Call it chow-chow, mustard slaw, or pool-room slaw, all of these start out with some combination of cabbage, bell peppers, onions, mustard, vinegar, sugar and sometimes carrots or hot peppers, but taste wildly different.
Hot dog grilling setup
With Kenji's recent sausage grilling guide in mind, I set up a two-zone fire with a pot of water for steaming the dogs, finished off on the flat-top segment of my awesome new cast iron grill grate. I used Hartmann's natural casing beef weiners, not Southern at all but delicious and not too spicy. The perfect vehicle for testing out the different slaws.
Katie's Old-Fashioned Pool Room Mustard Slaw
Made in Alabama, Katie's name is a nod to the history of pool rooms in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, known for serving hot dogs topped with signature slaw. Spicier than I expected and not too sweet, bright and chock full of carrots and tumeric, which you can definitely taste. Nice thick consistency that will stay on top of whatever you put it on.
Katie's jalapeño version is deceptive. At first fresh tasting and sweet, it then turns mouth-searingly hot. Definitely tastes like there's more turmeric and maybe some garlic going on in this one. Really, really good but be careful if you don't like spicy stuff.
A new product from Tennessee that's now available in Wal-Marts all over the South, this was one of the sweetest of the bunch and most similar to regular pickle relish, even though it's cabbage and carrot based. You get hints of paprika and turmeric in there but it's not nearly as spicy as some of the others, probably part of marketing it to a broader audience, although they do make a spicy version that I didn't get to try. This stuff would be great on top of a chili dog, or maybe alongside some hot mustard or horseradish to offset the sweetness.
Not from Tennessee, this is a Pennsylvania Dutch product; where Chow-Chow usually means a pickled and canned mix of corn, green beans, cauliflower and other vegetables, which Jake & Amos also makes. But their "Southern Style" chow-chow is totally different and remarkably similar to Tennessee mustard slaw. Almost as confusing as "Michigan" hot dogs in New York and "Coney" hot dogs in Michigan.
Jake & Amos Southern Style Chow-Chow
Almost as sweet as the Slawsa, with the same ingredient base of cabbage, onions, and vinegar, this one had a hint of sourness and tasted the most like sauerkraut, not a bad thing on spicy, grill-charred hot dog.
Not Southern or yellow, I threw this one in there for comparison, since again it's made with almost the same ingredients as the others. Pepper Cabbage is sort of the more pickled and more Amish cousin of Pepper Hash, a Philadelphia hot dog topping that's made fresh with green peppers, cabbage, and carrots.
Annie's Kitchen Hot Pepper Cabbage
Not as spicy as you would expect from the label, and really sweet. This one was also pretty watery and soaked into the bun which then fell apart. Not my first choice for a hot dog. One of the real Southern ones or some freshly made pepper hash would be better, but great as a side dish.
Another Pennsylvania Dutch product, this one added tomatoes and a hint of mayonnaise to the mix. Looked a bit loose but it stayed atop the dog and tasted much better than I expected. Would probably be great on a thick slab of grilled bologna.
I picked this one up a while back when I was in Nashville; definitely the hottest of the bunch, it's bright yellow and packed with carrots, habaneros, and several other varieties of hot pepper. Very mustardy and not sweet at all, everything is finely chopped but not as "wet" as some of the others, one of my favorites along with the Katie's slaws.
Available at various locations across Tennessee and Alabama including the Nashville Farmer's Market
Mista Dale's Spicy Mustard Slaw
Last but not least are two versions of Mista Dale's, a really interesting product that turns the basic formula of Southern mustard slaw into something really unique. It's probably the least sweet out of all of these and has an almost curry-like flavor to it, there's either a lot of tumeric or some sort of secret ingredient that's really working here.
It's also chunkier and fresher than the others - the cabbage still has a bite to it rather than being broken down to almost liquid - but I would still classify it as "relish" or maybe chutney. Good stuff.
Even hotter than the "Spicy", this one is up there with Betty Jo's in terms of heat, but also darker with an almost barbecue-sauce-ish flavor that I can't quite put my finger one. One of the best of the bunch and definitely the most unique. Mista Dale's is currently available at Kroger stores in Tennessee but poised to expand - hopefully all the way to Philadelphia.