Can you think of a more American food than hot dogs? Sure, we can claim many different regional specialities, not to mention barbecue, hamburgers, and (sadly) fast food chains. But what dish is so closely associated with the one true all-American pastime – baseball? No matter what American city you’re in, when you go out to the ballgame, you don’t want a big juicy burger, you want a hot dog. Tell me I’m wrong!
As is the story with most iconic foods from this city, it was the immigrants that brought over the building blocks for the hot dog. German butchers brought the processed meats known as sausages to New York. Many of them started businesses from pushcarts, including Charles Feltman who owned a pie wagon in Coney Island, Brooklyn. He wanted to serve a hot savory sandwich to his customers and thus in 1867 decided to put a boiled sausage on a milk bun. This eliminated the need for much space (since a friend built a small boiler) on the cart and prevented customers from burning their hands on a steaming hot sausage.
Feltman later opened a huge restaurant and one of his employees, a man by the unfortunate name of Nathan Handwerker opened his own nearby hot dog stand in 1918 out-pricing his mentor by 5 cents and so began Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and the quintessential New York frank.
Some combination of pork and/or beef (along with fat, trimmings, salt, preservatives, and who knows what else) in a casing of sheep intestine or collagen (hungry now?) are the traditional hot dogs (although now we have everything from turkey to elk to salmon) in this country. I don’t know about you, but you can tell me anything goes inside a hot dog and it still sounds mighty tasty to me.
We get the names “frankfurters” and “wieners” from the towns of Frankfurt, Germany and Wien (Vienna), respectively, who both had their version of these sausages. But there are many theories as to where the name “hot dog” comes from. Back in the 1890’s, people didn’t know what went into these casings and some people guessed that it might in fact be dog meat.
Others say the shape of the long thin sausage resembled the body type of the dachshund hound. When NY cartoonist T.A. Dorgan heard hawkers selling “red hot dachshund sausage” at a 1901 polo game, he decided to shorten it to “hot dog” in his cartoon since he had trouble spelling the full name. That’s my favorite story. Misspellings are funny!
Whether they’re kosher, all natural, deep fried, served with a side of papaya juice, or just from some dirty water cart, I’m about to get in touch with my American (and New York) roots in my search for the best dogs in the city. Ok, it’s time for me to shut up and… Eat This!