aNewDomain.net — I’ve always produced recipes for compendiums like The Geek Cookbook and, before that, my old column from Boardwatch magazine. Today, I want to do a deep dive with one of my favorites, the Chicago-style Hot Dog. Here’s how to make my classic John C. Dvorak Chicago Hot Dog, California-style. With plenty of history, commentary and recipes built right in. Just in time for aNewDomain Weekend.
After cooking for decades you learn a few axioms.
One is that most dishes — dishes that have been around a long time — are already about as good as they are ever going to get.
Sure you can fool around with recipes. Maybe you deconstruct or alter a recipe and get something better. But if you take the original recipe, my advice is to use the best ingredients you can find and do the recipe pretty much like it was intended. Then you will have something delicious.
With certain kinds of junk recipes that have been established and popularized, this is probably more true than with something more elaborate where there is more opportunity for leeway.
This brings us to the Chicago-style hotdog where I will violate my own rule for obvious reasons.
I have been making copies of this recipe for years and decided it was time to roll out a Californian equivalent without the sport peppers, which cannot be easily found on the West Coast. Instead, we are going to use the delicious jalapeno pepper. And, instead of the sickly neon green relish we are going to substitute Del Monte pickle relish which is not only better-tasting but does not use HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).
The basic Chicago Hot dog recipe is this:
Vienna brand all-beef hot dog, boiled
Poppy seed hot dog bun
Sliced half tomatoes
Neon green pickle relish
Sport peppers (usually 3)
A pinch of celery salt
Dill or other pickle spear
Optional cucumber spear
This is the basic product. One variation has the dog grilled and that is called a char-dog. Another variation, which appeared in 1946, has the dog covered in French fries. Emeril Lagasse goes in this direction, while leaving the important pickle spear out, with his recipe cited here.
There are a slew of places that sell the classic Chicago-style hot dogs. They are all over the Chicago area and surrounds. Find the authentic dogs at small hot dog stands and in some of the bars within the Chicago O’Hare airport, too. The dogs make a perfect lunch or dinner item on a stopover through the airport.
Almost all the terminals at O’Hare have these dogs somewhere.
The History of the Chicago Hot Dog
The story for the origin of the recipe seems to go back to 1929.
According to Wikipedia it was called a depression dog. This is obvious nonsense because any sense of a depression did not begin until 1931 to 1933. It does appear as if a number of purveyors, mostly Jewish immigrants, take credit for the invention.
An operation named Fluky’s seems like the original. Apparently the 1929 version had lettuce, too. All that is left of the original Fluky’s chain is a single stand at the Wal-Mart in Niles, Illinois.
In 1929 a similar dog chain cropped up in California called Kaspar’s and, then in 1934, there appeared Caspar’s after a family dispute. The two became competitive chains selling what was the exact same product. The original structure of the Kaspar’s chain exists abandoned in Oakland on a traffic island.
The last operating Kaspar’s that I know of is in Fremont, California. The Caspar’s spin off has 8 stores left. And the Caspar’s operation manufactures it’s dogs and sells them as a retail item.
So in 1929 two parallel hot dog operations emerged in different parts of the country serving a similar dog. This hot dog style was far different than the sauerkraut-laden hot dogs found on much of the East Coast highlighted by Nathans Famous in 1916.
One must assume that throughout the country small secondary operations cropped up during the depression selling unusual hot dogs.
The Nathans operation came out of Poland, thus the use of kraut. Kaspar’s was of Armenian origin. The Vienna Beef company dates back to 1893 and came from Austrian-Hungarian Jewish immigrants. Fluky’s was also Jewish.
And I should mention here that this discussion is about the Chicago-style hot dog not the origin of the hot dog in general.
It needs to be noted that there is some evidence that the Chicago-style hot dog history has been fussed with. While many see it as an invention in the late 20s to the early 1930s, the Vienna Sausage company has propagated the idea that the Chicago-style dog was promoted into the public consciousness during the company debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. There is no evidence of this.
It should also be noted that in the New York Times, the first actual mention of the words “Hot Dog” was in quotes in a 1922 story about how sausage wagons in Atlantic City were selling drugs. The likelihood that the Chicago-style hotdog began in 1893 is highly suspicious.
In the literature it is apparent that the hot dog craze got rolling in the mid 1920s and the style popularized by Chicago and Kaspar’s came later. The coincidental similarities to the two styles still needs research.
In short the Kaspar’s/Caspar’s dog is a foot-long boiled frankfurter dropped into a steamed bun with mustard, pickle relish, tomatoes and onion slices. It’s also salted. The only thing missing is the pepper, the poppy seeds, the celery salt and the pickle spear.
I’ve always been surprised that the Kaspar’s folks never sold a Chicago-style dog. Years ago they began to sell cheese dogs and dogs with kraut alongside their “original.”
So you make all this yourself and there is no reason you cannot make a reasonable copy of a Chicago-style hot dog which will delight the children and please the palate. Same for the Kaspar’s version.
If you were going to go through the trouble I’d advise the following:
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the best hot dogs come from the small Top Dog chain in and around Berkeley. At least that’s the general belief. This is because they have always had outstanding sausages. Supposedly, the “Top-Dog” sausage is actually the California Farm Brand Beef Frankfurter, a non-retail manufacturer that sells to the trade. The public can buy these for $4.80 a pound in five-pound packs, as of these writing, just by going to the wholesaler itself. That’s The Home Sausage Co., on San Francisco’s Mission Street in San Francisco.
These dogs are meant to be slow-grilled but when boiled they are perfect for the foot-long California Style Chicago Hot dog. They are far better than the Vienna sausage and much tastier than the comparatively bland Caspar’s packed hot dogs. But in a pinch any foot-long hot dog will do the trick for this recipe.
Here is the John C. Dvorak Chicago hot dog, California-style recipe below.
California Farm Brand Beef Frankfurter or other foot long dog
Long hot dog buns
Del Monte relish
Chopped or sliced sweet onion
Three or four heirloom tomato wedges
Pickled jalapeno pepper cut lengthwise
Your Favorite pickle spear
Optional lengthwise slice of cucumber
Celery salt, a shake
Black pepper, a shake
Poppy seeds, a large pinch
Boil the dogs, steam the buns over the boiling water. Place the cooked dog in the bun and cover with the ingredients in the order above. Now you have a delicious and improved clone of the original. If you really want to get a debate going add some shredded lettuce (as in the very original) and see what happens.
Just remember: It is bad form to ever use ketchup on this dog. The tomatoes take care of that.
If you never get to Chicago and always wondered about this hot dog, then do one yourself. It’s a great recipe and a fun conversation starter. And look at it, below. For aNewDomain.net, I’m John C. Dvorak.
John C. Dvorak is co-founder with Gina Smith and Jerry Pournelle of aNewDomain.net. An award-winning commentator, he discusses these sorts of issues with Adam Curry on the No Agenda Show. Check it out at www.noagendashow.com , and follow John @theRealDvorak. He writes Tech Stock Corner for aNewDomain.
Image credit: John C. Dvorak for aNewDomain.net