Vienna Beef's 125th anniversary reminds Chicago of its meatpacking roots

CHICAGO (WLS) -- When a true Chicago classic has its birthday, they do it big.

"The dog's gotta be served at 165 degrees, the bun has to be perfectly steamed, the condiments have to be cold," said Vienna Beef hot dog expert Mark Reitman. "The most important ingredient is love, ok? Without love, you got nothing."

Vienna Beef hot dogs is celebrating its 125 years in the city of Chicago with politicians, fans and, more importantly, every Chicago sports mascot.

"They're the best," said Dion Boyd as he held two Chicago style dogs in his hands.

But what does the past one-and-a-quarter centuries of meat mean in Chicago?

"So if you think of what General Motors or Ford was to Detroit, the meatpacking industry was to Chicago," said Chicago History Museum Chief Historian Russell Lewis. "It was huge."

Meat - and meat packing - made Chicago the powerhouse it is today.

"Chicago, by 1900, supplied 80 percent of the meat in America," said culinary historian Bruce Kraig.

That was big money and logistics moving through the Union Stock Yards, which was located in was is now the Back of the Yards neighborhood, and pack houses in Fulton Market.

"It employed so many people. It employed so many new immigrant groups. It was an entry job for every new immigrant group that came to Chicago," Lewis said.

Now it's the all-important railways that remain amid many changes.

In today's Fulton Market or the West Loop, the meat packing facilities are gone, but you can't turn your head without seeing a crane or some construction.

Bridgford Meats is one of the last remaining vestiges of the meatpacking district, but the legacy of Chicago meat lives on.

"All of those industries led to the development of the city as a business center, as an intellectual center, Kraig said.

And if you want a classic Chicago dog, the Chicago History Museum is hosting the sixth annual Hot Dog Fest from Friday, August 10th to Sunday, August 12. For more information and tickets, click here.
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