Article Thumbnail

We Should Be Putting Hot Dogs in Pitas

What’s crazy about replacing the tired old bun with a vessel in which every topping — no matter how much of it you pile on — can sit comfortably inside, with no obvious risk of overflow?

I hate hot dog buns.

I mean, sure, they can work. If I’m crushing a few Nathan’s wieners in a backyard somewhere, I’m not trying to carefully load up a bun with a bunch of toppings — just a dab of mustard, a sprinkle of minced onion, and I’m done. Usually, in these settings, the hot dog is gone so fast that it doesn’t matter what kind of shape the bun is in. 

But the split-bun’s flaws come into clear focus when you try to eat a dog that’s been loaded up with tasty accoutrements — maybe a mound of sauerkraut, or chili and shredded cheese or the many crucial garnishes found on a Chicago dog. My god, it’s as if we decided that mixing a lot of flavors should come with the punishment of wearing that shit on our shirts, or leaving splatters on the ground.

I’m no hot dog purist. I believe in the greatness of the humble dog as a vehicle for all kinds of flavors from all over the globe. But unlike a burger bun, which caresses such toppings in its embrace, the hot dog bun threatens to betray us with every squeeze and move of our hands. 

The tradition of fitting long frankfurters onto short buns just exacerbates this architectural crisis; I recall once dropping a fistful of guacamole into my lap while leaning into my first bite of some specialty dog at Dodger Stadium. (Luckily, there was a box of nachos on my lap, ready for the catch.) And no matter what, the odds are high that your little bag of hot dog buns is full of crumbly, split pieces that can never be fixed no matter how you lovingly steam them. It’s baffling stuff. There has to be a better way. 

And there absolutely is. I realized it while wandering through a supermarket bread aisle: We should be putting hot dogs in pita bread. 

It’s obvious when you consider the benefits of a pita pocket. There’s less bread to chew through, and more textural contrast between the crusty outer edges and the soft interior. Critically, it has far more structural support for, well, anything — relish, peppers, various onion preparations, sauces, chili, grilled jalapeños, bacon bits, etc. Everything can sit comfortably inside the pocket, with no obvious risk of overflow every time you lean in for a bite. 

If you’re staring at the screen incredulously right now, I understand. Using a pita for a hot dog sounds like something you do because of an emergency shortage of regular buns. But thinking back in my life, I can’t recall a single hot dog bun I truly loved. The same cannot be said of pita, which has a far more fascinating history, is more versatile and remains insanely easy to make at home. It makes perfect sense to wrap gyros and shawarma in pita — why not the hot dog, which is simply another meaty item surrounded by garnishes? 

I’m hardly the first to think of alternatives for hot dog buns. The Oki Dog, born in Southern California but hugely popular in Hawaii, where I grew up, is a hot dog rolled up in a flour tortilla with fistfuls of other toppings like pastrami and American cheese. Coincidentally, there’s a shop in Hawaii called Puka Dog, which is famous for its custom Hawaiian-bread buns that have a hole, or “puka,” down the middle. The hot dog sits inside, encased by bread and sauces with no spillage or leaks. 

I don’t have access to such custom buns, but the point is that there’s real room for improvement and innovation when it comes to our beloved frankfurter. This weekend, I hope you will join me in rejecting another mediocre white-bread supermarket bun. Our favorite mystery meat deserves to be swaddled in something with more integrity — something that can truly highlight the hot dog’s identity as not just another tasty sausage, but a uniquely American platform for sloppy, delightful culinary exploration.