Why Does Ketchup on a Hot Dog Piss People Off?

Header image: Daniel Krieger / Flickr

When we made this CHOW Tip video about spiral-cut hot dogs, the last thing we thought we’d do is make some of you mad. But the sight of Senior Video Producer Blake Smith squirting a squiggly line of ketchup on a perfectly char-edged and relish-packed spiral wiener had some viewers seeing red.

“Looked delicious until he put ketchup on it,” BooKidder wrote in the comments. bestuvall engaged the caps lock to lay down a stronger shade of disapproval: “NO KETCHUP ON HOT DOGS.. chili meat sauce is perfect.. yellow mustard.. green relish.. onions and cool kraut...NO KETCHUP.” One commenter linked to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council’s rules of “Hot Dog Etiquette,” which suggest that putting ketchup on your dog is like failing to outgrow your blankie:

“Don't ... use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.”

No surprise to Chicagoans that Smith opened a bottle of worms with that ketchup. The Windy City has always been a cold place for lovers of the ketchup dog; Chicago Tribune reporter Kevin Pang lays down a historic perspective on equating ketchup with barbarianism. Straight Dope columnist Cecil Adams argues on the basis of taste: “Ketchup smothers the flavor of the hot dog because ketchup makers add sugar to their products.” Who knew a hot dog’s flavor was so delicate?

The real reason why ketchup on hot dogs bothers so many people who otherwise probably dump A.1. on a steak is—just like the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council says—pure etiquette. We don’t have many rules about food in America (not like the French, or the Japanese), so the ones we have strike some of us as seriously inviolable.

That’s the lesson of Harry Callahan’s famous rant from the 1983 Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact. Clint Eastwood’s character can cope just fine with a filthy, brutal, and greedy world, but a ketchup dog? That’s a trigger for righteous rage. “Nobody,” Callahan says with a clenched jaw, “I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog.”

All I can say: Good thing Eastwood wasn’t directing Smith on the set of our video.

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