Hot dogs – they’re not just for kids anymore

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 12, 2010

As Lawrence J. Peter once said,

“ The noblest of all dogs is the hot dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”

Americans love hot dogs and eat about 60 per year, per person. Somebody must be eating mine, since I eat about one a year. I was listening to NPR on Memorial Day and the talk was of hot dogs, so I decided to give them a try and see if they were better than I remembered. It is the grilling season, and hot dogs remind us of summer fun, since most are consumed between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

A hot dog can be called a frankfurter, wiener, red hot, durger, or most commonly just “dog.” Hot dogs are fully cooked, cured or smoked. When served, it is usually hot, and is placed on a special purpose soft, sliced hot dog bun, although it can be eaten alone. It can be garnished with mustard, ketchup, onion, mayonnaise, relish, cheese, bacon, chili or sauerkraut. Hot dogs made from a range of meats are on the market, but Kosher hot dogs must be made from beef, chicken, or turkey.

As mentioned before, hot dogs are precooked before packaging. They can be eaten without additional cooking, but even unopened packaged hot dogs can have bacteria so it is safer to reheat them. I got to thinking about all the cold hot dogs I ate right out of the package as a child. Oops!

Claims about hot dog invention are difficult to assess. The word frankfurter comes from Frankfurt, Germany, where pork sausages served in a bun similar to hot dogs originated. Weiner refers to Vienna, Austria, whose German name is “Wein,” home to a sausage made of pork and beef. Around 1870, on Coney Island, German immigrant Charles Feltman began selling sausages in rolls. Others have supposedly invented the hot dog. The idea of a hot dog on a bun is ascribed to the wife of a German named Antonoine Feuchtwager, who sold hot dogs on the streets of St. Louis, Mo., in 1880, because his customers kept taking the white gloves handed to them for eating without burning their hands. 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.

In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, wanted to introduce something truly American to the visiting King George VI of England and his queen. They served Nathan’s hotdogs at a picnic on their estate at Hyde Park on June 11, 1939. The press made such a great deal about the hot dogs, the menu made the front page of the New York Times. The king was so pleased with the delightful hot-dog “sandwich” he asked Mrs. Roosevelt for another one.

Hot dogs have a down side. They represent a significant choking risk for children under 14. Parents should slice the hot dog into bite-size pieces. For adults, it is advisable to slice hot dogs down the middle length-wise to prevent the contents from ejecting from the hot dog skin. Hot dogs can be high in fat and salt and have preservatives sodium nitrate and nitrite, believed to cause cancer. Just read the labels to be safe.

Besides all the risks, 7-Eleven sells 100 million grilled hot dogs a year. And really, what would a baseball game be without a hot dog?

The NPR commentator had his idea of the best hot dog. Buy one with a natural casing. I couldn’t find one that said so, in my hot dog selection process. Never boil the hot dog. Grilling preferred, but if necessary use the broiler, griddle or even the toaster oven. Butter the bun and grill also. Use German mustard with horseradish and chopped white onions. Eat. We did find the German mustard with horseradish. We did fire up the grill, and we enjoyed two each. Good, but not to die for.

Some other ideas for hot dogs: tempura hot dogs; buy the batter at the store and then fry the hot dogs and some veggies. Buy some refrigerated crescent rolls, roll up one hot dog in each and bake until rolls are done. Serve with mustard. Make corndogs, chili cheese dogs, or use hot dogs in a casserole of baked beans. Wrap a dog with bacon, grill and add some melted cheese.

Hot Dog Pepper Relish

1 ½ cups seeded and coarsely chopped bell peppers (use a mixture of red, yellow, and red)

2 cups coarsely chopped white onions (about 2 medium onions)

½ cup finely chopped green cabbage

boiling water to cover

¼ cup white vinegar

¼ cup water

¾ cup cider vinegar

½ teaspoon peeled, minced fresh ginger

2 cloves minced fresh garlic

2 seeded jalapeño, minced (the hottest you can find)

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon celery seeds

½ teaspoon whole allspice

½ teaspoon dried red chili pepper flakes

Place chopped bell peppers, onions, and cabbage in large stainless steel or heat-resistant glass bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Let mixture stand for 15 minutes then drain and return to bowl.

Combine ½ cup white vinegar with ½ cup water. Heat mixture to boiling and pour over drained vegetables. Let mixture stand for 15 minutes and drain again.

Place drained vegetables in stainless steel pot, large enough to hold all of the ingredients, then add remaining ingredients and bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 30 seconds, then remove mixture from heat.

Pour mixture into clean, hot, 1-pint canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes to seal the jars. Once opened, store tightly closed jar in refrigerator.

Hot Dog Casserole

1 large package hash brown potatoes

1 package wieners

3 eggs, beaten

½ cup cheddar cheese

In a large heavy skillet, cook potatoes eight to 10 minutes. Turn once. Place wieners on top. Cover with beaten eggs, and cook another 10 minutes. Add cheese and cook until cheese melts.