"I'm still searching for that Holy Grail Pennsylvania hot dog."
Earlier this week I headed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, along with fellow SE correspondent Caroline Russock for the 95th Annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. We checked out some life-sized butter sculptures, the latest in farming equipment, rows and rows of massive gourds, pickled lima beans, and lots of livestock.
But, naturally, I was really there to investigate the hot dog situation.
The Farm Show is an amazing spectacle—a weeklong extravaganza of the best that the state's farmers (and farmers in training) have to offer. Along with cooking demos, square dancing, prize roosters and pineapple upside-down cake contests, there are also two massive food courts with stands cranking out fair food all made with the bountiful harvest of Pennsylvania agriculture, including hot dogs.
The first hot dog came from the Pennsylvania Livestock Association stand and offered a variety of delicacies likely made from the same herd of cows and pigs being judged in the arena nextdoor. The jumbo beef and pork dog, skinless and boiled on a large bun, was decent enough but sort of bland.
A squirt of mustard helped a bit, but overall it was sort of disappointing for my first bite of the show. Although the no-frills farm-to-table aspect of the whole thing—chowing down on hot dogs and pulled pork a few feet away from pens full of pigs squealing and rolling in the dirt—was pretty incredible.
Next up was the Hess BBQ stand with its variety of sandwiches and platters, all made with products from local Pennsylvania meat packers. The dogs were Kunzler, the same Lancaster County brand served at Charlie's Pool Room in New Jersey. Right off the bat, this was much more promising.
The Kunzler dogs came lightly grilled and super cheap at $1 for plain or $2 for toppings. It was good for a skinless dog, beefy and mildly spiced, and even better piled with chunky pork chili and loads of cheese sauce. We washed the dogs down with a pulled pork sandwich and a 50-cent bottle of chocolate milk from Way - Har Farms.
So the hot dogs were decent—especially the Kunzler chili dog—but the best bites of the day had to be the fresh-made potato doughnuts, honey waffles with ice cream, and some brutal Torchbearer ghost pepper sauce (which had some of the best hot sauce label art I've ever seen).
Don't miss Caroline's recap from earlier in the week for all the photos »
I'm still searching for that Holy Grail Pennsylvania hot dog. Sure we have Yocco's in Allentown, fish cakes and pepper hash in Philly, and a handful of old "Coney Island lunch" type joints scattered throughout the state. But with Pennsylvania's rich history of Pennsylvania Dutch sausage and charcuterie, there has got to be a game-changing hot dog hiding somewhere between Philly and Pittsburgh.
There are definitely shops and butchers in Pennsylvania making traditional German natural casing franks. And there has got to be some out-of-the-way diner or Amish sandwich stand grilling them up with homemade potato rolls and piling them with all sorts of Pennsylvania Dutch pepper cabbage, chow chow, pickles and condiments.
Until I find it, I guess I'll just have to make them at home.
Pennsylvania Farm ShowJan 8-15th; farmshow.state.pa.us
Farm Show Complex & Expo Center
Food and agricultural events year round (and monster trucks); pafarmshowcomplex.com