Regional hot dog styles you need to try

Lifestyle

A few years back, one of my friends picked up an issue of a local magazine. You know, the kind that you find in dentists’ offices and in Jiffy Lube waiting rooms. Its cover story was about the surprising number of hot dog joints that are scattered throughout our mid-sized Southern city, and it gave him the idea that we should spend the weekend trying to visit as many of them as we could.

Because we were young idiots, “the weekend” turned into a day – one long, regrettable day that included visits to six different restaurants to try six different dogs. We had red Bright Leaf red hot dogs, Carolina chili-and-slaw dogs, Chicago-ish dogs and unfussy hot dogs with an assortment of condiments and toppings. By the end of the day, when we were all Googling the symptoms of gout, we unanimously decided that six hot dogs was just a bit too much – but the next year, we did it again anyway.

Our Hot Dog Tour has been a tradition for years now, but after thinking about how many regional styles there are, I’m seriously considering turning this into a road trip. Here are the top region-specific variations that I’m going to propose to the group – and fortunately, we won’t be able to down all seven of ’em in one day.

Chicago

A classic Chicago dogA classic Chicago dog — Photo courtesy of iStock / LauriPatterson

The Chicago-style hot dog has to be the most widely available regional variation, appearing on menus thousands of miles from the Windy City. The non-negotiable components of a true Chicago hot dog are a Vienna Beef-brand all-beef frank, a steamed poppy-seed bun, tomato wedges, a kosher pickle spear, crunchy sport peppers, relish, mustard, chopped onions and a dash of celery salt.

Sonoran

A tray of Sonoran hot dogs in TucsonA tray of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson — Photo courtesy of Larissa Milne

As we have already suggested on this site, bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dogs “might be America’s best street food.” Is that a bold claim? You know it. But then again, these Arizonan dogs are swaddled in a layer of bacon and simmered in bacon fat before being smothered with toppings as varied as pinto beans, chopped tomatoes and onions, jalapeños, mustard and mayonnaise.

Detroit

Detroit-style, with chili, mustard and onionDetroit-style, with chili, mustard and onion — Photo courtesy of iStock / bhofack2

According to the Detroit Historical Society, three restaurants in Michigan claim to have invented the Coney Island dog, including two in Detroit and one in Jackson. Regardless of where it originated, each Coney consists of a hot dog buried beneath savory meat-only chili (some locations use beef hearts), chopped onions and mustard.

So why name a Detroit staple after a New York amusement park? Some have suggested that it’s because Greek and Macedonian immigrants who settled in the city first passed through New York’s Ellis Island. During their time in New York, they might’ve visited — or at least may have heard of — Coney Island and its own hot dog stands, later assigning that name to their own restaurants.

Washington, D.C.

As Destination DC explains, the Half-Smoke – the half-pork, half-beef sausage revered as the city’s signature dish – is spicier and more coarsely ground than a traditional hot dog.

There have been a couple of explanations for the ‘half-smoke’ name: some claim that it’s owed to the half-and-half nature of the sausage, while others believe it’s because each one is split lengthwise before being grilled. Whether you’re interested in the etymology or not, each half-smoke is taken directly off the grill, placed in a bun and topped with chili, onions and cheese.

West Virginia

With onions and slaw, just like they do it in West VirginiaWith onions and slaw, just like they do it in West Virginia — Photo courtesy of iStock / patrickheagney

Much like the state itself, these hot dogs are almost heaven. For real. (Full disclosure: I am originally from West Virginia.)

Each hot dog is topped with mustard, chili made from finely ground meat, sweet and creamy coleslaw and chopped onions. Although the majority of the state’s 55 counties automatically put slaw on a hot dog, some misguided locations near the Pennsylvania and Maryland borders don’t offer it. “If you have to ask for slaw on a hot dog, it’s not a true [West Virginia Hot Dog],” as the authors of the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog rightly note.

I’ll begrudgingly admit that similar hot dogs are available throughout the Southeast. These Southern or Carolina hot dogs don’t always include a default squirt of mustard and, in my opinion, the slaw is never quite creamy enough. Harrumph.

Buffalo

Buffalo’s hot dogs aren’t necessarily defined by a specific set of toppings or condiments, or even by their buns — but there’s a better-than-average chance that if you’ve ordered a hot dog within the city limits, it’s a pork-and-beef combination that came from Sahlen’s Packing Co.

If you’re having a charcoal-grilled hot dog, you’re eating the skinless version of Sahlen’s dogs, while the “Texas Hots” style cooked on a flat-top griddle requires one with a natural casing. And if you’re having one of each, then you’re doing it right.

Seattle

A homemade Seattle dog, complete with cream cheese and onions — Photo courtesy of iStock / bhofack2

While Detroit and Chicago have had their own signature hot dogs for a century-plus, Seattle-style hot dogs have only been around since the late 1990s.

In Seattle Weekly’s exhaustive oral history of the city’s encased meat variation, two Pioneer Square street vendors claim to have been the first one to put cream cheese and onions onto a hot dog. Yes, cream cheese.

This unlikely combination of ingredients seems to have originated when one of those vendors put a hot dog into either a bagel or a bagel-adjacent bialy stick, and then anchored it there with cream cheese. The combo stuck, literally.

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