Anatomy of a Chicago hot dog

Hot dogs are everywhere in Chicago.  They are the default snack wherever you go: baseball game, shopping at Target, the Chicago Art Institute.   Macy’s basement food court fed us hot dogs on our first or second day in Chicago, when we were jetlagged and looking for kitchen appliances. And Saturday night before a soul gig we finally tried out an Evanston institution: Wiener and Still Champion.

Exhibit A, above, is the classic Chicago-style hot dog.  This has to have seven toppings, and I considered it part of my preparation for emigration to learn these by heart.  They are: sport peppers, a dill pickle, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, neon green relish, mustard and celery salt. You must NOT add ketchup.  It is profoundly unChicagoan to do so. According to the Time Out guidebook to Chicago this top-heavy approach developed in the Depression, as hot dog vendors competed to add value to their product, and the Italians and Greeks vied to win customers over to their sport peppers and neon relish (Italian) or tomatoes and onions (Greek), which were additions to the basic German-Jewish mustard on a beef (not pork) sausage.  When the ketchup got demonised I can’t quite make out.

The nice thing is that there isn’t a chain of hot dog stands or stores, or at least not a big one.  Each hot dog joint has its own personality, silly name and jaunty logo.  Indeed, apparently there are more hot dog places in Chicago than there are branches of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s combined.  Vienna beef is the Chicago brand of dog that’s cornered the market, but there’s a rival: the slightly more expensive Polish sausage, which is grilled rather than boiled.  That is the variation photographed above.  Generally you get a little garnish of fries like the one you can see, making it the perfect early evening or lunchtime meal on the run.

People rave about Wiener and Still Champion’s fries, but I thought they were nothing special and the oil probably needed a change.  Still, I was wowed (if my clogged old heart could still manage a wow) by their other variation on the hot dog: the dippin’ dog.

Yes, it’s not particularly pretty.  Or healthy.  But it is a very, very tasty and crunchy cornmeal casing around a juicy hot dog.  I forgot to order the dipping sauce for which W&SC is famed – they have about ten options, with a special every week (this week: miso mayo).  Must go back and try that.

Anyway, the next place on my list is Hot Doug’s in Wrigleyville. They have duck fat fries, game sausages, and a theme song available in three mixes.

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About scepticalexpat

British 30something wannabe academic, moving to Chicago for three years in August 2010.
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7 Responses to Anatomy of a Chicago hot dog

  1. Expat Mum says:

    Oh dear, despite my current post at Pond Parleys about “going native” it appears I haven’t gone as far as I thought. In the 20 years I’ve been here I’ve probably had about 5 hot dogs. Not my cup of tea at all, especially now that semi-vegetarian teen tells me about the contents.

    • Yes, I enjoyed that post! I am struggling as you are with adopting the vocabulary. Currently M is teasing me about my use of the phrase ‘standing in line’ rather than ‘queuing’. As to what’s in the hot dogs: definitely best not to think about that.

  2. awindram says:

    “This has to have seven toppings, and I considered it part of my preparation for emigration to learn these by heart.”

    When I first moved to the US I lived in Philly and had a similar preparation learning about the cheesesteak and the weird, slightly intimidating rules, that the locals make a big deal about. With some of the Philadelphia cheesesteak stores they send you to the back of the line if you sound hesitant when placing your order. With my mumbly English accent it’s almost impossible for me not to sound hesitant.

    Oh, and I clearly need more caffeine as I read “neon relish (Italian) ” as neorealism (Italian). Thought for a moment there was a Visconti-inspired hot dog.

    • On the ‘mumbly English accent’ – someone asked me the other day, when I was complaining that people in cafes and shops often took a while to tune into my accent, that it might be volume as well as dialect that was the problem – ie I should just talk more loudly. I’m thinking of giving it a go – it had never occurred to me that there was a difference!

  3. Jane says:

    and also, that dipping dog… is that the same as a corn dog?

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