"While many folks wouldn't touch a gas station hot dog with a ten-foot pole, it inspires a cult-like following for others."
Over the last few weeks we've highlighted some fascinating regional hot dogs. But for most of us, eating a hot dog does not mean traveling halfway across the country to a roadside stand in a half-abandoned coal mining town. This week's dog is a style that many will be familiar with, possibly more so than we'd like to admit. While the object of much ridicule--the term "gas station hot dog" being a common euphemism for anything on the bottom of the culinary barrel--the 24-Hour Dog can be a comforting, reliable standard, available at any time of day or night, no matter where you are.
The 24-Hour Dog can be found in convenience stores, truck stops and gas stations all across the country, rolling on gleaming silver grills or slowly roasting under glowing heat lamps. Often self-serve and accompanied by a myriad of toppings including, but not limited to: Cheez Whiz, chili, onions, pickles, sauerkraut, relish, pickled jalapenos, banana peppers, salsa, mayonnaise, and ketchup. The flavor profile ends up somewhere between the Chicago and New York style dogs, crossed with sports bar nachos.
As horrifying as it may sound to foodies and serious hot dog connoisseurs, many people actually seek out these 24-Hour Dogs, preferring the darkly charred, extra crispy wrinkled crust that comes from rolling on the grill for hours on end. Add the decadence of sloppy, heaping piles of chili and cheese and the result is a low-budget delicacy. While many folks wouldn't touch a gas station hot dog with a ten-foot pole, it inspires a cult-like following for others. And, in the same way a wine expert might secretly indulge in the guilty pleasure of guzzling cheap box wine over ice on a hot day, 3 a.m. at 7-Eleven might be the only time it's even close to acceptable to drown your hot dog in ketchup.
Popular after a few beers on the way home from the bar, or devoured tongue-in-cheek the same way one might "slum it" by ironically drinking cheap beer, 24-Hour Dogs also function as dinner or even breakfast to many. For truckers, transients, traveling salesmen, anyone working the graveyard shift or on a long overnight drive, the only place to get something to eat might be a gas station or convenience store. Faced with questionable shrink-wrapped sandwiches and frozen burritos, the glistening hot dogs seem like the closest thing to a fresh, hot meal.
Chains such as 7-Eleven and Wawa (the dairy farm-turned convenience store chain all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey) use all-beef dogs, often a "secret recipe" made just for their chain. Here in Philly, I would say the 7-Eleven hot dog is actually tastier than most of the bland offerings at the local supermarket, and not a bad dog, so long as the rolls and toppings are fresh.
If you're willing to really explore, there are some gems out there in the world of gas station and convenience store eating. Like a Husky Gas Station in Canada where lines for hot dogs go out the door, or mini-marts in New Mexico that are cranking out green chile burgers. In 2008 John Lindner of the Baltimore Sun did a tour of local gas stations and found everything from Cajun hot dogs to sushi. There's definitely some unique styles of 24-Hour Dogs out there waiting to be discovered. Feel free to share your favorites.
But at 4 a.m. when you still have hours of work to do--say maybe finishing a painting of an exotic, obscure food item that's only available at a shack on the side of the road in Kentucky--nothing hits the spot like a 24-ounce coffee and a spicy, jumbo well-done hot dog covered in Cheez Whiz.
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.