The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 06.02.03


Some of the facts/truth about hot dogs

I promised a hot dog column sometime back and an evening walk with the puppy convinced me the timing was right.

It seems every second house on my block was wafting smoke and fumes from the backyard and a trip to the grocery store revealed an empty shelf, devoid of hot dog buns. Obviously the national hot dog and sausage council is right as they claim that hot dogs are the most popular of all foods. I honour the council here as they have provided me with most of the information that inquiring minds want to know about wieners.

The council claims that the average North American eats 70 hot dogs a year. Simply put, these little doggies are so easy to prepare that I won't be providing a recipe here this week. You know how to cook them and if you don't then you have a serious culinary impediment. Let's take a walk through a little hot dog history.

Sausage is one of the oldest forms of processed food, having been mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as far back as the 9th Century BC

Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, is traditionally credited with originating the frankfurter. However, this claim is disputed by those who assert that the popular sausage known as a "dachshund" or "little-dog" sausage was created in the late 1600's by Johann Georghehner, a butcher, living in Coburg, Germany. According to this report, Georghehner later traveled to Frankfurt to promote his new product.

In 1987, the city of Frankfurt celebrated the 500th birthday of the hot dog in that city. It's said that the frankfurter was developed there in 1487, five years before Christopher Columbus set sail for the new world. The people of Vienna (Wien), Austria, point to the term "wiener" to prove their claim as the birthplace of the hot dog.

As it turns out, it is likely that the North American hot dog comes from a widespread common European sausage brought here by butchers of several nationalities. Also in doubt is who first served the dachshund sausage with a roll. One report says a German immigrant sold them, along with milk rolls and sauerkraut, from a push-cart in New York City's Bowery district during the 1860's. 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.

The year 1893 was an important date in hot dog history. 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. Hot dog historian Bruce Kraig, Ph.D., retired professor emeritus at Roosevelt University, says the Germans always ate the dachshund sausages with bread. Since the sausage culture is German, it is likely that Germans introduced the practice of eating the dachshund sausages, which we today know as the hot dog, nestled in a bun.

Also in 1893, sausages became the standard fare at baseball parks. It is believed this tradition was 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. Many hot dog historians chafe at the suggestion that today's hot dog on a bun was introduced during the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 by Bavarian concessionaire, Anton Feuchtwanger. Another story that riles serious hot dog historians is how term 'hot dog' came about. Some say the word 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, 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.

Kraig, and other culinary historians, point to college magazines where the word "hot dog" began appearing in the 1890s. The term was current at Yale in the fall of 1894,when "dog wagons" sold hot dogs at the dorms. The name was a sarcastic comment on the provenance of the meat. References to dachshund sausages and ultimately hot dogs can be traced to German immigrants in the 1800s. These immigrants brought not only sausages to America, but dachshund dogs. The name most likely began as a joke about the Germans' small, long, thin dogs.

In fact, even Germans called the frankfurter a "little-dog" or "dachshund" sausage, thus linking the word "dog" to their popular concoction. Now for a little hot dog etiquette. Don't. . .

Put hot dog toppings between the hot dog and the bun. Always "dress the dog," not the bun.

Condiments should be applied in the following order: wet condiments like mustard and chili are applied first, followed by chunky condiments like relish, onions and sauerkraut, followed by shredded cheese, followed by spices, like celery salt or pepper.

Do. . .

Serve sesame-seed and plain buns with hot dogs. Sun-dried tomato buns or basil buns are considered gauche with franks.

Don't. . .

Use a cloth napkin to wipe your mouth when eating a hot dog. Paper is always preferable.

Do. . .

Eat hot dogs on buns with your hands. Utensils should not touch hot dogs on buns.

Do. . .

Use paper plates to serve hot dogs. Everyday dishes are acceptable; china is a no-no.

Don't. . .

Take more than five bites to finish a hot dog. For foot-long wieners, seven bites are acceptable.

Don't. . .

Leave bits of bun on your plate. Eat it all. Fresh herbs on the same plate with hot dogs are a major "Don't."

Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable.

Don't. . .

Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.

Do. . .

Condiments remaining on the fingers after eating a hot dog should be licked away not washed.

Do. . .

Use multi-coloured toothpicks to serve cocktail wieners. Cocktail forks are in poor taste.

Don't. . .

Send a thank-you note following a hot dog barbecue. It would not be in keeping with the nature of hot dogs.

Don't. . .

Bring wine to a hot dog barbecue. Beer, soda and lemonade are preferable.

Don't. . .

Ever think there is a wrong time to serve hot dogs.