The hot dog is food history in a bun.
Its ancestry tracks all the way back to the 13th century in Germany when pork sausages labeled frankfurters were served at the coronation of Maximilian II. Later, the Viennese added beef to the pork and labeled the result a wiener. Sometime in the 1800s the word “dog” popped up, an apparent reference to the rumor of a certain kind of meat inside. Another story has it that up-grading sausage, frank, and wiener to “dog” happened around the turn of the 20th century in a newspaper cartoon drawn by a guy who wanted to compare the sausage to a pup but didn’t know how to spell “dachshund.”
As for the bun that keeps your hand cool and dry, that’s a tale with a New York twist. Originally, the sausage was handed over plain, sometimes with a glove to protect your hand. But gloves cost money so Coney Island concessionaire Charles Feltman built a two-part cart with one chamber to keep the buns hot, the other for the sausages. Several years later Nathan Handwerker, a former Feltman employee, opened his own sausage stand undercutting his former boss by selling his hot dogs for only a nickel, compared to Feltman’s ten cent dogs. Handwerker’s family at some point began promoting an annual July Fourth time-limited hot dog-eating contest, Like the hot dog, the contest is still going strong and now is even an ESPN special. Just last month, Joey Chestnut clinched his eighth victory in a row by downing 62 hot dogs (with buns) in the allotted ten minutes.
Today, hot dogs are All-American hot stuff. Unlike the early days on the boardwalk, today they’re also well-regulated by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection service (FSIS) with all the usual rules and regs to tell you what’s in the package and how to buy, store and enjoy it.
First up: The simple words Beef Franks, Pork Franks, Turkey Franks, and Chicken Franks say “cooked or smoked meat from a single species, period.” After that, USDA allows a list of additives that includes water; maltodextrin (a cooked starch that thickens the mixture); flavorings such as beef broth, paprika, and sweeteners; preservatives such as potassium lactate, sodium phosphate, and sodium diacetate to ward of fungal and bacterial invaders; and sodium erythorbate to keep red meat pink. If the label says “uncured” it means there are no potentially carcinogenic nitrates in the mix.
Once ready, this mash is forced into a casing, either a natural one made from animal intestines or a synthetic one made of plastic, the latter removed after cooking to given you “skinless” franks. Either way, these four franks are high calorie food, loaded with salt and saturated fat. A fifth variety, the veggie dog made with vegetable protein such as soy or wheat is naturally lower in calories with an added benefit: dietary fiber. An unopened package of any hot dogs keeps well for at least two weeks in the fridge. Once opened, cut that back to one week. Frozen dogs stay safe practically forever, but after a month or two the quality –flavor and texture – does begin to fade.
Finally, how to dress a dog? As food writer Bridget Hallinan notes, when the James Beard Awards Committee announced their five “American Classics” picks for 2018, one of the winners was...a hot dog. Not just any old dog, mind you. Most of us aim simply for mustard and pickles but at Chef Daniel Contreras’s El Güero Canelo restaurants in Tucson, Arizona, the smash hit Sonoran Dog comes wrapped in bacon, plus beans, onions, and tomatoes, sloshed with mustard, mayonnaise, and jalapeño salsa, and tucked into an imported bolillo roll, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside.