New York-Style Hot Dog Recipe
Today we’re tackling a sandwich that seems like it’s been around forever: the hot dog. In honor of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and because it’s is such an iconic American sandwich, we’ve chosen the hot dog as our last sandwich to feature while in the United States. Since we’re in New York right now, we’re paying homage to the New York-style hot dog. Let’s get to it!
Hot dogs are basically a type of thin or un-cased sausage. That being the case (lol), they’ve been around, in some form, for over 500 years. The specific hot dog form of sausage we Americans know and love today was inspired by German immigrant cuisine, first established in the late 1800s. Specifically, the first instances of the New York City hot dog on a bun were recorded in The Bowery neighborhood, in the late 1860s. Today the hot dog us strongly associated with ballpark food, a practice that begun just before the turn of the 20th century. The pairing of hot dogs and baseball started circa 1893 and, is attributed to the St. Louis Browns owner (baseball nerd note: this team is not the Cardinals, they’re actually now the Baltimore Orioles). All of this hot dog history took place before the “hot dog” even got its current name. We can thank baseball, and sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan for that, because he was unsure how to spell the word “dachshund,” the original name for the ballpark sausage. To cover his ignorance in a 1901 cartoon, he simply referred to them as “hot dogs.” The name stuck, probably because it is indeed far easier to say and spell than “dachshund,” and now, over 100 years later, the hot dog is still going strong, and likely as popular as it’s ever been.
While we could have made any type of hot dog, any place in the United States, we chose to do our hot dog here in New York because the city has a rich history with hot dogs. New York City is one of the few places in America where the hotdog exists as a separate culinary tradition from baseball and backyard cookouts (the other notable example being Chicago), so it’s a natural fit. The hot dog has been a street food staple in New York City for over a century, and one of the world’s most famous purveyors of hot dogs sits near the boardwalk of Coney Island. So naturally, to get our hot dog inspiration, we headed down to Coney Island to try Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. This year marks their 100th anniversary, which means they weren’t (at all) the first people serving hot dogs in New York City, but hot dogs were made famous here. Nathan’s helped cement the hot dog as an iconic New York City food, and in connecting it with a storied, well known location like Coney Island, worked to make the hot dog a nationally known food to accompany good times on the street, on the boardwalk, on the beach, and really anywhere outdoors.
Side note: if you’ve never been to Coney Island, it’s worth the trip. In many ways, it’s a time capsule of a long-forgotten kind of Americana. It’s quaint and kitschy and a little cheesy, but that’s why it’s great. It hasn’t been updated or renovated into a new, clean, shiny state to cater to tourists (yet) – it feels local, and people across the city enjoy getting out and having a simple evening on the boardwalk or on the beach. It’s a slice of America we’d all do well to visit.
Procurement & Ingredients
While our inspiration for the hot dog came while we were in New York City, we actually waited until we were back upstate to purchase our ingredients. We took the train down and back, so we really had no way of keeping the ingredients cold and safe to eat! BUT we did put one constraint on ourselves once we were back upstate: we used products that were made in New York and preferably in the city. For the first time since we’ve started doing our sandwiches, it’s not as much about where we got our items from but what we purchased. However, we did find two retailers we’d like to feature, and we have more about them below.
Let’s take a step back and talk about the ingredients for this hot dog. While an authentic New York City hot dog can have many things on it, we decided to go simple and classic with sauerkraut, deli mustard, and pushcart onions (aka New York hot dog-style onions) as our toppings. We could have done many things–raw onions, chili, cheese, ketchup, yellow mustard, relish, etc.–but we wanted to keep it simple and traditional. Let’s take a look at each ingredient and some important highlights of each.
Of course, the hot dog is the star of the show. At first, we planned to buy Nathan’s brand hot dogs at a grocery store, but then Jeremy had the genius idea to see if anyone here in Poughkeepsie made their own hot dogs. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Mill House Brewing Co. made their own dogs in-house and that they sold them in their meat case along with other types of sausages. We found their hot dogs to be smoky and quite full-flavored, far more satisfying than anything we could have found in the grocery store. One note is that they’re made with a mixture of beef and pork AND the casing stays on them when cooked, but these exceptions to the standard made for a better dog.
A more classic New York dog would be all beef of course and not have a casing, thus satisfying the ingredient requirements for making them kosher, a big necessity in New York City, but we chose a fresh-made hot dog over doggedly (HA!) adhering to tradition. Frankly (I know!), we’re more likely to choose quality and flavor over tradition pretty much any day. If you’re anywhere near Poughkeepsie, get to Mill House Brewing Co. Not only because their dogs are fire, but also because they brew great tasting beer right in the heart of Poughkeepsie. Our recommendations: their Köld One kolsch and their PK Pale Ale. Cheers!
The other place worth a mention is Castaldo’s Route 9 Deli, the maker of our sauerkraut. We’re both quite picky about our sauerkraut, favoring a house-made one over anything jarred at a factory and sold at the grocery store. Again, via the power of Google, Jeremy tracked down this little deli out on Route 9. We were impressed that they made their own sauerkraut so we hopped over there and investigated (and took the opportunity to get deli sandwiches!).
Their sauerkraut is quite tasty but not at all what we were expecting. Instead of pale white shredded cabbage that’s super-fermented, we got something that more resembled cooked cabbage, gently spiced and fermented – it even had bacon in it! It was almost like a cabbage salad, and it made an excellent condiment on our hot dogs.
Now’s where things take an interesting turn. Normally, we’d procure all of our ingredients from a local grocery store or someplace significant to the area or the dish. However, we used the only real local grocery store here – Adams Fairacre Farms – in our last post so we decided instead to source local ingredients wherever we could find them. This ended up adding an unintentional layer of difficulty to our search. Had we wanted any old mustard, onions, and buns, we could literally have gotten them anywhere, but because we wanted unique items, we ended up going to four different grocery stores to find what we needed. We’re pretty pleased with the results so let’s talk about them below.
We found our pushcart onions at the Stop N Shop in Poughkeepsie. The brand is Victoria Fine Foods, and it’s a Brooklyn-made product. Seems pretty legit! For those who don’t know (we didn’t), pushcart onions are onions simmered in a red sauce with spices, akin to thin ketchup. They taste fine and are typically found on hot dogs at the “Dirty Water Dog” pushcarts all over New York City. You probably can’t even find these outside of New York state, but who knows, maybe we’ve been missing out on something huge for years. We found a few recipes online for them so if you want to make your own, try Bobby Flay’s recipe (for a gourmet flare) or you can try Mr. Food’s recipe, which seems to be one of the more popular, classic versions online. You could also go with the much simpler option of chopped or caramelized onions, as your taste desires.
Let’s move on to the mustard. Of course, we used Nathan’s brand mustard, since they bottle it and sell it in grocery stores. We saw this in a couple of grocery chains. It’s actually not that great of a mustard: we found it ended up tasting pretty flat on its own, but we bought it to incorporate Nathan’s, their longevity as a hot dog icon deserves inclusion. Had we known how tasteless it was, we’d probably have kept looking for something better, but it’s local and it’s got the name. And now we know: choose a mustard for its flavor not its name. A more potent mustard would have served our house-made hot dog much better, but hey, live and learn!
Finally, buns! Interestingly, we weren’t able to find any hot dog buns produced in New York. We visited the three large supermarket chains in Poughkeepsie, checked out some bakeries, as well as trusty ol’ Adams, and we still couldn’t find any locally made hot dog buns. At first, this seemed strange, but the fact that all the hot dog buns we could find were produced by regional and national bakeries is the result of the particular niche hot dogs have created for themselves. Namely: hot dogs are not considered a niche product, they aren’t widely thought of as the kind of thing one does “fancy.” Hot dogs are, and always have been street food, ballpark food, backyard cookout food. They’re cheap and simple. So with this in mind (and as a nod to the baseball rich history of hot dogs) we picked up a pack of Ballpark brand buns, which did the job well AND were on sale, so it was a win all around.
This is probably the easiest preparation of any of the sandwiches we’ve made so far. Most importantly, if you want to make your hot dog in the authentic, Nathan’s style, you’ll need to griddle it instead of grilling or boiling it. If you grill it, you’re having a cookout; if you boil it, you’re making a dirty water dog, both of which are completely different experiences. It’s actually pretty easy to griddle something: you’re basically browning the hot dog in a pan, caramelizing the outside and giving it a more developed flavor than if you’d just boiled it. You’re not constrained to a cart, so take the time to griddle it and you’ll thank us.
Other than that, we’ve not many preparation notes this time around. As we’ve said, you can use any toppings you’d like: it’s a hot dog, anything goes. As always, we recommend the highest quality ingredients you can find. Buy local when you can, and buy for flavor over buying something cheap (or for the name). Pro-tip: if you’re looking for sauerkraut, try to find a deli that makes their own. This is usually a much tastier option than any jarred kraut. Finally, we didn’t toast the bun for this recipe, but you’re more than welcome to if that floats your boat.
One of the reasons that hot dogs have remained relevant is because they can be prepared an endless number of ways using various and numerous toppings. Imagination is really the limit (though if you get too imaginative you’ll run up against some limitations of flavor). Hot dogs can be as fancy or as basic as the situation calls for, and they can be prepared quickly and easily. As with many sandwiches, the hot dog originated as a food of working class people, but as it grew in popularity it found specific niches in cultural practice and gained a kind of cache. Served in ballparks and on the street because they were cheap, readily prepared, and easily consumed in hand, hot dogs became tied up in the memories of whole generations. Once a food is associated with memories and traditions, it takes hold in a culture. Indeed, it is difficult now to imagine a baseball game or backyard cookout without hot dogs. These days the hot dog is not limited to working class food, it has become a fairly universal recreational food. It accompanies good times, the outdoors, it’s the taste of the beach and the ballpark, the smell of the backyard on a summers day. In adapting itself to many American practices (eating in less than ideal situations being a favorite American past time), the hot dog has become a globally known American food that has hung around and been beloved for over 150 years.
New York-Style Hot Dogs
- 4 all-beef hot dogs
- 4 hot dog buns
- Mustard, your choice of style, to taste
- Hot dog onions (sub regular chopped onion if needed), to taste
- Sauerkraut, your favorite brand, to taste
- Over medium high heat, griddle the hot dogs until they’re seared on the outside. Use a flattop griddle, if you have one. If not, this can be done in a hot non-stick skillet.
- Open the buns and place a griddled hot dog on each.
- Top each dog with the desired amount of mustard, onion, and sauerkraut.
- Devour and enjoy!
Note: You can top these hot dogs however you like, using whatever ingredients you want. In fact, cook them however you like, too! There really is no right or wrong. We’ve presented them this way because this is just one of the MANY ways to enjoy a New York-style hot dog. Cheers!