Pleb Summer: Hot Dogs

by on August 3rd, 2017
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It’s summertime, which means it’s time for trips to the beach house, a cross-country road trip, or travel to exotic vacation destinations.

But for those of us who can’t spare the time or the money to make a getaway, it’s PlebSummer! We’re posting this summer about summer for the rest of us.

A key element of enjoying Pleb Summer is the consumption of copious amounts of hot dogs. And while it may not be a good idea to think about what your hot dog is made of, we thought it might be interesting to learn about the history of this piece of Americana.

“Hot dogs are proof God loves us and wants us to be happy” -No One

The sausage has existed for hundreds of years with Gaius, the cook for Emperor Nero, often being given the credit of creating the first. From there, the history of the hot dog (like most foods) becomes tricky to pin down. The sausage moved across Europe, and both Frankfurt and Vienna in Germany claim to be home to the “frankfurter” and “wiener” respectively. But seeing as a hot dog is nothing without the bun, the birth of this delicious treat does not really occur until the 1860s in New York City, where German immigrants sold hot dogs on milk rolls with sauerkraut (yum).

One of the earliest peddlers of the hot dog proper was Charles Feltman, who sold franks from a stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn. By the turn of the century, Charles had upgraded the stand to a full-blown restaurant – Feltman’s German Gardens – a complex serving beer and food that ran down West 10th Street, from Surf Avenue to the beach. While the focus switched to seafood, Feltman kept seven grills open serving hot dogs for 10 cents a pop. The story goes that it was while working one of these grills that a young Nathan Handwerker started saving his money to open his own establishment. In 1916 he leased a space on Surf Avenue, and started selling hot dogs for 5 cents. His plan to undersell the competition worked, and today Nathan’s Famous is a recognized brand nationwide. You can grab a Nathan’s dog in Coney Island, in numerous food courts, or from your local grocery store -but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has heard of Feltman’s.

By the Great Depression, the hot dog was enjoyed across the nation. In 1939 Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt served them to King George VI as part of a picnic lunch at Hyde Park (they were supposedly well received). Today we eat them all summer long – at ball games, backyard barbecues, beach concerts, or just around the dinner table.

However, we don’t all eat them the same way. In Chicago, dogs are placed on a poppy-seed bun and topped with tomato, pickle, peppers, onion, relish, and mustard. In the Midwest they have the “Coney dog” which is topped with chili, cheese, and onion. Arizona is home to the Sonoran dog, which is wrapped in bacon and topped with pinto beans, mayo, chopped tomatoes, onions and jalapeños. The good people of Seattle eat dogs covered in cream cheese, grilled onions, jalapeños, and cabbage. And, for our money, you can’t go wrong with a traditional New York City hot dog – served from a cart, boiled in suspicious water, and topped with saucy, sweet red onions.

So make sure the next time you and a friend are “grabbing some dog” as the kids call it, you tell them all about the history of the hot dog – they’ll thank you for it.

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Categories: PhLog

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