Your hot dog is steaming from the grill, and you’re ready to have it in your bun with all the sweet and sour toppings you love. You reach for the ketchup and get a few unapproving looks from your friends. They shake their heads and warn you, “Never put ketchup on a hot dog!”
“But ketchup DOES go well with hot dogs,” you retort as you quickly squeeze out a healthy portion of the red stuff onto your dog.
There are two sides to this debate: those who think there’s nothing better than a hot dog with ketchup and those who think using the sauce this way is a crime.
Why You Shouldn’t Put Ketchup On Hot Dogs
Ketchup Smothers the Original Frank Flavors
Ketchup is made by crushing and cooking tomatoes. Because tomatoes are acidic, ketchup makers add sugar to balance the taste.
In many cases, manufacturers use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener in ketchup because it has a lower cost than white sugar or other alternatives such as honey and molasses.
The problem with putting a sugary condiment on a hot dog is, it can mask the meaty flavor of the frank. The result might be a taste that’s not so appealing to some. For a die-hard hot dog lover, masking the flavor of the frank is simply unacceptable.
Ketchup Was Not Always the Go-To Hot Dog Topping, Anyway
It’s believed that the Coney dogs were the first taste America got of franks in a bun. This way of eating sausages started in the 1900s on New York’s Coney island type and was popularized across the eastern U.S. by Greek and Macedonian immigrants.
The 1900s Coney dogs were smothered in chili or ground beef and topped with mustard and onions. This topping is quite similar to saltsa kima, a greek spicy tomato-based meat sauce.
Ketchup was far from being America’s go-to hot dog condiment until later in the 1900s. Years after H.J. Heinz Co introduced its signature tomato ketchup in 1876. After this, New Yorkers took a liking to the sauce.
After World War II, many social groups began to leave New York City for the suburbs, taking their hot dog restaurants with them. The next generation of suburbanites grew up on Oscar Meyer weiners slathered in ketchup.
You’re Too Old to Be Doing It
According to hot dog etiquette published by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, nobody above 18 should slather their dogs with ketchup. They’re not the only ones who think so—Barack Obama was once quoted saying ketchup on hot dogs is “not acceptable past the age of 8.”
If you remember your parents putting ketchup on everything so you would eat it, then you might understand this argument. The sugary condiment is one most kids can’t resist. But once you’ve had a taste of pickle and a variety of other tangy flavors as an adult, you’re expected to get over the sticky sweetness of ketchup.
You’re From Chicago
Chicago is one of the hot dog’s holy cities, with a history going as far back as 1893 when two immigrant brothers introduced the Vienna sausage in a bun. To date, the city is known for its Chicago-style dog, topped with mustard, onions, tomatoes relish, sport peppers, pickles, and celery salt.
It’s not clear at what point Chicagoans developed a dislike for the tomato-based condiment on hot dogs. But one look at a heated Twitter debate on the topic makes it clear—you’re not a real Chicagoan if you put ketchup on a hot dog.
Heinzs’ attempt to rebrand ketchup as “Chicago Dog Sauce,” was considered a crime by most of the city’s hot dog lovers.
Why You Should Put Ketchup On Your Hot Dog
Think of it this way—if adults can have ketchup on fries, they surely can put it on their dogs. So the age factor shouldn’t be a big deal. Plus, what may seem like smothering flavors to one may be the exact opposite for another. Maybe the pairing of sweet and savory flavors does the trick for you.
And lastly, just because everyone thinks something doesn’t make it true. Because everyone says putting ketchup on a hot dog is a food crime doesn’t mean you can’t squirt that red goodness all over yours.
The Democratic Hot Dog
Hot dogs are one of the most democratic foods ever to exist. There are over 40 different types of hot dogs, and each comes with its unique twist.
Better yet, everyone can choose whichever mix of toppings they’d like. At the grill or at the stand—all hot dog lovers are equal. Think of it this way: there’s no such thing as a “bad dog.”
In case you’re wondering which other ways to eat hot dogs, here are a few options to consider.
- Kosher: A natural casing hot dog made of all beef, similar to a bratwurst.
- The Kraut Dog: The frank gets topped with sauerkraut and cheese sauce.
- The Chicago Dog: The classic mix of mustard, onion, relish, tomato, pickle, and sport peppers. The Chicago-style hot dog is best served with yellow mustard, chopped onions, and kosher dill pickle spears, which provide better flavor than the more popular sweet pickles.
A clear red relish or chopped raw white onion mixed with a little relish are also acceptable. Sauerkraut, sweet pickles, tomatoes, and any other condiment are avoided when possible for the sake of authenticity.
- The Sonoran Dog: A bacon-wrapped hot dog covered in pinto beans, pico de gallo, and mayonnaise.
- The Louisiana Dog: A crawfish/shrimp topped hot dog covered in lemon butter sauce.
- The California Dog (aka the Cali Dog): Sometimes confused with a chili dog—this delicacy has no chili on it at all. Instead, it’s simply a hot dog covered in avocado, mayonnaise, and diced tomato.
- The All-American Dog: This is a classic grilled hot dog topped with mustard, sweet ketchup, onions, and relish. You can also add chili if you want to give it an extra kick.
- The New York-style Hot Dog: Best served with plain yellow mustard, sometimes accompanied by sauerkraut, chopped white onions, and a kosher dill pickle spear.
This type of hot dog is meant to be eaten in a bun, not on a plate with utensils. Sauerkraut and sweet pickles work well as toppings when added at the time of serving.
There are so many different types of toppings available—so feel free to defy food rules, experiment with hot dogs, and let your creativity flow! Never be afraid to try out something new—chances are you’ll end up loving it. You can find out more about eating America’s sacred food in these articles.