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!

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Category: Hot Dogs

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

8 Responses to HOT DIGGITY DOG!

  1. EvilTuna says:

    I have to recommend you try the Wylie Dog at PDT. Probably the best dog i’ve had in the city.

  2. sansaidan says:

    Nathan’s in Coney Island

  3. Brian Hoffman says:

    The Wylie Dog is pretty crazy. I had it years ago but am eager to try it again. Thanks for the rec.

  4. Brian Hoffman says:

    No doubt.

  5. Obitsman says:

    Make sure and try hot dogs at Brooklyn’s polish butchers. They outclass anything you’ll get from a cart or deli

  6. Brian Hoffman says:

    Thanks for the tip! I’m assuming in Greenpoint? Is there one in particular you recommend?

  7. Obitsman says:

    Eagle Provisions 628 5th ave South Slope is where i used to get them. I’ve not got them in Williamsburg but the bacon there is so great the dogs should be great too

  8. piso says:

    Mazurs Meat Market on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint. Smoked Veal frankfurters. They are the real deal. Arron Sanchez from the food network shops here for his pork.

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