At its essence, a hot dog is just a mild sausage in a bun. Nothing terribly complicated about that, until geographic preferences are considered, some so strong that they might bring dissenters to blows.
A Jersey dog is deep-fried and piled with fried potatoes. In Cincinnati, they like them dripping with thin, spicy chili without beans. Chicagoans pile on the toppings – mustard, sweet-pickle relish, onion, tomato, pickled sport peppers (hot yellow chilies), celery salt and a dill-pickle spear on a poppy-seed roll – and hope they don’t tumble out and down the front of their shirts. Out West, just about anything goes, including nacho cheese and avocado.
We are thinking about hot dogs because baseball and grilling seasons are now in full swing.
Our Pavlovian response to the crack of the bat is a hot dog piled with toppings, a cold beer and peanuts.
Besides the toppings, many people are loyal to a brand, and among the most popular are Nathan’s, Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National, Ball Park and Vienna. It’s such a beloved treat that even nonmeat eaters have demanded vegetarian varieties, often called tofu pups.
There are a number of ways to cook them, including boiling, steaming, pan-frying and even microwaving. Each enhances the flavor in a different way. Grilling leaves those appealing char-stripes, and that’s the preparation method we are recommending today to go with some innovative topping ideas.
So how about it, slugger? Ready to trade your relish for pickled jalapeno? Or transform your sauerkraut dog into a Reuben on a bun by adding Swiss cheese and Thousand Island? Remember, if you want the cheese to melt, shred it finely and place it on top of the hot dog as soon as it comes from the grill or melt it on the bun under the broiler or on a closed grill.
The drippier the toppings, the sturdier the bun needs to be.