Is there a Kentucky Cordon Bleu in your future? How about a Coney Filet or Pigs in a Poncho?
Twenty billion hot dogs are eaten every year in the U.S. They are the stuff of movies, music, baseball, barbecues, and busy street vendors.
Basically, a hot dog is a thin sausage. It’s hard to find a cuisine, ethnic group, or country that doesn’t have its own version. In Brazil they eat cachorro quente, in Argentina they love choripán, and in Israel Eastern European kishka is a comfort food.
Where did it start?
Let’s begin with the oldest tale.
The hot dog/sausage is a mix of meat, fat, herbs, and spices stuffed into a casing. It goes back over 5,000 years to the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, during the early Bronze Age. Sumerians lived between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. They farmed, raised animals, hunted, and gathered. They’re credited with many innovations, including cuneiform, one of the earliest forms of writing.
It’s not surprising that Sumerians were probably the first to develop a way to preserve meat by making sausages – mixing meat, salt, and spices stuffed into a casing of animal intestines.
In other words, an ancient hot dog.
The recipe stuck. Carmel Lobello in The Week, quoted Homer’s 850 BC epic poem, The Odyssey, about goat sausage, “when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage . . . [he] is very eager to get it quickly roasted.”
Not quite a Fenway Frank but getting there.
The fight began in the Middle Ages. In 1487 Frankfurt, Germany, chefs made thin pork sausages to celebrate the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II.
They called them frankfurters.
No! The people of Coburg, Germany argued. It was us. Johann Georghehner an Austrian-Hungarian butcher in the late 1600s, from the town of Coburg, invented the “little dog” or dachshund sausage.
Battle lines were drawn.
Emil Reichel was an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant in the United States. It’s said that he and his brother invented the all-beef Chicago-style hot dog and sold them at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The Chicago Dog was a hit – especially during the Great Depression when you could get it with bun and condiments for only five cents. The brothers started the Vienna Beef Company, still in business today.
There were problems with the name. One legend claims that a NY Journal cartoonist, Tad Dorgan in 1904, drew a picture of a dachshund dog in a bun. Supposedly, he couldn’t spell the word dachshund so he used the caption “hot dog.” It was part of an article about how dachshund dogs were selling at a Giants baseball came.
Maybe he should have asked the Sumerians?
Another tale goes back to German immigrant, Feuchtwanger who sold hot dogs from a cart in St. Louis, Missouri. Because they were messy to eat, he lent gloves to his customers so they wouldn’t burn their hands. The problem was no one returned the gloves and Feuchtwanger began losing money. His wife suggested they put the dog in an edible roll and it took off! The hot dog bun was invented.
In 1901, Harry M. Stevens (sound familiar?) ran a food concession in the NY Polo Grounds. One day he ran out of waxed paper. He used small French rolls instead – inventing the hot dog bun.
So many tasty tales.
Are you eating a hot dog, frankfurter, wiener, Chicago Red Hot, glizzy, or one of the many names for the now-iconic American food?
Ask Oscar Meyer’s Wienermobile introduced in 1936. In a news-breaking name change, it’s now called a Frankmobile. Even they couldn’t decide.
Hot dog history continued with new names, toppings, styles, and . . . well anything you or a street chef can imagine. The hot dog was even served to British Royalty at a White House picnic and went into space on the Apollo 11 mission.
However, the stories are not complete without Nathan’s.
Nathan Handwerker was born in Galicia (later Poland) one of 13 children in a poor Jewish family. In 1916 he started a nickel hot dog stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn, using his wife Ida’s secret all-beef recipe and their life savings of $300.
Handwerker undercut his competitors (who charged ten cents). To assure purity, he had men in white hospital smocks eat at his stand.
It was the American Dream on steroids.
Today, Nathan’s Famous boasts more than 1,400 stores in the U.S. and 18 countries. They’re famous for the eating contest held every year in Coney Island. Nathan’s is considered one of the top ten hot dogs in the country.
There are so many other tasty tales, names, flavors, styles, and toppings. What’s your fancy? Eat a frank from a street cart or food truck, at a sporting event or fair, in your backyard barbecue, or dressed up in thousands of different recipes. It’s the evolved food of the Sumerians. Get regular-sized, cocktail size, foot-long, and if you’re so inclined, check, out the longest hot dog at 718 feet. From mustard to corn dogs, chili dogs to sauerkraut, pigs-in-a-blanket, and the seven toppings on the Chicago hot dog, you can’t go wrong.
Hot diggety dogs. Chow down!