Anyone who's been around Serious Eats for a while knows who hotdoglover is. In case his username isn't clear enough, just take a look at his profile page where the only field filled out is: Favorite foods: hot dogs.
From his insanely detailed comments on the site, you might gather that he's somewhat of an expert on the subject. I've never met a man who can jump into basically any hot dog conversation and not only tell you what brand of hot dogs a particular dog stand is using, but also the cuts of meat in the dog, the style of casing, the size of the frank, the best toppings to get, and probably the personal phone number of both the owner of the stand and a direct link to the first-born son of the hot dog maker.
What can I say, Serious Eats seems to attract the wonderfully obsessives. Humble postman by day, hotdoglover by lunch hour, John Fox (as his mother named him) is one of these obsessives.
As a New Yorker who grew up eating the spicy, smoky all-beef franks from Gray's Papaya (which, according to hotdoglover are in fact identical in every way to the franks from Papaya King other than their storage method), you could say I have a soft spot for dogs. Yet I couldn't help but notice every time I took a drive through New Jersey the sheer number of hot dog stands that line the street and intersections of every town and city around.
So a few weeks ago I called on hotdoglover with one simple request: take me to your hot dogs.
He delivered, and how. Five different hot dog stands from the very very old to the very very new. Several distinct styles of hot dog from the classic Italian Hot Dogs (deep fried, in pizza bread) to the classic Texas wiener. Every joint was a winner, with something different to offer.
Hotdoglover is a man after my own heart. For him, the test of a good hot dog is not what goes on top of it, but the dog itself. In a recent post about cheffy hot dogs, here's what he had to say:
A high quality German frank from the Union Pork Store in my town with just mustard prepared on a hot griddle, or a tasty perfectly spiced kosher style beef frank from Best Provisions heated in water and finished off on a charcoal grill stands head and shoulders above these creations. For me less is more. I'm looking to enjoy a tasty well prepared high quality frankfurter.
Every one of the shops we visited exemplified this philosophy: all started first and foremost with excellent dogs, with toppings chosen to complement their flavor, not overwhelm.
Take a peep through the slideshow for a closer looks at the dogs.
Marci's Dog House: 136 Oak Ridge Road, Clark NJ 07066 (map); 732-713-5987
Jerry's Famous Frankfurters: 906 2nd Avenue, Elizabeth NJ 07201 (map); 908-355-4242
Tommy's Italian Sausage and Hot Dog: 900 2nd Avenue, Elizabeth NJ 07201 (map); 908-351-9831
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.