Hot Dogs

If there’s anything that food can teach you is that even the most innocuous of foods can bring forth a bit of joy. To prove this point I bring forth my example of the ubiquitous hot dog.

A bit of back story first.

For the longest time, I was turned off by hot dogs, thanks in large part to my father. He did so by committing three of the largest sins one can do when feeding hot dogs to your family.

First, he purchased turkey dogs. I’m not sure whose idea it was to foist turkey dogs on the American public, but if I ever find them I’m going to avenge those of us who had our childhoods stolen from us by these ever-bland faux dogs. Salted and cured turkey parts are no replacement for salted and cured pork parts. And to you parents out there who serve these atrocities to your children? They know you’re shortchanging them. They may not be able to put it into words, but they know.

Secondly, for reasons beyond my comprehension, my father boiled these “hot dogs”. If there is a greater crime one could commit against a hot dog, I’m not sure what it it. The hot dog comes out of the water limp, lifeless, and drained of any taste that may have been there in the first place. Trying to cook the hot dog by glaring at it for eighteen hours would be more efficient than boiling it.

Finally, my father served them sans buns. Serving a hot dog without a bun is like getting underwear for Christmas. The intentions are noble, but the point of the endeavor is missed entirely.

Yes, it was a sad childhood. Once I was out on my own, it took me over ten years before I could venture far enough to purchase hot dogs for my own household. And I swore I would never subject anyone to the same hot dog horrors that I was subjected.

The first order of business is buying the right dog. Pork is best, beef is acceptable, a mixture of pork and beef is better than beef but not as good as pork by itself. Any hot dog made with poultry is right out, as are any novelty dogs (for instance, those with cheese in the middle of the hot dog). The meat should have it’s own distinct flavor, and share the stage with the salts and sugars used to cure and flavor.

When cooked correctly, the dog should retain a fair amount of moisture (the “plump” that one brand touts). A shriveled hot dog is a sign of an overcooked hot dog. When bitten into, there should be a bit of a snap in the mouthfeel. A mushy dog is a sad dog.

About cooking – a grill or campfire is best, but not always practical. Seared on a skillet, or roasted in the broiler can work very nicely. Boiling is wrong and antithetical , as are heat lamps.

And hot dogs should be served on a bun, preferably toasted and not prone to splitting into two pieces.

The absolute best thing about hot dogs are the condiments. There is no single correct way to top the hot dog. Even better is the fact that two different toppings will give two different hot dog experiences. A hot dog with chili and cheese is a far different meal than a hot dog served with sauerkraut. My preference is to top my dog with cole slaw. If that’s not available, I’ll go with the traditional diced onions and brown mustard.

Heed my words – hot dogs should not be disregarded as a “simple” meal. They can be easily taken for granted and then ruined by someone who hasn’t taken the time to think about it.
My dad made up for his sins by taking the kids to pretty decent restaurants. How will you make up for yours?