23 Hot Dogs That Will Show You What America Tastes Like

23 Hot Dogs That Will Show You What America Tastes Like

A guide to the wide, beautiful world of regional American hot dogs.

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Guide to America's regional hot dogs
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Hot dogs, rightfully, loom large in the American imagination. And just as our nation houses a breathtaking spread of regional pizza styles, America’s many, many different hot dogs inspire continual creativity and spark passionate arguments.

Each regional variation on a hot dog is a reflection of the community that loves it. Every last one deserves a spot in our hearts and our digestive tract, so let’s dive into a compendium of these United States of Hot Dogs. Ready?

One quick thing before we get started: You’re not going to see Dodger Dogs or Fenway Franks on this list. That’s on purpose. If a dog is only available in one place, that’s a house special, not a regional style. Instead, we tried to find hot dog varieties that are associated with the wider place they come from, not just a particular restaurant. Got it? Okay. Let’s proceed.

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Carolina Dog (aka Slaw Dog)

Carolina Dog (aka Slaw Dog)

cole slaw on hot dog
Carolina on our minds and slaw on our dogs
Photo: Jonathan Surratt (Other)

Hot dogs in the Carolinas (and throughout the South) feature a beefy chili, a drizzle of mustard, and one particularly refreshing ingredient: coleslaw. Coleslaw provides a tangy, crunchy, and cooling element to a hot dog, a satisfying contrast to all the meat. These are sometimes referred to as slaw dogs, and you can even order a burger “Carolina-style,” which comes with the same topping combination.

The meat itself is typically a Carolina Bright Leaf dog, which is unique for its almost neon pinkish red hue. If you’re curious to check them out but live nowhere near North Carolina, you can order them online here.

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Chicago Dog

Chicago Dog

chicago hot dog in basket
What a thing of beauty
Photo: Brent Hofacker (Shutterstock)

The Chicago-style hot dog is one of Chicago’s flagship foods, and for good reason. Fully loaded, this Vienna Beef frank on a poppy seed bun comes with:

  • Yellow mustard
  • Diced onions
  • Neon-green pickle relish
  • Tomato slices
  • A pickle spear (yes, in addition to the pickle relish)
  • Sport peppers
  • A dash of celery salt

While that sounds like a lot of stuff (because it is), the Chicago-style hot dog needs every one of those elements to sing with vibrant fresh flavors, plus a spicy kick from the sport peppers. Funny enough, the Chicago dog is perhaps most famous for what it doesn’t have on it: ketchup.

There are also multiple variations, one of which is the Depression Dog, which includes a decidedly toned down combination of yellow mustard, onions, pickle relish, and sport peppers.

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Cincinnati/Skyline Chili Dogs

Cincinnati/Skyline Chili Dogs

Skyline chili dogs in Cincinnati
See the buns peeking out from under all that cheese?
Photo: EEJCC / Wikimedia Commons

Cincinnati-style chili is a creature all its own. Rather than a hearty chili con carne or a bean-filled stew, it’s more like a thinner meat sauce aggressively seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Famous chili chains in Cincinnati include Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili, both of which serve their signature version of a Coney dog (not to be confused with Detroit’s version). The hot dogs come piled with not only Cincinnati-style chili, but also loads of shredded cheese on top. You’ll need napkins.

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Coney Dogs

Coney Dogs

Image for article titled 23 Hot Dogs That Will Show You What America Tastes Like
Photo: YouTube

Despite the name, Coney Island dogs aren’t associated primarily with New York, but rather Detroit, Michigan. These hot dogs are topped with a saucy meat-only chili (no beans here), raw onions, and a drizzle of yellow mustard. Some varieties use ground beef heart in the chili mix, along with spices like cumin, celery seed, and more. A mess? Surely. Irresistible? 100%.

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Half Smoke/D.C. Dog

Half Smoke/D.C. Dog

half smoke next to potato chips in basket
A half smoke smothered in chili is the real deal at Ben’s Chili Bowl
Photo: Robert Crow (Shutterstock)

Half-smokes are Washington D.C.’s signature contribution to the encased meat scene. These sausages are typically a combination of pork and beef (though this isn’t a strict rule) with a smoky flavor. In many cases, it’s topped with chili, onions, and mustard. Half-smokes can be found all around the D.C. area, but the most famous restaurant slinging them is Ben’s Chili Bowl.

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Hot Wiener

Hot Wiener

Gotta make them by the armload
Gotta make them by the armload
Screenshot: YouTube

The hot wiener is the gem of Rhode Island. It’s also called a New York System wiener, since it’s associated with restaurants that have the term “New York System” in their very name, like Olneyville New York System and Baba’s New York System. These hot dogs are made of a unique combo of pork, veal, and beef and sit in the bun covered in a meat-based chili, along with mustard, onions, and a special capper: celery salt.

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Italian Dog

Italian Dog

Hard to hold, but not hard to love
Hard to hold, but not hard to love
Screenshot: YouTube

Originating in New Jersey, the Italian hot dog is a deep-fried hot dog stuffed into pizza bread (which resembles a puffy pita bread) or a split Italian roll. It’s then topped with fried bell peppers, potatoes, and onions. This meal of a dog is said to have originated from Jimmy Buff’s, and is sold at various hot dog joints around New Jersey and the surrounding area.

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Kansas City Dog/Reuben Dogs

Kansas City Dog/Reuben Dogs

reuben-topped hot dog
It’s a not a Reuben, it’s a hot dog
Screenshot: YouTube

A Kansas City–style hot dog is curiously similar to a sandwich you might already be a fan of: the Reuben. This wiener is dressed with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and a dressing akin to thousand island. This regional style was made popular at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the Royals’ home turf, and its fusion of flavors result in a dog that would fit just as well at a deli as a hot dog stand.

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L.A. Dogs

L.A. Dogs

la hot dog
An L.A. dog is packed with its own West coast flavor
Photo: padelphoto (Shutterstock)

Did you know Los Angeles has its own style of hot dog? Similar in build to a Sonoran hot dog, it starts with a bacon-wrapped grilled dog and gets piled with mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, sautéed onions and peppers, plus an entire poblano. You can typically find these hot dogs being sold from extra small personal hot dog carts by dozens of street vendors outside of major sporting events. Honestly, street food is the best food.

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Maine Red Snapper

Maine Red Snapper

red hot dogs
They taste less molten than they look
Screenshot: YouTube

If you encounter a red snapper in Maine, it may not be of the fishy variety. Instead, you might find a bright red hot dog with a dyed natural casing that snaps when you bite into it (the inside, meanwhile, is just a normal hot dog). They’re served with whichever toppings you like; in this case, the signature dog is all about the meat itself, versus a particular combination of toppings.

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Mini Hot Dogs

Mini Hot Dogs

miniature hot dogs
Look at those mini hot dogs
Screenshot: YouTube

The Hudson Valley in New York is home to a curious type of hot dog: the mini. These diminutive three-inch hot dogs are sold at a scattering of places in the region, but the most “famous” comes from a place with notoriety baked into its name: The Famous Lunch in Troy, New York. Its hot dogs are set apart by a topping of “Zippy Sauce,” which is a meat-only chili.

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New York Style (aka Dirty Water Dog)

New York Style (aka Dirty Water Dog)

Get ‘em with onions
Get ‘em with onions
Screenshot: YouTube

A hot dog in New York is just as much about the experience of lining up to order from an iconic street vendor as it is about the dog itself. The wieners themselves, usually Sabrett brand, are topped simply: a typical combination is brown mustard, sauerkraut, and onions cooked in a tomato-based sauce (lucky for you, we have a recipe for those onions). There aren’t a ton of bells and whistles, but that suits New Yorkers perfectly. If you’re always on the go, the less mess the better.

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Philly Combo

Philly Combo

The Philly Combo (yes, from Philadelphia) is the only hot dog on this list that contains seafood of any kind. It’s also a pretty rare specimen, with only a few remaining restaurants that still sell it, like Johnny’s Hots. Johnny’s version is topped with pepper hash, a local condiment sort of like coleslaw that’s made of finely chopped bell peppers and vinegar. Onions and brown mustard join the party, too. The topper? Fish cakes, which adds surf to the turf, so to speak.

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Polish Boy

Polish Boy

polish boy being made
The barbecue sauce tops it off
Screenshot: YouTube

Okay, so in this case, a Polish Boy isn’t really a hot dog, strictly speaking, but it’s close enough that it’s worth mentioning. This Cleveland special is a Polish sausage topped with coleslaw, french fries, and a healthy dousing of barbecue sauce to finish it off. Seti’s Polish Boys, Cleveland’s first food truck, has been slingin’ these regional sausages for decades now.

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Puerto Rican, aka Boricua Dog

Puerto Rican, aka Boricua Dog

boricua dog
Go ahead, dive in
Screenshot: YouTube

A Puerto Rican–style hot dog found at street carts across the island, the boricua dog is piled with ground beef, stewed onions, mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, and potato sticks. The potato adds a satisfying, starchy crunch, lending an extra dimension to this dish that most dogs on the list don’t have.

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Puka Dog

Puka Dog

Puka Dogs come from a chain in Hawaii called, well, Puka Dog. They involve a long roll pierced with a giant metal skewer and filled with both a hot dog and various condiments. Garlic lemon sauce might make an appearance, as well as fruit relishes, mustard, and, of course, ketchup. Puka Dogs are tidily self-contained and perfect for handheld eating while you’re out enjoying paradise.

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Ripper

Ripper

ripper with relish in hand
Rip into that sucker
Screenshot: YouTube

A Ripper is so named because of its appearance. This New Jersey specialty gets that violent moniker from the fact that this hot dog is deep fried until crisp; during the cooking process, its casing gets ripped open from the heat. This style was made famous at a restaurant called Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey, which is still slinging the deep-fried dogs today.

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Scrambled Dog

Scrambled Dog

scrambled dog in bowl
You’ll need the bowl and the spoon for this one
Screenshot: YouTube

A scrambled dog is sort of a head-scratcher, and the only hot dog on this list that involves a bowl. This ultra-unique concoction is from Columbus, Georgia, originating from a joint called the Dinglewood Pharmacy (which indeed functions as a pharmacy, medicine and all). The dog, complete with its bun, comes absolutely drenched in chili, pickles, and, for some delightful reason, oyster crackers. You can even add coleslaw if you want. It was invented by longtime cook Charles “Lieutenant” Stevens, a local legend who passed away at the age of 87. Raise a bowl to Charles!

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Seattle Dogs

Seattle Dogs

seattle dog on plate
Cream cheese is its signature
Photo: Brent Hofacker (Shutterstock)

Seattle’s grilled hot dogs are known for a unique topping combination: cream cheese and sautéed onions. Jalapeño slices are a common addition as well, along with mustard, sriracha, and barbecue sauce. It’s not often you see cream cheese paired with encased meats, but it’s a duo we’d like to see on a lot more menus. Nothing but profound respect for this hot dog.

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Sonoran Dog

Sonoran Dog

sonoran hot dog on plate
Now THIS is a meal
Photo: Suzanne Pratt (Shutterstock)

A Sonoran hot dog is a real stunner in the world of cylindrical meats. It’s a bacon-wrapped grilled hot dog served on a bolillo roll and topped with a variety of ingredients like avocado, pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, mayo, ketchup, mustard, and more. They’re popular in Arizona, sold around Phoenix and Tucson by dogueros ever since becoming a hit with college students in the mid-20th century. But they really should be popular everywhere, because as you can imagine, they’re magnificent.

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Texas Tommy

Texas Tommy

Don’t let the name fool you
Don’t let the name fool you
Screenshot: YouTube

Let’s get this out of the way first: A Texas Tommy is not from Texas. These hot dogs actually originated in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in the 1950s and continue to be a popular regional style there. The sausage itself is split open, filled with cheese, wrapped with bacon, then cooked—deep frying and grilling are both common. Beyond Pennsylvania, the Texas Tommy can be found in Southern New Jersey (and, with the help of Betty Crocker, perhaps your own kitchen as well).

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Texas Wiener

Texas Wiener

That’s an armload of wieners
That’s an armload of wieners
Screenshot: YouTube

The Texas Wiener, aka the Hot Texas Wiener, isn’t from Texas, but rather, the New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania area. (Texans must get tired of everyone capitalizing on their name to sell delicious foodstuffs, huh?) Like many regional hot dogs on this list, this is a variety of chili dog, one with a special ground beef sauce containing allspice, cumin, and cinnamon. But what’s really interesting about the Texas Wiener is that some versions are deep-fried. The dog is also topped with mustard and onion to give it a little extra bite.

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Reindeer Dog

Reindeer Dog

reindeer dog
No reindeer were harmed in the making of this hot dog
Screenshot: YouTube

Though the word “reindeer” is included in the name, Alaska’s version of hot dogs don’t typically feature reindeer—the meat tends to be a blend of caribou, pork, and beef. The standard toppings on this flavorful encased meat combo include onions deglazed with Coca-Cola, as well as mustard and sometimes even a layer of cream cheese.

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