There’s nothing that transports me on a culinary journey back to my childhood quite as quickly as a bite into an all-beef, all-American hot dog. At my childhood home, preparation consisted of emptying a package of skinless weenies into a pot of boiling water, and watching their rosy flesh turn a sad gray as their little fatty sausage lives ebbed away. Then we would put them on cold white bread buns and eat them with ketchup. Such was life in 1960s suburbia.
When German immigrants came to these shores, bringing their beloved sausages with them, I wonder if those dogs tasted just slightly better. The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (yes, there is such a thing – a place that might provide me future employment) has written an extensive history of the hot dog. As it turns out, nobody really knows who invented it or brought it to America. No matter. It’s what’s going on today, people, that matters — and I have a few thoughts about what constitutes the perfect dog:
- The hot dogs must have casings. Otherwise, you do not enjoy that satisfying “snap” when you bite into a dog. Nathan’s is my preferred brand. Trust me on this — just try them once. I would not want to say that your life will be transformed. But it will.
- The hot dogs must be grilled. There is no room in this world for the boiled hot dog. None at all. And grilling them is so easy, because hot dogs are already cooked. All you’re doing is adding a charred, tasty exterior. And because there’s so much fat in a hot dog, you can’t screw it up — even if you’re a beginner. I made mine on my Performance™ 4 Burner Gas Grill by Char-Broil with the TRU-Infrared Cooking System.
- The buns should be potato buns. They are softer and have an intensely yeasty flavor. You must split them, butter them and grill them. That way, you get the crunch of the bun and the snap of the dog.
- This will be controversial except where I live. My perfect dog has chili and it has to be chili/no beans from Vietti. Yes, it’s in a can. It’s that perfect, thin chili you see hot dog vendors use. Vietti is mainly sold in the South, which is why the company can get away with putting Bible verses on the can. We are always looking for ways to have a religious experience, even when it comes to chili dogs. Look for your regional brand. Probably without any divine guidance.
- The dog must be finished with chopped Spanish onions and plain yellow mustard. You could add cheese but you would ruin it. Just kidding. But I don’t think cheese brings a lot to the party in this case.
Sometimes simple is best. You don’t have to go through contortions to make the perfect hot dog. All you need are the perfect ingredients.
- 1 package hot dogs with casings, preferably Nathan's
- 1 package potato hot dog buns
- 1 can Vietti no-bean chili, or similar
- 1 small Spanish onion, diced
- Plain yellow mustard
- Preheat the grill to medium high.
- Put the hot dogs on the grill and turn occasionally, until every side has nice grill marks. Reserve.
- Split the hot dog buns and butter. Add to the grill, butter side down and grill for about 2-3 minutes or until they have nice grill marks. Remove and reserve.
- Heat the chili in a small saucepan on the stove or on the grill if you have a side burner.
- Assemble the dogs by placing them in the buns, and topping with chili, onion and mustard.