We've gone into great detail here on Hot Dog of the Week about the subtle differences between regional hot dog chilis and meat sauces, but not so much into relish and slaw territory. And it's about time we do! Today we're talking about that delicious yellow product popular in Tennessee and Alabama known as chow-chow, mustard slaw, or pool room slaw.
You've probably seen mustard slaw at Tennessee Barbecue joints like Payne's, although outside of Memphis, a lot of barbecue slaw tends to be thicker cut, more salad then relish, while the hot dog version is firmly in condiment territory: pureed, cooked or pickled into a sauce-like consistency.
These pictures might bring to mind Rutt's Hut relish; they're essentially made from the same ingredients, although Rutt's is fresher, less sweet and vinegary than most of these, and not nearly as hot. Some of the stuff we tried will burn your face off.
The only hot dog joint I could find in Tennessee that serves mustard slaw is I Dream Of Weenie in Nashville, where they make their own. But the history of mustard slaw and hot dogs goes back to pool rooms in Tennessee and Alabama that served their unique signature version atop dogs and hamburgers.
Mustard slaw and chow-chow have also been made by southern Tennessee Amish for years, which probably explains the connection and similarity to Pennsylvania Dutch products, a few of which are included here for comparison. Not saying the Amish invented it, but making and selling mustard slaw for 100 years probably helped popularize it in the area, especially the relish-like canned version.
What We Tried
Katie's Old-Fashioned Pool Room Mustard Slaw
Katie's Jalapeño Mustard Slaw
Jake & Amos Southern Style Chow-Chow
Annie's Kitchen Hot Pepper Cabbage
Betty Jo's Gourmet Slaw
Mista Dale's Spicy Mustard Slaw
Mista Dale's Jalapeño Mustard Slaw
Betty Jo's Hot Slaw, Mista Dale's and Katie's Pool Room Slaw all tied for first place. Remarkably different from each other, they all look and taste homemade (which I'm pretty sure they are, or at least produced in small batches) with plenty of flavor and spice to counter the sweetness. Great stuff that you should put on a hot dog as soon as possible, and many of these are available via mailorder for ridiculously low prices.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.