The hot dog has inspired a lot of books. But the most recent one comes from a world authority, based right here in Chicago. His credentials are impressive. He's an instructor at Kendall Culinary College, a founder of the Culinary Historians of Chicago and, most importantly, a hot dog lover who relishes the chance to talk frankly about his beloved encased meat.
Hot dogs are a part of the fabric of our city. They also make great literary subject matter. Take the new book, "Hot Dog, A Global History," by local culinary historian - and hot dog fan - Bruce Kraig. We shared a few dogs, with everything of course, at Max's, a legendary joint in the Loop. He says the name of the iconic dog came from a joke stemming back to the Middle Ages: people were always worried about what went into their sausages. But the dog as we know it has always been inextricably linked to the national past time.
"Yeah hot dogs and baseball absolutely and it's because it is a prepackaged product. It's portion controlled and it's easy for vendors to sell," said Kraig.
Easier still, loading up the dogs with mustard, neon-green relish, onion, tomato, a pickle, sport peppers and celery salt, to provide a real bang for the buck. Kraig says our love of hot dogs was stoked by the Vienna Beef Company, which proudly makes thousands of hot dogs every day in its plant on the North Side, even serving them from their on-site cafeteria.
"But a hot dog is just an encased meat, in an encased bun. You can eat it quickly and it's meat. And Americans love meat," Kraig said.
Kraig says a marketing ploy led to Chicago's "no ketchup" policy as Vienna wanted to distinguish itself from Oscar Meyer and other brands.
"Decided that these are adult hot dogs from hot dog stands, so they have to be different. Kids put ketchup on everything because they don't know any better, and so they said no ketchup. And so it caught on, and it became a Chicago thing," Kraig said.
Marketing aside, Kraig says from a purely culinary point of view, ketchup has no place on an all-beef dog.
"Here is why you don't put ketchup on a hot dog - because it destroys the flavor balance of a hot dog, which is carefully constructed. It's slightly sweet from the relish maybe, but it is also sour, and it's savory, and it's crunchy and if you put ketchup on it, it destroys everything. It overwhelms all things," he said.
The book is out now. It's part of the Edible Series, which reveals the story behind the history and culture of one food or drink item.
"Hot Dog: A Global History"
by Bruce Kraig
(The Edible Series)
20 E Adams St
some other good places for Chicago hot dogs:
1879 Second St., Highland Park
340 Half Day Rd.
2622 N. Clark St.
Vienna Beef Factory Store & Cafe
2501 N. Damen Ave.
1724 S. River Rd., Des Plaines
895 E. Grand Ave., Lake Villa
fRedhots & Fries
1707 Chestnut Ave., Glenview
The Wiener and Still Champion
802 Dempster St., Evanston
3832 Dempster St., Skokie