Growing up in New York, I thought everyone ate hot dogs like we did: all-beef dogs piled with sauerkraut and some variation of ketchup, mustard and relish. Usually we grilled them, char marks creating crisp stripes around the outsides. Other times, they were boiled — sometimes in the sauerkraut that would top them.
But no matter what cooking method was employed, the toppings were always the same. Heck, at home they still are.
I mean, sure, I loved chili cheese dogs, and corn dogs were a fun novelty. But when I was younger I didn’t realize that hot dog toppings — and hot dogs themselves — could vary so wildly in different regions.
My first discovery came in the early aughts, when I was living in Arizona with a bunch of New Yorkers for a college program. A roommate from Long Island introduced me to streetcart sauce — onions simmered in a tomato sauce that sometimes tops hot dogs from (naturally) hot dog carts in New York. Despite eating hot dogs from carts, I didn’t know it existed before then — it wasn’t an option we exercised.
These days, I realize that hot dogs can be topped in so many delicious ways. Just look at The Family Dog in Orono, with its extensive menu of creative combinations of toppings. When I had dinner there recently, I tried the Blue Lacey dog, which comes topped with chili, crumbled bacon, crispy onions and cheddar cheese. Bacon on chili? It’s genius in its decadence. I can’t wait to try what The Stray Dog, The Family Dog’s new food truck, is serving up this summer around Bangor. They have a chili cheese dog on the menu calling my name.
I hear Ipanema in West Market Square, Bangor, also has hot dogs on the menu these days, though I haven’t checked out their selection yet.
Of course, there are still surprises.
Just last year, when I moved to Maine, I discovered something that totally blew my mind: bright pink hot dogs. As someone from away, I’d never seen anything like them before. BDN Outdoors Editor John Holyoke told me those dogs are called red snappers and are totally a Maine thing. When he took me to Fairmount Hardware on Hammond Street (where, yes, they sell ’em hot and ready) last summer, I found that despite the color they taste like … hot dogs.
I think I’ll stick with the un-dyed version, personally.
(By the way, Holyoke tells me there is only one topping for hot dogs: mustard.)
How to top your hot dogs
Want to switch up your hot dog game this summer? Try these regional specialties:
Chicago – Poppy seed bun, pickle, onion, green relish, mustard, tomato, sport peppers, celery salt
New York Street Dog – Sauerkraut, mustard, onions in tomato sauce (optional)
Detroit Coney Dog – Beef hot dog, topped with meaty beanless chili, diced onions and yellow mustard
Carolina-Style – Topped with chili, coleslaw, onions and sometimes mustard
Sonoran-Style – a bacon-wrapped hot dog is grilled and then topped with beans, grilled onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, salsa and more