Serious Eats: Talk

Hot Dog Hootenanny Report

I attended the Hot Dog Hootenanny yesterday and had a great time. Ed Levine of Serious Eats, Bruce Kraig, hot dog historian and author of Hot Dog: A Global History, and the people at the Astor Center did a great job running and organizing this event.

There were 4 tables set up offering different hot dogs and a table where you could get beer (Kelso's brown ale) or prosecco. There was also a room that looked like a mini theatre with 38 seats. In this room Bruce Kraig talked about the history and culture of the hot dog as well as giving descriptions of the regional styles and naming some of the places that he visited. Questions and comments were encouraged and there was some good discussion.

While Bruce was giving his presentation, each person was given a plate containing 7 small slices of different brands of hot dogs. Bruce talked about each brand and we sampled them one by one. Because this room could only hold 38 people, there were 4 or 5 presentations given through the course of the 3 hour event.

The seven samples given out were Thumann's beef and pork natural casing, Hofmann German franks (beef and pork), Hofmann's natural casing snappy griller (spicy white dog, sort of like a brat), Usinger's wieners (beef and pork), Oscar Mayer Wieners (beef, pork, and poultry), Carolina Packers skinless red hots (Who knows what were in these; probably all pork), and Koegel's Pickled Red Hots.

I've had the first 5 before; Carolina Packers and Koegel's were new to me. I had hoped that the regular Koegel's that is popular at the Detroit Coney restaurants would be included.

As for the dogs, the Koegel's pickled red hot was very spicy and vinegary. Sort of like a hot dog sauerbraten. I liked my sample, but don't think I would enjoy a whole hot dog. The Oscar Mayer wiener was not bad for what it is; a mass produced national hot dog. The people in my tasting didn't like it and complained that it was too salty. I'm glad it was included because it highlighted the the difference between a mediocre supermarket dog with cheap ingredients and some quality franks made with better meat.

The Carolina Packers Skinless Red Hots were pretty bad. The only bad dog (unless you consider Oscar Mayer bad instead of mediocre) in the bunch. But again, it is representative of the many brands that are offered at hot dog joints in the South where the focus is on the type of cole slaw and chili. This dog had an overly sweet, corn syrup flavor. It tasted of filler and cheap meat.

The other 4 were very good. The Hofmann's snappy griller is sort of a cross between a hot dog and a brat. It's white, made of pork, veal, and beef, with a spicier flavor than a regular German style beef and pork dog. The regular Hofmann's German frank was very good, but milder than the Usinger's and Thumann's franks.

Usinger's and Thumann's were the favorites of the people in my group as well as my 2 favorites. Thumann's got more votes (by a show of hands) with Usinger's second. There were a few who preferred the Hofmann's German franks. It was a great way to compare and taste the differences in the brands.

In the main room were 4 different hot dogs offered that were continually being prepared and brought out from the kitchen. There were Crif Dogs with cream cheese and avocado that were wrapped in bacon. Crif's uses the Thumann's frank for deep frying that Rutt's Hut and many Jersey places do. It is prepared well at their restaurant. Some places that use this dog don't leave it in the oil long enough. Crif's does. I requested my dog without the cream cheese and avocado. A fine dog, just like I've had at Crif's in the past.

The New York Hotdog and Coffee was next. They have been opened about a year in New York on Bleecker Street. The young woman I spoke with said that her mother owns the company and that there are more than 200 restaurants in Korea. They offer a few different hot dogs (nyhotdog-coffee.com) but for the tasting they prepared their bulgogi dog. This dog contained bulgogi, which is thinly sliced beef marinated in a Korean sauce with onions, lettuce, and pickle chips. The frank is actually a spicy sausage from Best's in Newark. At the restaurant you can get the regular Best frank rather than the spicy sausage. They switched recently from Sabrett to Best.

I had mine without the onions and ate most of the bulgogi on the side rather than on the dog. I didn't expect to like this dog, but I did. The beef was sweet and delicious and provided a nice contrast to the spicy sausage. It's common in Korea, I'm told.

The next dog was an authentic Chicago style dog. It didn't come from a known restaurant, but from someone in the food business who makes and sells his own sports peppers. The brand name escapes me. The dogs were natural casing Vienna's, about 10 to a lb. The rolls were poppy seeded Rosen bakery buns and the pickles, neon green relish, and celery salt were from Vienna Beef. There were also onions and tomatoes. The dog came on a bun with some small pieces of tomato on it. You added the mustard (Plochman's yellow), onions, relish, pickle, celery salt, and sports peppers yourself.

I had mine with mustard, tomato, a pickle spear and some relish. It was a good authentic Chicago style hot dog.

Last was Papaya King. An all beef dog from Sabrett, this one came with mustard, sauerkraut, and onion sauce. I got mine with just mustard. The frank itself was larger than what is served at the Papaya King restaurants. It was about 7 or 8 to a lb while the restaurant serves 10 to a lb. It's still the same recipe Sabrett frank, which I knew and which was confirmed to me by the guy from Papaya King that was working there. Only difference I noticed was that the casing was a little looser on these dogs than they are on the smaller ones. The dogs at the tasting were also prepared in a large frying pan rather than a griddle. They tasted the same though. A great dog and my favorite of the day.

It was an enjoyable day and a great way to spend a rainy Sunday. Or a sunny Saturday for that matter. It was fun drinking beer, eating hot dogs, listening to Bruce Kraig's fine presentation, and meeting the nice people from Serious Eats. And talking about hot dogs.

They might be doing it again next year. I hope so.

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