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The dog days of summer

There is no doubt that summer has arrived. The temperature outside is blazing, the kids are out of school, and the pool parties, beach trips and barbecue cookouts are in full swing.

The Fourth of July is just around the corner, and while we certainly want to celebrate everything that Independence Day stands for (meaning our freedom and not the Will Smith movie and its sequel), it is also a time to gather around with family and friends and enjoy a typical American favorite — a hot dog.

I am partial to the all-beef franks made by either Hebrew National or Nathan’s. They always seem to take me back to my youth. Hanging out on South Beach with a group of 20 or so people rocking out to Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel or Elton John tunes.
When you’re young and on a budget, burgers and hot dogs are the way to go in feeding the masses.

We would get there early, around 7 a.m., set up a bunch of blankets and create a semicircle of chairs so we could socialize. At the end of the semi-circle of chairs, we would set up the beer coolers (of course you knew there would be beer in this story, didn’t you?), as well as a few barbecue grills we rolled out on to the sand. Sometimes, we would also set up a portable fryer.

Once the charcoal was lit and ready, one friend would place a pot on the corner of one grill filled with sauerkraut. Another pot would be placed on another grill and filled half-way with beer until it got to a steady simmer. At that point, we would drop in sliced onions and let it slowly cook throughout the day.

Next to the grill was another small table we would lug out to place all the condiments, plates and utensils.
When you got hungry, all you had to do was grab a dog out of the cooler and toss it on the grill until it plumped up, big and juicy with just the right snap on the skin when taking that first bite. Sometimes, just before placing it on my bun, I would toss it in the beer onion mixture so it soaked in those flavors.

I would top mine with mustard, the beer-infused onions, a pickle, a tomato wedge and pepperoncini pepper for what I called a “wet Chicago.” (Because the beer-infused onions would soak into the buns. That, and my hands were wet from swimming in the ocean. I know — not creative, but it was good).

On the weekends when we managed to drag out the fryer, we would sit down with our beers and talk while we wrapped the hot dogs in not one, but two layers of bacon (because bacon makes everything better, so two are better than one).
Once they were ready, the dogs were dropped into the fryer until the bacon was cooked to a full crisp and the dog ready to split. That would get a topping of sharp cheddar cheese and diced onions. Once in a while, that also got a topping of chili if we had some made, and also occasionally a dollop of sour cream made the dog crunchy yet creamy at the same time.

Now as a full-fledged adult (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) I still love hitting the backyard grill and making some of these classic dogs that take me back to those days.

I also enjoy being a bit creative when possible, although with my hectic schedule, I usually just try a recipe someone else has offered. An easy one is using Pillsbury crescent-roll dough to make pigs in a blanket.

I just place a hot dog in the middle of the dough along with some cheddar cheese, onions and small cubed pieces of ham and roll it up. The ends of the hot dogs will stick out, but as long as all the other stuff stays inside the dough, it’s good. Place them on a lined baking tray and cook for the time and temperature specified on the crescent-roll container.

I can’t recall where I found this recipe, and it may same a little weird but I find it quite tasty. I’ll either make it or wait until I have leftover homemade loaded mashed potatoes (meaning it has cheddar cheese, sour cream, chives and bacon pieces in it) and set that aside. Boil the hot dogs for a few minutes until it starts to get plump.

Set the oven to 400 degrees and place the hot dogs on the tray. Slice each dog lengthwise, but don’t cut all the way through to the bottom. Open and stuff each dog with the mashed potato. Top with more cheese and bacon bits and cook for about 15 minutes.

Serve that with an ice cold beer of choice, and bon appetit.
So go out and celebrate the dog days of summer with your favorite hot-dog recipe, and see what childhood memories it helps bring up.

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