Vienna Beef still provides Chicago's hot dogs after 125 years

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Vienna Beef has been supplying Chicago with its hot dogs for 125 years.

We all know Chicago has the best hot dogs in the world, but where do they come from?

The Vienna Beef Company was founded 125 years ago, at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 - talk about a legacy.

Vienna moved its production from their Damen Avenue plant on the North Side to a new facility on the South Side about three years ago. There, they produce about 90,000 pounds of dogs each day.

The recipe hasn't changed much over 125 years. In their South Side plant, butchers work quickly to trim fat from briskets and other whole muscle meats, including bottom round flats. The scraps and other trimmings get ground up immediately.

"They go up to the tower to get sampled for fat, lean, protein and moisture," said Steve Schmidt, who's been at Vienna for 47 years. "They do an analysis, and from that analysis, that's how they find out how to make the right hot dog day in and day out."

The ground beef is transferred to giant vacuum choppers that look like space ships and are emulsified with seasonings.

"Extract the protein, they change it from a ground state to an emulsified state, they add the flavorings, and then it's ready to be stuffed on the stuffing line," said Schmidt.

There are natural casings - those are sheep intestines, by the way - as well as skinless ones. The dogs are assembled on large racks, which are then wheeled into enormous smokers, where hickory chip smoke is blown over them until they're cooked.

Black lines on a dog means it's skinless. Once cooled down in a shower, those protective casings are quickly cut off in machine gun fashion. Then, they're assembled and checked for quality control and packaged to go out to stores, restaurants and stands everywhere.

One of those customers is Byron's Hot Dogs, which has been in business since 1975 just north of Wrigley Field. They prefer skinless dogs, which is not the norm for most stands.

"That way the hot dog never touches water, it only touches steam," said owner Michael Payne

Also, in a surprise move, they do not nestle them into poppy seed buns.

"We don't like them to get stuck in our customer's teeth," he said.

Payne uses size eights - that's eight to a pound - and tops them either traditionally with the seven holy condiments: mustard, neon green relish, chopped white onions, tomato slices, pickles, pickled sport peppers and finally, a shake or two of celery salt. But Payne also offers shredded lettuce, cucumbers and green peppers if customers want. He also offers a few different sizes.

"We're actually the only hot dog stand in Chicago that I know of that has three sizes of hot dogs. Our regular hot dog is an eight-to-one, we have a jumbo which is a four-to-one, then we have the Dogzilla, which is a two-to-one," he said.

Chicago Hot Dog Fest
https://www.chicagohistory.org/chicagohotdogfest
Byron's Hot Dogs
1017 W. Irving Park Rd.
773-281-7474

1701 W. Lawrence Ave.
773-271-0900
http://www.byronschicago.com/

In Steve's Extra Course Video, he goes back to Byron's to try one of their special double cheeseburgers that comes with gyros on top.

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In Steve's Extra Course video, he goes back to Byron's to try one of their special double cheeseburgers that comes with gyros on top.

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