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Edward Southerland: Puttn' on the dog
By Edward Southerland
Jul 6, 2017
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“I would like to buy one of your hot dogs. They smell rather tasty. I was wondering, if I buy just one... May I select my own?” Ignatius asked, peering down over the top of the pot... “I shall pretend that I am in a smart restaurant and that this is the lobster pond.” John Kennedy O’Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces.

Ignatius J. Reilly, the improbable protagonist of O’Toole’s comic masterpiece, was inspired by this culinary experience to take up a career as a New Orleans hot-dog vendor in the French Quarter, a decision that launched a stream of misadventures. But Reilly was not the only figure, real and imagined, of large proportions to be affected by “puttin’ on the dog.”

Babe Ruth supposedly ate twenty-four hot dogs at one sitting during a spring exhibition stop in Ashville, North Carolina in 1925. The result was what the sports headlines dubbed “the bellyache heard round the world.” The Bambino ended up in the hospital, missed fifty-six games and the vaunted Yankees fell to next to last in the American League.

Franklin D. Roosevelt raised eyebrows in the upper levels of society in 1939, when he took the visiting King George VI and Queen Mary of Great Britain on a picnic at Hyde Park and served up grilled hot dogs. The event was preceded by a month of speculation in the papers as to whether the royal pair would be offend by the plebeian offering. Apparently not. The king had seconds.

The center piece of the hot dog is a sausage, and the sausage has been around for quite a while. Homer mentions sausage in The Odyssey, and in Nero’s Rome, the sausage played an important part in Roman festival called Lupercal. When Constantine the Great became the first Christian emperor of Rome he banned sausages as sinful.

Frankfort, Germany was the home of the first frankfurter, which came along five years before Christopher Columbus sailed west in search of the Indies, and in the 1690s a Colburg butcher named Johann Georghehner, gets credit for the dachshund or “little-dog” sausage. The dachshund sausage came to America in the late 1850s along with the wienerwurst, whose home was Wien, the German name for Vienna.

But a sausage was only a sausage until someone put it on roll, and that story, or stories, become more legend that provable fact. Some say German immigrants were selling sausages with milk rolls and sauerkraut on NewYork’s Bowery as early as the 1860s. Another tale has it that Antonoine Feuchtwanger, was selling hot sausages on the streets of St. Louis in 1880. With each sale he provided his customers a pair of white cotton gloves so they would not burn their fingers and soil their hands.

The problem was, the customers kept walking off with the gloves, taking the peddler’s profit with them. His wife suggested he put the hot treats in a roll. Her brother, a baker, created a long soft roll with slit to hold the sausage and Feuchtwanger was back in business. He called his sandwiches “red hots.”

Where ever they came from, the sausages on a roll were hits with visitors to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Chris Von de Ahe, of St. Louis, tried them and liked what he saw and tasted. He put them on sale in his baseball park where the fans of his St. Louis Browns made the treat an integral part of the great American game. Baseball and hot dogs have been linked ever since.

In 1900, Charles Feltman opened the first hot dog stand on Coney Island in Brooklyn. When he died ten years later, the business was worth a million dollars. Nathan’s, near the corner of Surf and Stillwell on Coney Island and arguably the most famous hot dog emporium in America, was the inspiration of a former Feltman employee, Nathan Handwerker, who opened his store in 1916. He under cut his former employer’s price by 50 percent—he charged a nickel, Feltman asked for a dime—and Nathan’s soon became the hot dog king.

The name “hot-dog” is attributed to New York vendor selling dachshund sausages on a roll at the Polo Grounds during an early April Giants’ baseball game. The vendor’s cry of “They’re red hot! Get ’em while they’re hot,” echoing through the stands led newspaper cartoonist Tad Dorgan a to draw a picture of a barking dachshund snuggled down in a roll. Not sure how to spell “dachshund,”he labeled them “hot dogs.”

According to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, Americans downed billions of hot dogs in 2016. Supermarket sales alone accounted for 2.4 billion.

The top ten hot dog cities are Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington D.C. and Tampa, and not surprisingly all those cities have Major League Baseball teams.That’s not surprising because ball parks accounted for 19.4 million dogs last year, with Dodger Stadium leading the way with 2.6 million.

Lined up end to end, the franks would reach from the pitcher’s mound in D.C.’s Nationals Park to home plate in L.A. (Who figures this stuff out? Would they benefit from analysis?)

July is National Hot Dog Month, right in the middle of the peak hot dog season. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, we will consume 7 billion hot dogs. That’s 818 every second.

Hot dogs are truly an All-American food, but what goes on them can be a matter of where you are in the good old USA. Mustard is standard, with some folks leaning to ketchup (Ketchup on a dog is a mote in the eye of God, sort of like aluminum bats, and the designated hitter.) after that it’s to each his own.

New Yorkers like brown mustard and kraut and onions, while across the river in Jersey just about anything goes. Of course that’s true of a lot of things in Jersey.

Chicago dogs have kraut, relish onions cheese and any thing else the vendor can find in the cart. California hot doggeries offer tomatoes and pickles, and chili is a popular topping all over.

In Kansas City you’ll likely get sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese, and at Coors Field in Denver add grilled onions and peppers to the kraut. In Boston, the Yankees have been known to top their dogs with mustard, relish, and baked beans. At the ballpark in Houston, expect to see chili, cheese, and jalapenos. And of course Dallas is the birthplace of Fletcher’s State Fair Corndogs.

Chili,cheese, slaw dogs from the Varsity.


The variety of hot dog add ons is staggering, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again for all those unbelievers out there. You just can’t beat a chili slaw dog from the Varsity Drive-in in Atlanta. Mustard, Varsity chili, and a slathering of coleslaw makes the world look brighter. And there is usually enough slaw to add some to your toasted cheeseburger (a cheese steak in Varsity lingo) made with pimento cheese.