Nothing brings America together — or tears it apart — like the humble hot dog. With Twitter commemorating #NationalHotDogDay, it’s apparent just how partisan people get about the tubular delicacy, a staple of our national diet since heroic German immigrants introduced it in the late 19th century. (Thanks, by the way!)
The hot dog’s countless controversies go all the way back to its beginnings, as history gives us a terribly muddled picture of hot dog lineage. Too many different towns and people are credited with inventing, naming or popularizing the wieners we consume at ballparks, which may help to explain why we can’t come to a consensus about them.
Opinions on the subject seem to be as varied and idiosyncratic as the hot dog itself, with nobody willing to budge from their convictions. For as much as we pretend the great frankfurter questions are a matter of ongoing, rational debate, the truth is that no side ever sways the other. These pointless arguments will outlive us all — kind of like our two-party political system.
Or maybe we can settle them right now.
Here’s a round-up of the most inane and intractable hot dog fights, finally resolved by the one guy whose take really matters: me.
1) Disgusting v. Perfect
Before we can get to the real meat of the matter, we have to address the portion of the populace that suffers a mental allergy to the mere idea of a hot dog. The case against wieners consists of “horrifying” videos showing how they get made. But you know what? I’m even hungrier after watching. They’ve also been linked to cancer and heart disease… like every other delicious food. Then there are those detractors like the infamous journalist H.L. Mencken, who viewed hot dogs as “rubber, indigestible pseudo-sausages.”
I dare not speculate as to what since-repressed trauma befell these lost souls. Well, if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with barfing up corn dogs in front of their middle school crush after riding the Zipper at the county fair — but if you’re not vegetarian/vegan, there’s no reason not to love a juicy footlong.
Ruling: Perfect. Hot dogs aren’t disgusting in the slightest, despite being made of “trimmings,” or the byproducts of animal slaughter, including skin, organs, blood and feet. But can you taste any of that stuff? No. Grow up.
2) Grilled v. Steamed v. Boiled v. Fried
This is a regional dispute, more or less. My home state of New Jersey is famous for deep-fried dogs, which are a death wish unto themselves. The “dirty water dogs” from New York City street vendors will do in a pinch, but they’re never gonna blow your mind. In Chicago, steaming is the standard for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, nor do I care to. I will not dignify microwaving a hot dog, unless you’re suffering from an especially acute heartbreak and believe you no longer deserve joy. The reality is that the best hot dogs always come off a greased-up griddle or a charcoal grill, lovingly prepared to preserve both flavor and that certain elastic snap you get on the very first bite.
Ruling: Grilled. BBQs rule everything around me.
3) Wieners v. Burgers
The heartbreaking choice of backyard cooking culture isn’t as clear-cut as it sounds. The fact is, screwing up a hot dog is pretty hard, and mastering the burger is more difficult still. I’m willing to concede that a double-double from In-n-Out is more satisfying than a flabby Oscar Mayer in a crumbling bun, but compared to a dog dragged through the garden at Portillo’s? Forget about it. Combine that pickle crunch and steamed poppyseed bun with the convenience of eating one-handed, and there’s really no contest.
Ruling: Hot dogs. If hamburgers were really better, you’d be able to make dick jokes about them.
4) Beef v. Pork v. Etc.
Shouldn’t even be an issue: In any ingredient-based showdown, all-beef dogs taste the best. Many such comparison tests don’t bother considering anything else. Opt for the mixed-meat contenders and you’ll be eating mechanically separated poultry-and-pork paste that has a lot of bones in it. I know I said that you need to get over hot dogs being manufactured from questionable animal parts, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
Ruling: Beef. Pork fans need to level up to actual sausage and let the cows cover this. (Don’t mention tofu in the comments, or I swear I will dox you.)
5) Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest v. Kobayashi
When did you first realize that the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest had turned into a full-blown soap opera? The current spate of scandals began 10 years ago, during the 2007 competition, when officials had to review whether defending champion Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi had vomited after scarfing down 63 dogs. The judges ruled in his favor, but American favorite Joey “Jaws” Chestnut still won with a grand total of 66.
The drama heated up again in 2009, when Kobayashi was first barred from entering the contest for his failure to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating. The following year, he was arrested for stage-crashing, and in 2011, Nathan’s removed the six-time Mustard Belt winner from their Wall of Fame, only to have him stage his own Fourth of July spectacle in which he allegedly ate 7 more dogs than Chestnut had to win that year’s Coney Island contest. I can’t believe they’re not letting this maniac compete.
Ruling: Kobayashi. Chestnut has had it too easy for too long. MAKE HOT DOG EATING AN INTERNATIONAL SPORT AGAIN.
6) Sandwich v. ???
One of the greatest long-running feuds on the internet concerns whether a hot dog is technically a sandwich. As with the great Zen koans, there is no “answer” here, only the experience of trying to wrap your head around the premise. Nevertheless, the sandwich camp insists that “meat between bread” is the sole sufficient criterion, while the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council has stipulated that the food is “a category unto its own.”
At this point, it feels like the sandwichers — including Merriam-Webster — are only in the debate to troll their ideological rivals, which is as good a reason as any to be on Twitter. At the end of the day, this debate is all about taking a stand that makes no difference.
Ruling: Sandwich. A hot dog is definitely a sandwich when served in a toasted, top-split New England hot dog roll, which you need to try sometime. Otherwise, I don’t think they qualify, but I’ll rule in favor of the sandwich gang anyway. They seem more fun!
7) Ketchup v. The World
Look, what did ketchup ever do to hurt you? I get that Heinz is too sugary, geared toward 8-year-olds and a poor substitute for some fresh tomato slices. I’m aware that Barack Obama, openly pandering to his Chicago friends, said that ketchup on a hot dog is never okay. But in practice, it’s fundamentally unpatriotic to yell about other people’s condiment choices — except when Californians dip their pizza in ranch, which is revolting.
And I’ll be honest: Sometimes, a squiggly line of the red stuff goes perfectly with your spicy brown mustard, relish and onions. If you’re such a purist that you can’t abide individual preferences regarding a type of snack made from beef lips and buttholes, you might want to find a different venue for that culinary pretension.
Ruling: Ketchup. Put whatever you want on your goddamn dog.