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Hot Dog of the Week: Pulliams Toasted Hot Dogs in Winston Salem, North Carolina
Pulliams Barbecue is an 100-year-old shack on the outskirts of Winston Salem, down the road from a bingo hall and a pawn shop. It's up there with Charlie's Pool Room in terms of the coolest places I've ever eaten a hot dog. Covered floor to ceiling in Nascar memorabilia, old photos, hand-made signs, and Budweiser boxes taped to the ceiling as makeshift posters.
It's standing room only, with a gleaming stainless steel island in the middle where locals down hot dogs and knock back ice cold buds or bottles of cheerwine from the old-fashioned (self serve) soda cooler.
It's called Pulliams "Barbecue" but everyone comes for the hot dogs—some of the best I've had in the south. Bright red, grilled pork and beef hot dogs slid into buns that are "toasted" in butter on both sides until almost burnt. Then a squirt of yellow mustard, a ladle of homemade chili, and heaping mounds of the whitest, creamiest slaw you've ever seen.
Southern dogs tend to get a bad rap with folks who take hot dogs seriously—the franks themselves are usually pretty cheap, dyed bright neon red—supposedly done back in the day to hide old meat, but these days it's just tradition. (I'm actually a fan of bright red dogs, it just looks cool.) You couldn't find a natural casing down south if your life depended on it, and all-beef dogs are even tough to come by.
But hot dogs are everywhere in the south—every gas station, every luncheonette, with several hot dog shacks in every town. And despite the lack of premium dogs, almost every dog I had down here was made with serious precision, grilled or pan-fried to perfection, delicately layered with delicious homemade toppings, by people who really cared about what they were making, usually for under $1.50.
Pulliams was no exception. The mild beef chili was the perfect consistency—it actually stay put on the dog. And the homemade creamy white slaw was amazing, a little bit sweet, tart, and not nearly as heavy as it looks. With the crunch of the slightly charred bun and a dash of owner Ed's homemade hot sauce this was like no other hot dog I've ever had.
Top that off with the atmosphere—the counter ladies are some of the nicest you'll meet, even to a couple of yankees like us ohhing and aahing, taking pictures of the old racing posters like we just discovered the lost continent of Atlantis.
We couldn't leave without trying the namesake barbecue, which at Pulliams is a pulled pork sandwich dressed in homemade sauce and a heaping mound of slaw (not the same as the hot dog slaw, amazingly enough) and served on a fast food wrapper. It was decent but I can see why all the fuss is about the dogs.
Along with the beer and cooler full of Nehi and Grapette in old-fashioned bottles, you can also grab a pack of cigarettes or snacks at the counter. We were there for "breakfast," the first ones in the door after they opened, so it was pretty empty, but I imagine folks sit here all day talking Nascar and drinking beer.
An awesome joint and one of the strongest arguments for the South as a serious hot dog region.
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.