The New Nationals Dog: Washington D.C.'s Half Smoke


Photograph from dbking on Flickr

Fenway has Fenway Franks, the Dodgers have Dodger Dogs and over the weekend, Washington defined its regional frank at the National's Opening Day game. The stadium's official dog, the half smoke, supplied by local institution Ben's Chili Bowl, has been characterized one of Washington's only real trademark foods. Yet the backstory of this special rod of pork remains an enigma.

Why half? Why not a third? Four-fifths? One argument points to the 50:50 pork to beef ratio. Then again, others are all-beef. Twice the girth of a normal hot dog, the kielbasa-sized frank is usually spliced in half on the grill with red pepper flakes inside. Sometimes sold for pocket change along the National Mall—just $2.25 with chips and a soda can—other times, gussied-up by haute-r Washington kitchens, like those at PS7's ($10 for three mini ones).

Why did the stadium pick Ben's version over others? It's been touted the best half-smoke in the city, and made even more famous by Bill Cosby, the greasy spoon's resident groupie. On D.C. visits, he notoriously gobbles down an average of three. Even a sign behind the counter reveals: "People Who Eat Free at Ben's," with only Cosby listed underneath. Judging by the consistently long queues at the stadium over the weekend, the Nat's people made the right choice. Fans waited for Ben's trademark dog over other local culinary staples like Five Guys burgers and Red Hot and Blue 'qued meats, also on sale.

Even D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty waited. "Am I the first?" Fenty asked as he ordered his dog. "Tell Bill Cosby that I beat him here." Food writer Michael Stern also agrees with the Ben's judgment call, singling it out in a Roadfood thread on half-smokes.

Then there are some who say the real ones are actually thirty miles north in Baltimore. Last year, this revealing Washington City Paper piece concluded that Ben's is only on the map because of Manger Packing Co., a German butcher in Charm City. For a tube of piggy meat, the half-smoke has sure garnered a bunch of controversy.