Graphic: Allison Corr

Never let it be said that we at The Takeout don’t pay attention to our readers. On the whole, we find you a delightful bunch. As we slave away at our keyboards for many hours a day, sending out a metric ton of words into the anonymous internet stratosphere, really, your feedback means a lot. And we are legitimately humbled by how devoted some of you seem to be to some of our recurring features.

Case in point: Every time we run a “Is A Hot Dog A Sandwich?” article, we receive the following comment:

Shthar, we want to reward that kind of hard-headedness tenacity, so for you, we sought out an answer. TL; DR: It’s broth. So sayeth our experts from textbooks, culinary schools, butcher shops, and even the freakin’ president of Vienna Beef.

As Kevin Galligan, butcher at Chicago’s Paulina Market tells The Takeout, the hot dogs (and sausages) come out of the smokehouse and go “into our big cooker, for a good hour at least, then they’re taken out of that and then hung to dry.” That cooker that they’re in contains water: “That’s it—just hot water—so I would say it’s a broth.”

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Carrie Bodman, marketing coordinator of the Vienna Beef company, concurs. She tells us: “After discussing with our president Tim O’Brien, we have decided: Hot dog water is a broth. Stock is by definition liquid made by cooking bones, meat, fish, or vegetables slowly in water, used as a basis for the preparation of soup, gravy, or sauces. Hot dogs are made to be heated quickly, creating savory, smoky broth.”

Here we must pause to further the stock vs. broth definition: In his essential The Elements of Cooking, author Michael Ruhlman casts it a bit differently. He writes that broth is “intended to be served as is whereas a stock is the foundation for other preparations. Thus, a broth should have a deep flavor of the meat and aromatics used and be well seasoned.” Under that rubric, hot dog water does fit into “broth.”

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Photo: hamikus (iStock)

James DeWan, chef, food writer, and culinary instructor at Kendall College, offers yet another standard for stocks vs. broth, but also sides with #TeamBroth. “Very generally speaking, stock is made from bones simmered in water, whereas broth is made from meat simmered in water,” he told The Takeout. “Hot dog water, then, would be considered broth.”

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Not only is hot dog water broth, says DeWan, but if it’s concentrated enough (with some high-end sausages in the mix), it’s a broth you should actually drink. “The last time I made a package of Winston’s (really tasty sausages made here in [Chicago]), I cooked them all the way in a bit of water before browning them in a hot pan. While the sausages browned, I sipped the water from a mug and boy howdy, it was damn tasty. Warm. Flavorful. Perfectly seasoned.”

For further reference, in Harold McGee’s seminal On Food And Cooking, he writes: “The word stock as it’s applied in the kitchen reflects the professional chef’s approach to sauce-making… It’s the culinary application of a very general term, and was first used in the 18th century.” Whereas broth “goes back to 1000 CE and the German root bru meaning ‘to prepare by boiling’ and the materials so prepared, both it and the boiling liquid.” Since that boiling method covers hot dog preparation, we’ll go to with “broth.”

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Finally, we reached out to perhaps Chicago’s most famous hot dog celebrity of the last quarter-century: Doug Sohn, the Doug of Chicago’s legendary establishment Hot Doug’s (gone now, but the dogs are served at Wrigley Field). He told The Takeout: “I have to say, I haven’t been asked this question in almost 20 years of being asked hot dog questions. Quite refreshing!” Even Doug was on the broth train: “On a knee-jerk reaction, I’m going to go with broth as my answer, mainly due to the lack of vegetables, herbs, and aromatics in the cooking water. I’m now also going to start my own line of ‘Hot Dog Soups’ with hot dog broth as the base—I’ll cut you in on the profits!” Deal, Doug!

Not sure you want to go that far, Shthar, but we hope this clears up the eternal hot dog water broth/stock question. Now what will you ask us? Or was it intended to be running joke, a bit like endlessly asking celebrities whether a hot dog is a sandwich?

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