It’s surprising how many hard-fast, nit-picky rules there are for such a relaxed, no-fuss food as the humble hot dog. It’s just a casual American wiener, so what’s the big whoop?
The whoop is huge, however, and it is multi-faceted. No one should squirt ketchup on a hot dog after the age of 18, say officials at the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, part of the American Meat Institute.
“You have to grow up sometime,” says council president Janet Riley, a.k.a. “the Queen of Wien” in her Hot Dog Etiquette video.
So apparently it’s immature to use ketchup on your hot dog. Maybe that’s because ketchup is so sugary, and you’re supposed to be over that as an adult and into good ol’ salty meats with chopped onions, vinegary mustard, or chili. You want to enhance the all-beef dog, not camouflage it. Ketchup is what parents smother over everything to make kids eat their food, after all.
Another idea: The dislike goes back to the early days of baseball, when to protect patrons from sugar-loving yellow jacket and flies, hot dog vendors only carried mustard with them. Thanks, guys.
People are pretty frank about the horror that this pairing creates. “Ketchup on your hot dog is the end of the world,” says Bill Savage in the Chicago Tribune. Savage gave a “Ketchup: The Condiment of Controversy” talk at the Chicago Hot Dog Festival last summer. For Savage, you’re not a real Chicagoan if you put the tomato-based condiment on your dog. It’s an identity thing. That’s not the way his people do it. Vienna dog vice president Bob Schwartz even wrote a book about it: “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog,” about Chicago’s hot dog stands.
When you push people past their outrage and spouting of the 11th commandment — Thou Shalt Not Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog — and make them give a good reason, it always comes back to sugar.
“Ketchup smothers the flavor of the hot dog because ketchup makers add sugar to their products,” says Cecil Adams in his reply to this very question on The Straight Dope. “That takes the edge off the highly acidic tomatoes, but it takes the edge off everything else, too.” Adams merely repeated the reasoning given by Mel Plotsky, sales manager for the David Berg hot dog company in Chicago.
As if you didn’t already know, Chicago is one of the Hot Dog Holy Cities. It’s usually an all-beef Vienna dog with yellow mustard, chopped onion, relish, pickle spears, sliced tomatoes, hot peppers, and celery salt. In New York, it’s a Sabrett-brand dog with brown mustard, stewed tomatoes and onions, and sauerkraut. In the South, they like coleslaw on it.
So with all these regional taste differences, why the nationwide fuss over the red stuff on the loveable tube steak? “Because ‘no ketchup on a hot dog’ isn’t a regional taste, but rather a universal condemnation,” writes Michigan Daily food columnist Giancarlo Buonomo in 2014. “One of the heads of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in NYC referred to putting ketchup on a hot dog as a sign of a ‘less sophisticated’ palate.”
Buonomo continues, calling it an “intuitively disgusting food pairing, like cinnamon in spaghetti sauce or blue cheese with chocolate syrup” — before he then refutes everything he just said, calling it all elitism. Having a strongly defined dislike is a way to place yourself in an imaginary in-group of people who know food and what’s proper in the food world, he says.
Food & Wine magazine categorizes this popular no-no in the same list as drinking your wine with ice, eating your pizza with a fork, and dipping your french fries in mayonnaise. All of these rules are ridiculous, writer Justine Sterling says.
Next time you’re in shorts and sandals at the barbecue party or summer fair, you might hesitate before grabbing that Heinz bottle or packet and squeezing out a red zig-zag across your frankfurter. But if you like it, don’t hesitate. We won’t judge. (Yes, we will.)
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.”
Follow Harry’s lead and relax. Try some of these no-ketchup hot dog recipe ideas.
1. Bison Chili Cheese Dog
Bison is almost more American than beef. But if you can’t find the former, use the later to make this more-than-acceptable hot dog. Get our Bison Chili Cheese Dog recipe.
2. Corn Dogs
A deep-fried favorite at fairs, corn dogs got it going on in the awesome food-on-a-stick category. Just ignore that ketchup ingredient and go with your own homemade spicy mustard. We have the recipe for that too. Get our Corn Dogs recipe.
3. Dough Dogs
This recipe gets it right and keeps it simple: hot dog, dough, mustard. The End. Oh, well, eat the thing. Start by getting our Dough Dogs recipe.
Related Video: 5 Hot Dogs with Unusual Protein
— Original Chowhound article written by John Birdsall in 2012.