Hot Dog

Vienna Beef

A hot dog is a sausage served in a sliced bun. It is very often garnished with mustard, ketchup, onions, mayonnaise, relish, cheese, chili, and/or sauerkraut. Claims about hot dog invention are difficult to assess, as stories assert the creation of the sausage, the placing of the sausage (or another kind of sausage) on bread or a bun as finger food, the popularization of the existing dish, or the application of the name ‘hot dog’ to a sausage and bun combination most commonly used with ketchup or mustard and sometimes relish.

The word frankfurter comes from Frankfurt, Germany, where pork sausages served in a bun similar to hot dogs originated. These sausages, Frankfurter Würstchen (‘little sausage’), were known since the 13th century and given to the people on the event of imperial coronations, starting with the coronation of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor as King. Wiener refers to Vienna, Austria, whose German name is ‘Wien,’ home to a sausage made of a mixture of pork and beef (the word ‘hamburger’ also derives from a German-speaking city, Hamburg).

Johann Georg Lahner, a late 18th century butcher from the Franconian city of Coburg (in present day Bavaria), is said to have brought the Frankfurter Würstchen to Vienna, where he added beef to the mixture and simply called it ‘Frankfurter.’ Nowadays, in German speaking countries, except Austria, hot dog sausages are called ‘Wiener’ or ‘Wiener Würstchen.’ In differentiation to the original pork only mixture from Frankfurt. In Swiss German, it is called ‘Wienerli,’ while in Austria the terms ‘Frankfurter’ or ‘Frankfurter Würstel’ are used.

Around 1870, on Coney Island, German immigrant Charles Feltman began selling sausages in rolls. The idea of a hot dog on a bun is ascribed to the wife of a German immigrant named Antonoine Feuchtwanger, who sold hot dogs on the streets of St. Louis in 1880, because his customers kept taking the white gloves handed to them for eating without burning their hands. Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger, a Bavarian sausage seller, is said to have served sausages in rolls at the World’s Fair–either the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago or the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis–again allegedly because the white gloves he gave to customers so that they could eat his hot sausages in comfort began to disappear as souvenirs.

The association between hot dogs and baseball began as early as 1893 with Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant who owned not only the St. Louis Browns, but also an amusement park. Another origin story says that Harry M. Stevens, an American sports concessionaire whose vendors sold German sausages and rolls to spectators at the old New York Polo Grounds during the winter, called them ‘Dachshund sandwiches,’ but a ‘New York Post’ cartoonist ‘couldn’t spell dachshund, so when he drew the cartoon, he called them hot dogs.’ In 1916, a Polish American employee of Feltman’s Hod Dogs named Nathan Handwerker was encouraged by celebrity clients Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to go into business in competition with his former employer. Nathan’s Famous undercut Feltman’s by charging five cents for a hot dog when the going rate was ten. At an earlier time in food regulation, when the hot dog was suspect, Handwerker made sure that men wearing surgeon’s smocks were seen eating at his restaurants to reassure potential customers.

The term ‘dog’ has been used as a synonym for sausage since 1884 and accusations that sausage makers used dog meat date to at least 1845. In the early 20th century, consumption of dog meat in Germany was common. The suspicion that sausages contained dog meat was ‘occasionally justified.’ According to a myth, the use of the complete phrase ‘hot dog’ in reference to sausage was coined by the newspaper cartoonist Thomas Aloysius ‘TAD’ Dorgan around 1900 in a cartoon recording the sale of hot dogs during a New York Giants baseball game at the Polo Grounds. However, TAD’s earliest usage of ‘hot dog’ was not in reference to a baseball game at the Polo Grounds, but to a bicycle race at Madison Square Garden, in ‘The New York Evening Journal’ in 1906, by which time the term ‘hot dog’ in reference to sausage was already in use. In addition, no copy of the apocryphal cartoon has ever been found.

The earliest known usage of ‘hot dog’ in clear reference to sausage, appeared in a 1892 issue of the ‘Paterson Daily Press’ in New Jersey. The story concerned a local traveling vendor, Thomas Francis Xavier Morris, also known as ‘Hot Dog Morris’: ‘Somehow or other a frankfurter and a roll seem to go right to the spot where the void is felt the most. The small boy has got on such familiar terms with this sort of lunch that he now refers to it as ‘hot dog.’ ‘Hey, Mister, give me a hot dog quick,’ was the startling order that a rosy-cheeked gamin hurled at the man as a Press reporter stood close by last night. The ‘hot dog’ was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll, a dash of mustard also splashed on to the ‘dog’ with a piece of flat whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled.’

Pork and beef are the traditional meats used in hot dogs. Less expensive hot dogs are often made from chicken or turkey, using low cost mechanically separated poultry. Hot dogs often have high sodium, fat and nitrite content, ingredients linked to health problems. Changes in meat technology and dietary preferences have led manufacturers to use turkey, chicken, vegetarian meat substitutes, and to lower the salt content. If a manufacturer produces two types of hot dogs, ‘wieners’ tend to contain pork and are blander, while ‘franks’ tend to be all beef and more strongly seasoned. Most hot dogs sold in the US are ‘skinless’ as opposed to more expensive ‘natural casing’ hot dogs. As with most sausages, hot dogs must be in a casing to be cooked. Traditional casing is made from the small intestines of sheep. These hot dogs have firmer texture and a ‘snap’ that releases juices and flavor when the product is bitten.

Kosher casings are expensive in commercial quantities in the US, so kosher hot dogs are usually skinless or made with reconstituted collagen casings. ‘Skinless’ hot dogs must use a casing in the cooking process when the product is manufactured, but the casing is usually a long tube of thin cellulose that is removed between cooking and packaging. This process was invented in Chicago in 1925 by Erwin O. Freund, founder of Visking which would later become Viskase Companies (which supplies plastic, cellulose, and fibrous film and packaging to the food service industry). The first skinless hot dog casings were produced by Freund’s new company under the name ‘Nojax,’ short for ‘no jackets’ and sold to local Chicago sausage makers. Skinless hot dogs vary in the texture of the product surface but have a softer ‘bite’ than natural casing hot dogs. Skinless hot dogs are more uniform in shape and size than natural casing hot dogs and less expensive.

Unlike other sausages which may be sold uncooked, hot dogs are cooked before packaging. Hot dogs can be eaten without additional cooking, although they are usually warmed before serving. Because an unopened, packaged hot dog can have Listeria bacteria that cause listeriosis, it is safer to heat them, especially for pregnant women and those with suppressed immune systems. An American Institute for Cancer Research report found that consuming one 50-gram serving of processed meat — about one hot dog — every day increases risk of colorectal cancer by 20 percent. The Cancer Project group filed a class-action lawsuit demanding warning labels on packages and at sporting events. Hot dogs are high in fat and salt and have preservatives sodium nitrate and nitrite, which are possible contributors to nitrate-containing chemicals believed to cause cancer.  However, hot dogs have relatively low heterocyclic amines (HCA) levels compared to other types of ready-to-eat meat products, because they are manufactured at low temperatures. The biological function of HCAs can range from those of vitamins to carcinogens. Carcinogenic heterocyclic amines are created by high temperature cooking of meat, for example.

Hot dogs present a significant choking risk, especially for children. A study in the US found that 17% of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 years of age were caused by hot dogs. Their size, shape and texture make them difficult to expel from the windpipe. This risk can be reduced by cutting a hot dog into small pieces or lengthwise strips before serving to young children. It is suggested that redesign of size, shape and texture would reduce the risk. One pediatric emergency doctor notes that a stuck hot dog is almost impossible to dislodge from a child’s windpipe.

 The US-based National Sausage and Hot Dog Council in 2005 found mustard to be the most popular condiment, with 32% of respondents preferring it; 23% of Americans said they preferred ketchup, chili con carne came in third at 17%, followed by relish at 9%, and onions at 7%. Southerners showed the strongest preference for chili, while Midwesterners showed the greatest affinity for ketchup. Condiments vary across the country. All-beef Chicago-style hot dogs are topped with mustard, fresh tomatoes, onions, sport peppers (spicy green peppers packed in vinegar), bright green relish (old fashioned pickle relish uses alum to make the pickles crisp, bright green, and savory), dill pickles, and celery salt, and absolutely no ketchup.

Many variations are named after regions other than the one in which they are popular. Italian hot dogs popular in New Jersey include peppers, onions, and potatoes. Meaty Michigan hot dogs are popular in upstate New York (as are white hots — lighter hot dogs that include veal), while beefy Coney Island hot dogs are popular in Michigan. In New York City, conventional hot dogs are available on Coney Island, as are bagel dogs. Hot wieners, or weenies, are a staple in Rhode Island. Texas hot dogs are spicy variants found in upstate New York and Pennsylvania (and as ‘all the way dogs’ in New Jersey), but not Texas. Some baseball parks have signature hot dogs, such as Fenway Franks in Boston and Dodger Dogs in Los Angeles. The Fenway signature is that the hot dog is boiled and grilled Fenway-style, and then served on a New England-style bun (which are also commonly used for lobster rolls), covered with ketchup and relish. Often during Red Sox games, vendors traverse the stadium selling the hot dogs plain, giving customers the choice of adding the condiments.

In most of the world, ‘hot dog’ is recognized as a sausage in a bun, but the type varies considerably. The name is applied to something that would not be described as a hot dog in North America. For example, in New Zealand, it refers to a battered sausage, often on a stick, and the version in a bun is called an ‘American hot dog.’

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