Food: The Wiener’s Circle

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Is there any food item that is as regionally specialized as the hot dog? What a New Yorker thinks is a proper hot dog wouldn’t satisfy a Chicagoan and they’d both turn up their noses at an Atlanta version of the same dish. Americans eat billions of hot dogs each year and to be sure some of the variations are in the toppings, but there are other modifications made, from the bun to the sausage itself. Ask anyone in a melting pot such as South Florida what constitutes a perfect wiener and you’d think they were as individual as snowflakes. Below are some of the regional versions of the dish.

New York City

Whether you get your dog from a sidewalk vendor, Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West Side or the original Nathan’s in Coney Island (which should not be confused with the chain bearing the same name), it’s going to come with a pale, deli-style yellow mustard and either sauerkraut or onions stewed in tomato paste. Just like New Yorkers themselves, the hot dogs there are a little slimmer than you’ll find in the rest of the country, and most likely are a Kosher brand, such as Sabrett's or Best.


“More is more” in the Windy City, where Vienna beef franks are taken from a hot water bath popped into a steamed poppy seed bun then layered with yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped raw onion, pickle spear, sliced tomato, and tiny hot “sport” peppers, before a sprinkling of celery salt finishes it off. Ask for catsup and you’re going to get a dirty look.


The pork and beef blended sausage is ordered "dragged through the garden" and topped with a Duke’s mayonnaise-based coleslaw.

Kansas City

The Franken-wienie served in K.C. is a blend of a Reuben and a hot dog. The grilled frank is served topped with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese on a sesame seed bun.


In Tucson and Phoenix you get a Tex-Mex take; with a bacon-wrapped dog topped with mustard, mayo, chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and pinto beans, served in a steamed bolillo roll. Some even add guacamole, salsa verde, and cheese.


There a constant debate as to whether the combination of a hot dog smothered in yellow mustard, beefy beanless chili, shredded Cheddar cheese, and raw onion started in Michigan or Ohio. And neither one explains why it is called a “Coney.”

Rhode Island/Maine

This is where they take the term “red” hot seriously. The sausages are bright red, have a natural casing and are grilled. In Rhode Island they’re topped with meat sauce, mustard, chopped onion, and a dash of celery salt and served in steamed side-cut roll. In Maine they serve them in a buttered and toasted roll.

In Clifton, New Jersey, the hot dogs are deep-fried and served with a blend of mustard, onions, carrots and cabbage.

Los Angeles

My father refers to California as “The Granola State” saying all that you’ll find there are “fruits, nuts and flakes.” While I haven’t had a hot dog covered in any of those, I have enjoyed the traditional chili cheese dog, as well as a "Danger Dog" a Mexican-style bacon-wrapped hot dog with grilled onions, jalapeños, bell peppers, mustard, ketchup and salsa. At Oki Dog, in West Hollywood, and at Pink’s you’ll get two (or more!) franks on a flour tortilla, covered with chili and pastrami, wrapped up like a burrito.

The International Dog

The Quebecois in Montréal order their steamies or toasties (steamed or griddle fried hot dogs) topped with coleslaw, onion, mustard, relish, and occasionally paprika or chili powder. Brazilians in São Paulo cut their weenie lengthwise and top it with tomato vinaigrette, corn, peas, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, fried shoestring potatoes, and top it with mashed potatoes. It’s so messy it is usually served in a plastic bag. Chileans enjoy a “complete” which can include mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise, sauerkraut, chili, salsa verde and cheese. In Colombia the franks are topped with ketchup, mustard, salsa rosada, mayonnaise, pineapple sauce, cheese and crumbled potato chips. Guatemalans enjoy theirs in a messy mixture of guacamole, boiled cabbage, mayonnaise and mustard, while South Koreans enjoy something similar to a corn dog.

Then there are those places where a hot dog isn’t really a hot dog at all. In Milwaukee, like the rest of Wisconsin it will be a bratwurst steamed in beer and served with mustard and sauerkraut. D.C offers a “half-smoked,” a pork and beef combo topped with herbs, onion, and chili sauce.

Next week: Local Hot Dog Stands.

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