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Restaurants & Bars 39

Chicago Style Hot Dogs (from a New Jersey perspective)

John Fox | Aug 31, 200310:00 AM

I know the subject of hot dogs and Chicago hot dogs versus N.Y. hot dogs has been talked to death on here. So feel free to skip this long post if you wish. I am a hot dog fanatic and would just like to post my observations on Chicago and New Jersey dogs.

I wouldn't comment previously (except to say what I would anticipate a Chicago hot dog would be like) because I've never been to Chicago and never had an authentic Chicago hot dog. There is a place in N.J. (a truck actually) selling what it considers a Chicago style hot dog. They did use Vienna franks, but I doubt that it would be considered authentic by Chicago standards. And it was so long ago, that I don't recall much of the experience. There is a place in New York's Madison Park which serves what is considered by the Chicago Tribune as an authentic Chicago style hot dog. There was even an article in the Aug. 3rd Tribune. Check this link:

I was looking forward to trying this place, and finally made it there on vacation 2 weeks ago. First, let me say that I've been to dozens of hot dog restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and even Maine. I've sampled commercial brands from all over the country via mail order. I've been written about in the New York Times and the Hartford Advocate. That said, I must say that when it comes to hot dogs (or anything else) taste is subjective. And my opinion is just that, my opinion. Much of the enjoyment for me in this weird hobby (my family says obsession) comes in the anticipation of finally trying something for myself that I've heard so much and read so much about. I also love reading people's opinions of hot dogs. They vary so much. I've heard opinions of the same dog ranging from "the best dog there is" to "absolutely inedible". I love judging for myself.

Living in N.J., I have access to what I consider the widest variety of hot dogs available. We have Italian Style Hot Dogs, (available nowhere else but northern Jersey) Texas Weiners, North Jersey style deep fried hot dogs, kosher style all beef franks, German style beef and pork dogs, etc. Comparing the different types and styles is a little like comparing apples and oranges. I love both the all beef dogs and the beef and pork franks. But both have completely different flavor profiles. People that like the all beef consider the German style bland. People that like the German style say that the all beef kosher style is too spicy. Plus we employ different cooking methods ranging form boiled/steamed to griddled, char broiled, deep fried, and combinations of these.

In my opinion, N.J. offers the best and widest variety of hot dogs. We have Thumann's (beef and pork) which is the most delicious hot dog of it's type. In my opinion, head and shoulders above any German style dog. For all beef dogs we have Best (Newark, N.J. not Chicago), Sabrett, and Nathan's. The spicing for these dogs differs; I would say all are of the same high quality, depends on the degree of spiciness that you prefer. Not made here, but maybe my favorite all beef dog is Usinger's from Milwaukee. I believe that you have access to this brand.

New York dogs are limited, for the most part, to street cart dogs (usually boiled Sabrett's). Personally, I don't use sauerkraut or that nasty onion mix. I like just some mustard. Occassionally I'll get chili on my dog (Texas Weiner style) or the unique mustard relish at Rutt's Hut. New York dogs are stereotyped, especially by Chicagoans, as "bland pieces of mystery meat". But there are places, namely Nathan's, Papaya King, and Katz's that serve flavorfull all beef dogs that are slow cooked on a griddle. This brings out the flavor much more than boiling. Here in Jersey, we have these types, as well as the ones mentioned earlier. We also have a dog made especially for deep frying that contains soy protein and semolina that puffs up and takes on some of the flavor of the oil. Rutt's Hut is an example of this. Named in Gourmet Magazine last year as one of the top dogs in the U.S. This type of dog is pork based and wickedly delicious. Around here, people either love it or hate it. I love it, my family hates it. A place called Syd's has a delicious foot long beef dog that is boiled, then grilled. A great blend of spices, a perfect casing and great texture.

Now on to Chicago dogs. I appreciate the fact that Chicago has more hot dog stands than McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's combined. In much of the country, hot dogs have characteristics that apply to specific regions. You have the Chicago style dog, Baltimore has it's split and deep fried dogs, the South has slaw dogs, etc. I've studied and read about Chicago dogs, and can say that I know much about the many hot dog emporiums in Chicago without actually going there. is a great site that reviews hot dogs. Recently he went to Chicago and reviewed some of the more popular places. Pictures are included.

But none of this compares to actually sampling a Chicago dog. Going to Danny Meyer's hot dog cart is the next best thing to going to Chicago. They serve a Chicago Hot Dog and a New York Hot Dog. The New Yorker is a Vienna frank (skinless, unfortunately) with mustard, relish, onion, and the red onion mix. I got mine with just mustard so I could really sample the vaunted Vienna Frank. The Chicago style frank has the same Vienna dog with the condiments all imported from Chicago.

I sampled the New York dog first. The Vienna frank was ok, but very mild for an all beef dog. Good size (8 to a lb rather than 10 like many N.Y. street cart dogs) but not as flavorfull or spicy as a Sabrett, Nathan's, Usinger's, or Best (N.J.). And definitely not as good in my opinion. Mild, with a slight aftertaste reminding me somewhat of the spicing in a piece of corned beef; but very subdued. This dog was the same size and shape of a Best (N.J.) skinless dog. It even tasted a little bit like it, but much lighter in flavor. In fact, I would describe this as a Best Light. I know that a boiled Vienna frank is the Chicago style, but I would have liked this dog better if it had a natural casing and was grilled.

Next was the Chicago Dog. As for appearance, I would say that this dog is closer in appearance to Byron's than any of the other dogs pictured on Holly's web page. A lot of condiments rather than a little like Gene and Jude's. The lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, relish, etc. were good. And fresh. And it was great to finally try an authentic Chicago Hot Dog. With an open mind. But I must say that it was pretty much what I expected. I enjoyed the contrast between cold vegetables and hot meat. But for me, the hot dog's the thing. And you would be hard pressed to identify even a spicier, bolder frank under all the ingredients contained on this dog. It really is a salad dog. Not bad in this context, and I can understand how some people may like it. But it is not for me. Given a choice, I'd take a grilled Nathan's or Papaya King any day.

I suspect that if I lived in Chicago, I would go for one of the places like Gold Coast or Weiner's Circle that charbroil their dogs. And use the natural casing rather than skinless. Without much of the condiments. But that's just me. I would also prefer the brand of dog served at SuperDawg (Sinai 48) which is closer in taste to a Jersey style all beef dog. I've also heard that at least one Fluky's location uses franks from Klements of Milwaukee rather than Vienna Beef.

I do take issue with the writer from the Chicago Tribune who said, "Compared with the bland tubes of mystery meat for sale at most street corner carts, the typical Chicago hot dog is meaty and has more spice. And following Chicago custom, the specimens sold at the Madison Ave. Park stand are boiled, not grilled." Well, at the carts they are boiled, not grilled like at Nathan's, Papaya King, Katz's, etc. And at 8 to a lb they are a little bigger than the 10 to a lb dogs sold at most street carts. (You can get bigger dogs elewhere). But no way does the Vienna dog have more spice. If a Sabrett is bland, than the Vienna would have to be considered less than bland.

Your comments welcome. Especially if you've tried a dog in or around Jersey.

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