Neon Relish (Chicago)
This is the closest thing in this slideshow to regular sweet pickle relish. Neon green relish is one of the essential ingredients of an authentic Chicago Hot Dog. Originally known as piccalilli, the neon blue-green color didn't come around until the 1960s or '70s, supposedly either a happy accident at the pickle factory or a nod to the psychedelic times.
Red Onion Sauce (NYC)
You might not call it "relish," but New York red onion sauce definitely fits into the category of vegetable, vinegar, and sugar based hot dog condiments. Along with mustard, it's the standard topping at any NYC street cart or Papaya-themed hot dog stand. A lot of vendors just use Sabrett's brand, although plenty make their own, which depending on the vendor, can involve anything from slowly simmering tomatoes and onions for hours to mixing a bunch of stuff with ketchup.
Sauce (Birmingham, Alabama)
Another regional anomaly popular at legendary Birmingham Greek hot dog stands Pete's and Gus's, "Sauce" is a unique, smooth red sauce that exists somewhere in the realm between New York red onion sauce, barbecue sauce, and chili.
Grandma Fencz's Hungarian Onion Sauce (New Jersey)
Charlie's Pool Room in Alpha, New Jersey, is the closest thing to a folk art shrine to hot dogs that this world might ever see. One of the many things that makes it a magical place is the secret recipe sauce first made by owners Joe and John Fencz's grandmother. Simmered in small batches for six hours, CPR's sauce is sweet, tangy and slightly spicy, bridging the gap between NYC onion sauce and things that are more often known as "relish."
Hot Relish (Connecticut)
Connecticut is serious hot dog country - a place where skinless dogs and ketchup are not tolerated and everyone has a favorite local spot. There are a few hot dog stands known for meat sauce, but relish really seems to be Connecticut's signature hot dog condiment. Not sweet pickle relish or cabbage relish but super-spicy hot pepper relish, like the legendary stuff from Blackie's pictured here that's been made with the same top-secret family recipe for the past 80 years.
Flo's Relish (Maine)
Flo's relish is one of these crazy one of a kind anomalies, a wild concoction that's made with onions, molasses, cabbage, cucumbers and tamarind among other things. Reminiscent of chutney or a chunkier member of the steak sauce / worcestershire family, Flo's relish somehow tastes incredible on top of bright pink natural casing dogs with a line of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of celery salt.
Snappy Dogs' Zucchini Relish (Eastern Massachusetts)
Snappy dogs is a cool little stand in Hopkinton, Massachusetts that serves charcoal-grilled Pearl brand franks topped with homemade toppings and relishes. One of the owners is a culinary school grad who puts her knowledge to work making their signature zucchini relish along with more seasonal things like watermelon rind chutney in the summer and cranberry relish in the fall. I love these sorts of understated spots that seem to be the perfect mix of traditional and gourmet with owners that really enjoy what they do. Check out this video from Rob Merlino at Hot Dog Stories for more.
Paul's Place Relish (North Carolina)
Paul's Place is another one of a kind place, especially in the south, that serves something that looks almost like Flo's relish. The story goes that because of World War II meat rationing, Mr Paul developed a dark relish to mimic the look of chili, with a flavor somewhere between sweet pickle relish and barbecue sauce. These days chili is back on the menu, but the homemade relish is what's kept people coming back to this Rocky Point, North Carolina institution for almost 90 years.
Charlie Joseph's Spicy Relish (LaGrange, Georgia)
Yet another unique lone wolf hot dog relish, at an equally unique place. Charlie Joseph's is a cluttered southern lunch counter that's been serving up standard Slaw Dogs and the Georgia "Scrambled Dog" (chopped up hot dog topped with chili, pickles and oyster crackers) since 1920. The famous secret recipe spicy relish is made with tomato and hot peppers, and is unlike anything else in the south.
Creamy Slaw (most of the South)
In much of the south, especially West Virginia and the Carolinas, creamy cole slaw is so standard of a hot dog topping that you don't even have to ask for it. "All the way" means chili, slaw, onions and mustard. Let's also clear up any confusion about what southern hot dog slaw is. Creamy, sweet, cabbage and mayo-based, and finely chopped, it's often more sauce than salad. Possibly also containing green peppers, mustard products, celery seed and other (mild) flavorings, maybe a stray carrot bit every so often. Anything involving big chunks of "gourmet" cut red cabbage, rice vinegar, cilantro, or long strands of red onion might taste great but has nothing to do with southern hot dog slaw.
Pepper Hash (Philadelphia)
Ingredient-wise, Philadelphia pepper hash is almost identical to southern slaw - except for the mayo. Freshly chopped cabbage, green pepper and carrots marinate in a brine of vinegar, sugar and salt, making a great refreshing topping for hot dogs. Not cooked or canned, pepper hash is something that needs to be made fresh every couple of days, and the handful of places that still serve it all make their own, ranging from chunky (pictured here) to a more pureed, almost liquid consistency that takes it closer to relish.
Roast Grill Slaw (Durham, North Carolina)
A bizarre missing link, sort of similar to pepper hash but deep in Slaw Country, the Roast Grill's "slaw" consists of big chunks of cabbage, vinegar and maybe a dash of sugar, although it's not nearly as sweet as most southern slaw or even pepper hash. It's a totally different experice than either - the freshness and crunchy texture are terrific with the dark spicy chili and grill-charred dog.
Mustard Slaw (Tennessee and Alabama)
Mustard Slaw and Chow. So far the difference seems to be that mustard slaw is mostly cabbage and pepper based, while chow chow often adds tomatoes or other vegetables, but looks and tastes similar. You'll find chow on barbecue and hot dogs all over the south, but especially Tennessee and Alabama. Loaded with hot peppers, mustard, vinegar, sugar, tumeric and paprika, it's a perfect topping for hot dogs, my favorites being the less sweet versions that almost get into chutney territory. Check out the best from our mustard slaw taste test.
Rutt's Hut Relish (New Jersey)
Another one of my favorites, Rutt's Hut relish is made with cabbage, carrots, and mustard, almost an exact middle ground between spicy southern mustard slaw and milder Philadelphia pepper hash. Fresh, cooling and just barely spicy, it's absolutely the perfect topping for a hot, crunchy, salty deep fried Ripper. Wash it down with an ice cold Budweiser and you've got a hot dog experience that's still in my top 5.