Most of us like hot dogs as a snack or as the main part of a meal. In doing some research, I was amazed at the great variety or ways to serve hot dogs. Almost each state has its own version.
For example, in Georgia, the favorite is a scrambled dog, which consists of a cut-up hot dog covered with chili, onions and pickles. Street hot dogs in Los Angeles are Mexican in style, which means that they are wrapped in a flour tortilla and covered with chili and pastrami. Food historians say this type of hot dog was first served on Okinawa — thus the name Oki Dog. I am sure that there are as many different versions as there are states and ethnic populations.
Hot dogs have been part of the American food scene since the late 1800s. No place claims to be the birthplace of the hot dog, but most trace the origin of this beloved food to German immigrants who preferred sausages of their hometowns.
For this ethnic population, sausage and beer were a natural combination, since sausage is the center of many German meals. Weimar, a city in central Germany, which is known for the origin of the Weimar Republic and Constitution, set the standard for sausage making in 1432.
When German immigrants arrived in America, many ended up in the Midwest in the 1850s and ‘60s. Their butchers began making sausages like the ones “back home.”
Two kinds of sausage predominated their butchering craft — the frankfurter, a pork sausage from the Frankfurt region, and the wiener, a sausage made with pork and beef from Vienna. Both sausages were tasty, portable and cheap.
How did this new product become one of America’s foods? During the Industrial Revolution, steam-run meat grinders came into being in 1868. This made ground meat more affordable.
In American cities with large German populations, frankfurters and wieners, along with beer, were served in German-style beer gardens. The casual, festive atmosphere appealed to the working class. By the 1870s, outdoor activities boomed during the summer months. There were parties at the beaches, baseball games, and fairs — all filled with people. German pushcart venders began selling affordable sausages to the crowd.
Going back through history, there is no single person or place credited with the invention of the hot dog. Coney Island probably comes close. In the late 1800s, two new rail lines had been built from central New York to the beach area of Coney Island and Brooklyn. All of these people at the beach had to have something to eat.
Charles Feltmann, a native of Hanover, Germany, owned a Brooklyn bakery. He started out selling baked pies to the people strolling around the beach area of Coney Island. His customers told him that hot sandwiches would be easier to eat than pies. He adapted his cart to sell hot dogs tucked into large buns. Mr. Feltmann’s cart, placed in front of his bakery, is probably credited with establishing the hot dog craze in this country. From the beach to the ballpark, hot dogs were and still are the preferred food.
What about the hot dog bun? There is no single person credited with its invention. Each Fourth of July, Nathan’s, the famous restaurant founded by Nathan Handwerker, sponsors a hot-dog-eating contest.
The origin of the name “hot dog” is just as vague as the food and its content. It is believed to have evolved from the heat used to cook them or from their color. At the time, red food coloring was added to meats to make them look “meatier.”
The explanation for the “dog” is the long dachshund shape of the sausage. One of the vendors at a baseball game at the Polo Grounds in 1906 shouted, “Get your red hot dachshund sausages.” One of the newspaper writers could not spell the word “dachshund” and simply wrote “hot dog.” The Chamber of Commerce of Coney Island forbade the use of the term “hot dogs,” without much success.
Due to their German roots, the first hot dogs in the United States were served with mustard or sauerkraut, or both. Over the years, the simple hot dog and bun have become regional specialties. New York and Chicago switched to all beef in the 20th century. Chicagoans added pickle relish, tomatoes and chopped peppers to the hot bun.
In Detroit and other Med-western towns, the Coney is the top dog. It is served with chili, mustard, chopped onions and shredded cheddar. Mustard, chopped onions and shredded cheddar top the hot dog in Los Angeles and other Western ballparks.
Is the hot dog a sandwich? This debate has been going on for years. Webster defines a sandwich as two or more slices of bread or a split roll with a filling in between.
You decide, Pass the mustard, please.
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