In case you didn’t know (and, unless you’re a member of the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council, why would you?), July is National Hot Dog Month. Yeah, the whole month. According to whom? Well, I suppose the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council. July 23 is a double whammy by being National Hot Dog Day.
In the year I was born, had you asked anyone to name the definitive American fast food, almost certainly the answer would have been “hot dog.” By the late 60s, thanks largely to McDonald’s (though White Castle, founded in 1921, preceded it), the answer would have been “hamburger.” Perhaps it still is, but the globalization of fast foods has diminished the American stamp, while, within the US, pizza, chicken, and tacos give the burger a tough race – even sushi sales are nothing at which to sneeze. Yet, while hot dog stands no longer are ubiquitous as they were in the 50s, the hot dog hangs on.
I like hot dogs plain. I like them with mustard, with relish, with chili, with jalapeños, with onions, with bacon, with cheddar, and with just about anything else you can put on them. I like them grilled, baked, corned, deep fried, microwaved, or boiled in beer. I like them made of pork, beef, turkey, or buffalo meat.
Like so many “American” foods, the hot dog was not invented in the United States. Pork sausages on buns (they sound like hot dogs to me) were given out to the folk at the coronation of Maximilian II in 1564, and the treat was not invented for the occasion. We don’t know when they first turned up in the US, but by 1870 Charles Feltman was selling them in Coney Island, NY.
We don’t know when the term “hot dog” originated either. The common tale of the term originating at a Giants baseball game in 1900 as a shortened form of “Dachshund sandwich” is apocryphal. “Hot dog” appears in newspapers a decade older than that. An article about them in an 1892 edition of the Paterson Daily Press, for example, notes, “The ‘hot dog’ was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll, a dash of mustard also splashed on to the ‘dog’ with a piece of flat whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled.” Even earlier in the 19th century, “dog” was slang for a sausage, though we only can guess at the reason for that; it was reasonable enough to call a hot one a hot dog.
Perhaps this is a good place to debunk the frequently heard myth of the “Grade D but Edible” hot dogs supposedly served at college cafeterias around the nation. The USDA does not give letter grades to meat, so no such product can exist. Letter grades are for milk.
The food nannies are quick to tell us that hot dogs are not healthy. I don’t think this is a big shocker. However, unless you’re really going to replace that dog with a carrot and alfalfa sprouts, it probably isn’t much worse than what you’d eat instead. So, enjoy your hot dog. Perhaps it’s best, though, not to challenge Sonya Thomas (aka Black Widow) for the record: