Whether you call it a frankfurter, frank, wienie, wiener, dog or red hot, the humble hot dog is as American as baseball and apple pie.
Americans eat them by the millions every year at ball games, picnics, camping or just for the fun of it. This sausage on a bun appeals to all tastes, due to a varying blend of ingredients such as beef, pork and/or chicken. Toppings are extremely important, with some condiments peculiar to specific regions of the country.
For example, the Carolina hot dog is an all-beef dog with mustard, beanless chili, chopped onions and cole slaw. The slaw has to be a Carolina-style slaw — shredded cabbage, carrots and pickles with a generous glob of mayonnaise.
The best place I’ve found to get a really great Carolina hot dog is in Fayetteville, N.C. I won’t say the name of the restaurant because I’m about to give away their secret. They grill an all-beef dog then add mustard, Castleberry’s original hot dog chili sauce, chopped white onions and their special slaw that’s made from sour cream instead of mayonnaise.
The great thing about hot dogs is you don’t have to limit yourself to traditional hot dog wieners. A bratwurst sausage, smoked country sausage, Polish or Italian sausage fit comfortably on a bun, especially when topped with sautéed green peppers and onions. They’re among my favorite fair foods. The zesty aroma of sausage sizzling on a flat grill with peppers and onions rises above the sawdust and other not-so-pleasant smells associated with agricultural fairs.
A Polish or Italian sausage dog smothered with peppers and onions is required dining during annual trips to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh or the Georgia National Fair in Perry. Last year, my wife and I were able to visit the Texas State Fair in Dallas with our oldest and her family. Texas serves a spicy country sausage covered with those same peppers and onions. It was the best sausage dog I’ve ever had!
Fairs are where you’ll also find some of the best corndogs. A corndog is a hot dog on a stick that’s dunked in a cornbread batter, and then deep-fried to a golden brown. Although I’ll almost never add ketchup to a hot dog, I will dip a still-steaming corndog in a mixture of ketchup and mustard.
Another great thing about hot dogs is just about anybody can cook them. You can boil them, grill them, pop them in a microwave or cook them in a non-stick skillet with just a drop of cooking oil. Oh, be careful about cooking them in a microwave. If you leave them in there too long, they explode just like gremlins.
When I grill hot dogs, I like mine to smoke a while, then I finish them off under a flame where they get slightly burned. Yeah, I know that carcinogens are bad for me, but I don’t eat hot dogs for my health. Those worried about eating healthy can eat a boiled carrot on a whole wheat bun — no ketchup or mustard. I doubt the carrot dog will become as popular as the hot dog.