Chicago’s Love Affair with the Hotdog

Chicago River - Wrigley and Chicago Tribune Buildings (Distance)

It made me smile, when living outside the US, to hear impressions of Chicago.  Some envisioned gangsters on most street corners and wind so fierce it would blow you off your feet.  In fact, Al Capone is long gone (and good riddance as he was a nasty sort), and many natives would say that the “Windy City” is named after the “windy” politicians rather than the weather.  The “windy” politicians, I’m sorry to say, are still here (but at least the now internationally-famous “Blago” is gone).

In fact, Chicago is a beautiful city.  I say that without bias as I am not a native and have seen my share of cities (having lived in three countries and traveled to more cities than I can count).  I was reminded of Chicago’s beauty on a visit this week when our first spring weather was permeating the air.  It was too early for spring flowers, but the day and the City were still glorious.

Old Architecture - Merchandise Mart

New Architecture - Trump Tower

In-Between Architecture - Marina Towers

Chicago "Taxi"

Chicago's Union Station

As I walked down one of Chicago’s many river and lakefront walks, I noticed a sign for the famous Chicago Hotdog – not haute cuisine, I realize, but a cultural and culinary icon for Chicago if there ever was one.

Chicago Hotdog Vendor Sign

When I was growing up, I usually had hotdogs with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut (indicative of my Belarus ancestry) and, later in life, found a hotdog-on-a-bun a bit boring by comparison.  But then I moved to Chicago and discovered Chicago Hotdogs.   If you can make a culinary masterpiece out of a hotdog, Chicago has done it.  There is even a clever Chicago Hotdog website that rates the plethora of restaurants serving these long skinny delights.

If the Chicago Hotdog didn’t fully convince me of the virtues of the hotdog, my children were determined to complete the picture.  They LOVED hotdogs – any time and, generally, any style.  This was particularly true of our youngest, Nick, who hated most everything except hotdogs, pizza and kiwis (go figure).  I finally acquiesced and decided that, rather than have him starve (he was frighteningly skinny), I would serve hotdogs on a regular basis.    He preferred them mustard-only as the Chicago Hotdog has accoutrements that could be loosely classified as vegetables. (Yikes!)  So, hotdogs-with-mustard it was.  His record in one seating was nine hotdogs – bun and all.   And, yes, he did survive to adulthood despite a diet of hotdogs, pizza and no vegetables.

Now back to the Chicago hotdog.   How fitting that a city nick-named “the hog butcher for the world” (Chicago by Carl Sandburg, 1916) has the hotdog as its culinary icon.  It all works, doesn’t it?

Before I provide the recipe, I must tell you that both ingredients and quantity are important here.  For example, you can’t use just any kind of pepper; you must use spicy, green “sport” peppers — and one will not do as you must use two.   This is the same for other components.   The pickle spear must be a dill pickle — and one spear only.  I think you get the picture.   A true Chicago Hotdog does not allow for culinary creativity.

Hotdogs by Chicago's Bobak's Sausage Company

You may choose your hotdog, however.  I prefer a good Chicago beef hotdog for the meat portion.  My choice is Bobak’s – a long-time Polish butcher/grocer in Chicago.    If you are not near Chicago, any hotdog (beef or pork) will work, but the best quality available is advised.  No sense building on a bad foundation.

Once you have your hotdogs, these are your toppings:

Chicago Hotdog Toppings

Hotdog – Chicago Style

Recipe By:  City of Chicago – “Hog Butcher for the World” (Carl Sandburg, 1916)

hotdogs, beef
hotdog buns, poppy seed
mustard, yellow
onions, chopped
relish, pickle, sweet
pickle, dill, cut in spears
tomato, fresh, sliced
peppers, sport
celery salt (or celery seed and a bit salt)

1. Cook your hotdogs.  I prefer mine simmered in water, but grilled is nice also.  Have ready a poppy-seed hotdog bun.

2. Place your hot hotdog on a bun.  Spread yellow mustard on one side of the hotdog.   Spread chopped onion along the other edge and pickle relish down the middle.

3. Top with two sport peppers (whole, not chopped), two tomato slices (halves), a dill pickle spear and sprinkle with celery salt.  I think celery seed without salt would be best, but, in the interest of tradition, it should have the salt.

4. Enjoy your tasty Chicago “dog”.  Don’t be surprised if you make a bit of a mess; they are inherently difficult to eat.

Chicago Hotdog (Yes, there is a hotdog under all those toppings)

13 thoughts on “Chicago’s Love Affair with the Hotdog

  1. I hadn’t heard of moreish before, either – great word! I learned something today.

    Chicago hotdogs are my favorite. Can’t find poppyseed buns in Hillsdale, MI, so we might have to make the trek to Chicago to sample the real thing.

    Our girls loved hotdogs, too, as kids. “Gock-Gock” (hotdog) was one of Kim’s first words.

    Loved your post, Jeannee!


  2. Definitely know the word moreish, you just can’t stop at one, but just have to have more, like cheese twisties, Sydney life will know these. Beef hot dog, you know global garnish that I am always looking for beef sausages here in England.
    I love city life and miss Sydney, so I loved the photos and would love to visit Chicago. Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are there as well aren’t they?

    • Yes, the Wright buildings are here. So you must come visit!

      Also, I’ve been following the SydneyLife blog – great photos. You might enjoy it, but it will make you homesick. Link in the right side bar of my blog.

  3. I’m pleased to report that Nick has since learned to tolerate vegetables – at least some of them! Great post 🙂

  4. This Chicago Dog sounds almost perfect. My 50+ years of sampling Chicago’s handy treat usually meant stopping at neighborhood hot dog stands; every neighborhood has several. It usually involved standing in line, outdoors, waiting for my turn at the small shop’s window, anticipation building.
    The one criteria that was essential for me was the “Vienna Hot Dogs” or “Vienna Beef” sign proudly displayed on the front of the shop. The reddish color of the hot dog, the ‘snap’ when bitten into, the quick spiciness makes all the difference under the colorful garnish you accurately described.
    I have a sudden hunger to go back to my hometown Chicago just to get in line at Super Dawg or Bill’s or Irving’s . Yum.

  5. Pingback: Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner and a Day Trip To Chicago | A GLOBAL GARNISH

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