is served with eggs.
The Sonora dog, popular in parts of Arizona, is served on a bolillo, a baguette-like roll that possibly stems from the French invasion of Mexico in 1861.
During the “exotic” food fads of the 1960s, Chinese hot dogs, wrapped like Chinese dumplings, appeared at dinner parties. The Chicago dog, a steamed poppy seed bun cradling an all-beef dog, topped with tomatoes, minced raw onion, peppers, pickle spear, tomato slices, celery salt and neon relish, is the result of immigrant hot dog vendors in the 1920s who sought to one-up each other by offering insane quantities of toppings.
In Philadelphia, one can find the Philly combo, a kosher-inspired classic that involves an all-beef hot dog and a potato-and-fish cake.
Apart from the variations in actual dogs, the variations in vernacular are equally dizzying: You can eat a dirty water dog (New York/New Jersey 1990s), a pimp steak (Harlem, 1940s), a tube steak (1930s) or a red hot (Chicago, 1860s).
(Editor’s note: Next week, the July 18 edition of The Fort Huachuca Scout, will feature the evolution of the currywurst, which evolved in post-World War II Berlin.)