M and I have come to the conclusion that Hebrew National All Beef Franks crush most other hotdogs on both taste and girth. We have been doing some tastings lately and they are clearly better than Ball Park franks and several others. To me, the Ball Park frank taste like bologna in tube form. Gross. I also don't think they grill up real well, as opposed to the delicious Hebrew dog which has enough fat in it to get wonderfully brown and delicious.
The only thing the Hebrew Dogs are missing is the snap. I really do like that snap that the boutique "Old Fashion" style hotdogs have. Unfortunately, the old fashioned style dogs are so skinny that you end up with significantly less meat than bun in your mouth and they are tough to find.
M and I were making hotdogs the other night when we were feeling lazy and tired and "The hotdog system" came up. I realized in that discussion, that most people aren't anal enough to have a hotdog assembly system. The hotdog system is really both an outline of my hotdog assembly system, and an exercise in a set of beliefs about caring about your food preparation and flavor profiles regardless of how simple or meager.
The hotdog system:
- Start with a tasty dog such as a hebrew national all beef frank or some other quality dog and an equally quality bun of your choice. Just beware of overly large buns. I am assuming that you are in this for the dog, not the bread. If I am using a big polish or something else that is so big that it threatens to overwhelm and split the bun, I might consider splitting the sausage and using a sandwich rolls. Unfortunately, a split sausage becomes more of a sandwich, which to me is not truly a hotdog experience.
- Second, grill or steam your wiener to perfection. I far and away prefer grilled to steamed or boiled. I think you get way more flavor out a browned piece of meat rather than one that has been been soaking in boiling water. If I am grilling, I like to brown (ie char) the buns a bit for extra flavor (mmmmm pyrene!)
- Third, apply your condiments. This is where the system really comes into effect.
- Ketchup - Apply in a strip down one side of the bun. Don't apply too much. You want to avoid putting on so much that you get drips and you overwhelm all of the other flavors with sweet cloying tomato. If I have fresh delicious summer tomatoes available, I might skip ketchup entirely and just do very thinly sliced tomato down one side.
- Mustard - I like a spicy brown, but any variety will do. Again apply just enough to taste. If you want to eat mustard coated bread, you can do that at costco for $0.99 and feel gross, or you can use good mustard and delicious bread and feel way better for it, but that ain't the point of going to all of the trouble of making a hotdog at home.
- Pickle - Always dill, I like Klausens Koshers. Aways buy the whole pickles and slice them your self. Pre-sliced pickles get soggy and overly briny on the inside and lose their snap. I like to cut thin planks of pickle that can be slipped between the dog and the bun. The pickle shouldn't be too thick such that all you taste is pickle. The most important point of the pickle to me is that it should always be placed on the ketchup side to avoid too much vinegar on one side of the dog. The pickle should be used to form a harmony with the ketchup and balance the mustard.
- Relish - I never buy the stuff. I will use it at the ball park or costco if that is all there is, but I find sweet relish to be one dimensional and overly sweet. Your call, but I wouldn't.
- Onion - Either diced or very thin strips. I like red, but any color will do. I find nice fresh onion to be pretty sweet, therefore onion goes on the mustard side. Again the onion complements the mustard and balances the pickle and ketchup. I feel it is difficult to apply too much onion, but strive for balance.
- Peppers - Jalapenos or salad peppers go down the middle if used. I prefer to rinse the salad peppers to cleanse them of the brine and try to make sure they are adjacent to something sweet to balance. Jalapenos should be minced and applied sparingly. Too much of that grassy flavor will muck up you dog.
- Kraut - I don't eat the stuff, but if you are going to, I might suggest that it is so strong by itself that you really ought to consider a very strong flavored dog and limited condiments. Maybe just a nice strong stone ground brown mustard like Ploughman's.
- Chili - See the kraut discussion. I like a bowl of chili. I have no need to get a wiener involved because you just can't taste it.
- The key to assembly is balance. Try to make sure that any bite you get, even if you don't get everything at once will be balanced and complimentary. You don't really want one bit to be all mustard and pickle because that will be really briny and vinegar and then your next bite will be all onion and ketchup and overly sweet. Balance those flavors and make a harmony in your mouth.
For beverages, beer is always traditional and a great pairing. I go light in color and flavor with a hotdog and usually prefer something a little hoppy but not a big IPA. I don't really like porters and stouts with a hotdog unless they are dry and not too smoky. I find a more interesting pairing with hotdogs is white wine or even better, sparkling white. Hotdogs and champagne pair super well as do dry'ish Reislings and other fruity white.
The thing here is that so many people treat hotdogs like they are throw away food just because they are cheap and easy to prepare. I feel that with some care and proper attention to ingredients and details we can fix a hotdog in 15-20 minutes that rivals some of the truly great hand held food experiences. You don't have to be rich to have a great food experience, you just have to put in the work and care. Why would you save 2 minutes and $3 or less on quality hotdogs and fixings just to gulp down something that tastes no better than a bologna sandwich instead of something that tastes like an authentic and desirable food made with care and passion?