Tale of the Little-Dog

When my son and his wife visited with their daughters last week, the consensus for dinner was hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.  These choices were noteworthy in that I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate a hot dog.  Sweet Italian sausage?  A couple of times a month cut up into a stir-fry of vegetables.  Beer brats?  Also delicious, hot off the grill with a little mustard.  But a hot dog is child’s play by comparison.  Or should I say, a “dachshund sausage”?

It’s true.  The Germans, who by all accounts can take credit for the invention of the hot dog (five hundred years ago!) nicknamed their frankfurters “dachshunds” – or “little-dog” sausages because, well, they looked exactly like the dog breed.  The only history Americans claim is the re-nickname “hot dog”.  Even the hot dog bun – which really took hold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 – points back to the Germans, who always ate their sausages with bread.

Are hot dogs a staple in your diet, or like me are they simply a distant memory?  If they weren’t hot off the grill in the backyard or at a summer picnic, perhaps you had one at a baseball game (but not so much football or basketball, go figure).  You’ve probably also seen hot dogs on the midway at carnivals and county fairs.  Wherever you get your franks today, they’re just not as likely to come from established restaurants.

In the 1970s, America seemed to have hot dog stands on every corner.  The most popular of these was the distinctive drive-thru Der Wienerschnitzel’s, but you also had – at least from my California-based memory – Pup ‘N’ Taco, Ben Franks, Tail o’ the Pup, and the walk-up Hot Dog on-a-Stick booths you’d find at amusement parks.  Today’s retail hot dog is at a Sonic Drive-In or the food court at Costco.  If you live anywhere near New York’s Coney Island, you can also include “Nathan’s Famous”, or at least the annual hot dog eating contest of the same name.

A hot dog may be “a cooked sausage eaten in a long, soft piece of bread”, but its secondary meanings are less definitive.  “Hot Dog!” is something you used to say when you were VERY happy about something else (“used to”, meaning sixty or seventy years ago).  A “hot dog” is also a person “who makes fast, skillful movements in skiing, snowboarding, or surfing to make people notice them”.  That last definition still stands.

Speaking of “used to say”, we also used to sing about hot dogs, didn’t we?  Oscar Mayer’s jingle convinced us we should BE hot dogs (so everyone would be in love with us).  But the better song came from Armour, which asked us what kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?  Per the lyrics, “…fat kids, skinny kids, kids that climb on rocks… tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox…”  Today’s version of the Armour jingle would probably be censored just for using the word “kids”.

“I wish I had a million dollars. HOT DOG!” (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and “It’s A Wonderful Life”)

Hot dogs will always be a childhood memory more than a dietary preference in my book.  My mother, raising five hungry boys, developed several dinner recipes when time and ingredients were in short supply.  These included canned baked beans and weenies (two ingredients = dinner!), and a truly odd creation from the Betty Crocker cookbook made up of hot dogs, mashed potatoes, and cheese (three ingredients!).  Whether it tasted good or not – I honestly can’t remember – dogs, mash, and cheese conveniently covered the protein, carb, and fat categories, all in one broiler-blasted casserole.

The Oscar Mayer “Wienermobile”

My most vivid childhood hot dog memories are not the dinners mentioned above.  Instead, I can’t forget snacking on raw hot dogs from the refrigerator (which sounds awful now, but hey, I was a kid).  My mother was faithful to the Oscar Mayer brand so I ate a lot of their hot dogs raw.   Speaking of Oscar Mayer, here’s the better memory.  They built a motorized advertisement which to this day may be the coolest vehicle on wheels.  The “Wienermobile” cruised the streets of Los Angeles, stopping every now and then in a parking lot so you could view it up close.  The driver handed out tiny plastic replicas of the vehicle, appropriately labeled “Weenie Whistles”.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and “The Santa Clause”)

Let me conclude with a solved hot dog mystery.  Your grocery store sells most brands in packages of ten.  They also sell hot dog buns but in packages of eight.  Why?  Because hot dogs weigh about 1.6 ounces, which makes a package of ten a convenient sale of exactly one pound of meat.  On the other hand, hot dog buns are baked in trays of four, which work best with conveyor belts and processing.  An odd number of buns – trays of five – is a model of inefficiency.  So until one or the other manufacturer changes their standard, you’ll always have leftovers for snacks.  Or better yet, for your dog.

The hot dogs I served my granddaughters last week were comically advertised as healthy: no fillers, no preservatives, and so on.  They weren’t very good.  Maybe the worst part of a hot dog is what makes it taste so good?  Or maybe hot dogs have simply lost their appeal to me?  No, wait, that can’t be true.  Anything my granddaughters ask me to eat has instant appeal.

Guess I haven’t eaten my last little-dog sausage just yet.

Some content sourced from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

15 thoughts on “Tale of the Little-Dog

  1. No shortage of places to get good hot dogs in Chicago – and a lot of them are only hot dogs, no hamburger or other option available (well, fries and chips sure)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We used to have a “Chicago” hot dog place here in Colorado and it was really good. Chicagoans make their hot dogs a meal. It seems to be all about the toppings.

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  2. I like an occasional hot dogs if they’re good, but try not to think about what’s in them. We have a Canadian chain here called New York Fries, which sells hot dogs, fries and poutine, and they serve a good sized hot dog, with a nice soft bun, but all other places in my experience are risky, including those chip trucks you see all summer. They must buy the cheaper generic brands. When I was a kid and my mom went to the butcher he always gave all the kids a free (uncooked) hotdog which is really no different than eating baloney.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay Joni, now I know what “poutine” is – thank you 🙂 You also addressed my (unmentioned) concern about eating raw hot dogs. I’m sure my mother wouldn’t have let her sons go near them if she thought they’d be harmful, but it’s nice to know they were no different than baloney. Now trying to decide which tastes better (or worse…)

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  3. “canned baked beans and weenies” – we used to call that weenie beanies.
    When I was a kid (and my mother wasn’t around to witness it) I’d put a hot dog on a metal hot dog cooking skewer, then cook the dog over the flame of the gas stove in our kitchen. Mom was not pleased when she finally discovered where the grease spatters were coming from.

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  4. You have to buy 5 packages of buns and 4 packages of hot dogs for the math to even up.

    or do like I do: Put 10 hot dogs on the grill and forgot about the last two until they’re burnt to a crisp and no one will eat them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought your first suggestion was perfect except there’s no way I’d eat that many hot dogs (on the other hand, my dog votes “yes”). But your second suggestion has potential. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll burn 9 to a crisp and eat 1. One’s about all I can stomach.

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  5. Nothing tastes better than hot dogs on a grill. I’m making myself hungry thinking about it. I’ve not been to A&W for a coney dog in a while; that used to be a favorite haunt for me. Here in Michigan we have two coney dog restaurants in Detroit and they are fierce rivals, each claiming their “dog” is the best. But only one of them thought to stuff a Paczki (jelly donut) with a wiener and dribble coney sauce and mustard on top and made it a real winning combo for Fat Tuesday!

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  6. People will eat anything! We have a local place with a burger using doughnuts instead of buns. In this case (and with your Fat Tuesday dog), I don’t get the appeal of the sweet/savory combo. Maybe I need to give it a try 🙂

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  7. I, for one, appreciate a good hot dog. In fact, my preferred “sports meal” while watching baseball (I’m a rabid sports fan) is a hot dog, popcorn, and a beer. We get our absolutely delicious dogs from Keller Crafted Meats here in CA. My all-time favorite, though, is a Chicago dog at Wrigley Field. Thank you for the trip down Memory Lane, and especially for the shout-out to Der Wienerschnitzel. What a fun post!

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    1. Coors Field (Colorado Rockies) opened in 1995 with a host of trendy dining options. Sadly, the only hot dogs offered are from the generic walk-ups, where you add packaged condiments after the fact instead of ordering custom. It’s a shame – no real nod to the nostalgia of hot dogs and baseball. (Suddenly I wonder, can I even buy Cracker Jack at Coors?) Your comment and others above have me thinking I must try another Chicago dog when I get the chance. I know I’m missing out on “the real thing”.

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  8. Cold hot dogs out of the package were my favorite kind as a kid. I still like a good grilled hot dog, as long as the bun is fresh. My one caveat, the cheaper the hot dogs the better. The all-beef ones aren’t as good to me and neither are the really thick ones.

    A good coney island style dog is a treat, though I have to go to northern Indiana to get a good one. A chili dog is OK in a pinch.

    It’s Memorial Day weekend as I read this and you have almost convinced me to make a trip to the store for some hot dogs and buns. Hint: the extra buns are great for garlic bread to serve with spaghetti.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like your recommendation for using extra buns, JP. Sometimes I’ll toast extra hamburger buns to go with my breakfast. In the absence of English muffins, they’re not half bad!

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