The outdoor grills have stood vacant and idle during this horrendous winter while ice and snow were piled on top of them, giving in to the harshness and realities of another cold, cold season. The spring thaws and the summer winds will again activate the role of these super cooking utensils, bringing pure delight to the many that savor, of all things, the hot dog. Yes, the hot dog, the most popular food staple in the land. Who could resist this morsel, grilled to perfection and smothered with mustard, relish, onion, pickle and maybe a spicy chili sauce, or even kraut on a steamed bun? How could you beat that? Top that off with a cold beer, soda or lemonade. It has to be a good description of heaven.
The hot dog, as we know it, has a fabulous history going back to who knows where or when. It's been called a frankfurter or just plain frank, a wiener, a weenie or a red hot and many more things we won't mention at this time. Frankfurt, Germany, usually lays claim to the invention which, way back in the 1600s, was called of all things a "Dachshund" or "Little Dog Sausage" created by Johann Georghehner. He later traveled to Frankfurt to promote his new product.
In the late 19th century "the dog" seemed to arrive in the good old U.S. of A. as German immigrants sold them in push carts in New York's Bowery area, and by 1871, German butcher Charles Feltman opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand selling 3,684 dachshund sausages in a milk roll during his first year in business. It was 1893, the year some hot dog historians claim as the year it finally happened - the first time the sausage was eaten nestled in a bun. That same year it became the standard fare at ballparks. The wars about the history of the good old hot dog still continue as to the exact date and who did what. Arguments arise about buns and types of buns and wieners and, probably, will never be decided.
The name "hot dog" itself is questioned by many as to when it was coined. It all started, so they say, on a cold day in April 1901, at the old Polo Grounds, home park of the fabled New York Giants. The vendors were barking "They're red hot!" "Get your Dachshund sausages while they're red hot!" There was a New York Journal sports cartoonist by the name of Tad Dorgan who saw and heard the vendors and hastily drew a cartoon of barking dachshund dog sausages nestled warmly in rolls. Dorgan didn't know how to spell dachshund and simply wrote hot dog. The cartoon was a sensation and thus the name hot dog was coined - so they say.
There are many questions of why hot dogs are associated with baseball parks. The best answers according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council is that hot dogs are easy to prepare, inexpensive (not so much now at ball parks) and are portable, making them the perfect food to enjoy while cheering on your favorite team. Hot dogs are considered a summertime food, eaten most often between Memorial Day and Labor Day, coinciding with the peak of baseball season.
Of all the hot dog fame stories, none could be better than the story of Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker and his fame at Nathan's Famous Inc. at Coney Island, N.Y. He got a job working for Feltmans at Coney Island Amusement Park. His job, along with future stars Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, was making hot dogs. The two future stars convinced Nathan to go out on his own, which he did. He bought his place on Coney Island in 1916, undercut all his competition and sold his hot dogs for a nickel. Later, Coney Island was called the "nickel empire" due to the nickel subway ride to the park and Nathan's Famous hot dogs. Of course, he became famous and rich, and to this day, Nathan's name is still alive on Coney Island. The famous hot dog eating contest is televised annually at the same spot. The hot dog also still flourishes there.
After all these years, the hot dog is still prominent throughout our country including Chicago, where the Chicago Dog is supreme. The ingredients of a Chicago Dog have to be perfect and include a poppy seed hot dog bun, a beef hot dog, boiled, with yellow mustard, pickle relish, chopped raw white onion, sliced tomato, kosher dill pickle (spear cut), sport peppers and celery salt. It's against the rules to order ketchup on a Chicago Dog. If you do, you will be turned away.
Most nutritionists will tell you that the hot dog is not fit to eat. They are probably right, but who cares when it is coupled with a great cold drink. Still the next best thing to heaven!