Ah, the hot dog—king of meats, meat of kings. The historical development of local hot dog styles—whether Detroit Coneys, New York kraut dogs, Seattle cream cheese dogs, or my beloved Chicago-style—tells an illuminating story about the food, culture, and history of a particular place and time.
Which is great, but what if we force the issue? Hot dogs are enjoyable enough that one occasionally wonders if anything can be adapted into the format. So we gave that idea a shot—six decidedly non-hot-dog dishes, turned into a quality sausage atop a bun, brought to life by the attendant toppings.
Of course, to cast judgment I’d need both the innocence of an unbiased palate and the insight of a seasoned hot dog legend. For the former, I’ve got a pair of toddlers with unmatched appetites and no filter. For the latter, I’m lucky that the greatest hot dog stand owner of all time answers my emails. And that’s how Doug Sohn—operator of the late, lauded, legendary Hot Doug’s—ended up being a Very Serious Sausage Adjudicator alongside two tiny monsters I can’t even keep in focus.
And because kids get full, tired, and grumpy with great and sudden effect, I roped my wife Emily into judging as well. She speaks toddler, she’s a great cook with a great palate, and most importantly, she’s been putting up with this kind of bullshit from me for years now. Look at that good-cop-bad-cop dynamic. It’s tremendous.
We started things off with a battle between highbrow and lowbrow. If we’re being pedantic, this is not strictly a contest of hot dogs as cured beef franks, but rather sausages. Still, they carry the delicate Jenga balance and bold spirit of the hot dog.
In one corner, a sausage version of boeuf bourguignon—a charred bison sausage topped with sauteed mushrooms, butter-poached pearl onions (which took longer than every other entire sausage prep task combined), and a red wine reduction, served on a steamed brat roll. Fun fact: Doug is a classically trained chef and former cookbook editor, so he was all about this idea.
In the other corner, my take on my favorite fast-food burger, the Double-Double Animal-Style burger from In-N-Out. (Please deposit your “ugh whatever, overrated” takes into the nearest dumpster). A fresh Polish sausage, grilled and glazed with mustard, served on a toasted potato bun and topped with American cheese, shredded lettuce, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, dill pickle slices, and the copycat sauce I stole from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s article on copycat burgers.
Will It Hot Dog? Both of these, according to our judges, hot dog real nice. The mustard glaze on the Double-Double does a decent job of replicating the mustard-griddled burger, according to Emily. Doug hasn’t joined the In-N-Out cult, but drew some smart hot-dog-Jedi parallels between the burger dog toppings and the classic Chicago-style hot dog. Over on the Francophile side, the classic muted flavors of the boeuf-dog toppings—I was worried the onions were too rich and the wine sauce not acidic enough—in fact came together to absolutely sing.
“The key with both of these is that the sauce ties all the toppings together with that beef flavor in the sausage and the char,” Doug said.
The Victor: The boeuf-dog wins this round handily, despite big thumbs up on the burger sausage from both judges. Turns out those French know a bit about food. Finally, after years of heartwarming montages and underdog victories, the snobs emerge victoriously.
Kid Friendliness: “What’s that? I don’t want to eat all of it,” said the older one. But she dipped her chips in the burger sauce, so I’m counting that as a win. The boy ate half of his and threw out the other half. Truly the Anton Ego of our times.
Both were into the bison dog; neither has any affection for onions; both ate the mushrooms presumably because I didn’t utter the word aloud.
It was time to get porky. The overpriced stadium bliss of loaded nachos took on the street-food perfection of an al pastor taco. The former was a chorizo sausage (all the fancy ballparks are doing it now) with freshly fried corn tortilla strips, cheddar cheese nacho sauce, lime-pickled red onion, black olives, and green onion on a steamed brat roll.
The latter started with an achiote pork sausage, diced onion, cilantro, pineapple relish (caramelized pineapple, cooked in butter, and blended with some fresh pineapple for acidity), and sliced, blackened Fresno peppers.
Will It Hot Dog? Two more yesses for both of these. The nacho dog, with its tangy pork base and fistful of toppings, recalls the gluttonous mess of helmet nachos while remaining bun-contained and cohesive. The al pastor dog, with a similar pork launching pad, hit a sweet-savory paradise, according to Doug.
The Victor: “I’m glad you voted al pastor, because I was ready to fight you on that,” Emily said to Doug. This is why I married her.
Bloodshed was avoided as both preferred the al pastor. While they enjoyed the textural and flavor variations of the nacho dog, something about the bun seemed wrong. Meanwhile, the Fresno chiles were a bit hot on the al pastor dog, but otherwise, everything hung together perfectly with the pineapple relish.
Kid Friendliness: Creating a sausage with chips as a topping guarantees that the kids are going to eat the shit out of those chips and ignore the rest. This was clearly an adult sausage.
I didn’t feed the kids the Fresno peppers on the al pastor dog, but damn they can eat some pineapple, presumably because it’s the Skittles of fruit.
Round 3: Chicken and Waffles vs. Jeppson’s Malört
Chicken and waffles was a natural choice here, because it’s the same thing you get in a good hot dog—contrasting elements that bash together on your plate until something unexpected and magical happens. Here, I started with a fresh chicken sausage, made some waffles in the waffle maker I’ve used maybe 10 times in the nine years I’ve had it, and topped it with cayenne hot sauce-mayo and herbed maple-honey butter.
Jeppson’s Malört is my personal sausage cause. Call me a hipster or whatever (joke’s on you—I’m a khaki-shorted dad who loves Rush), but I’ve got a soft spot for this liquor and the challenge of pairing anything with its brass-knuckle flavor. I once sold 40 pounds of this sausage at a pop-up at a local brewery in less than three hours time. In short: I believe.
In fact, here’s my entire Malört sausage recipe from scratch so that hopefully one of you figures out a way to introduce it to the world commercially and become a millionaire:
- 2 1/2 lbs. trimmed pork shoulder
- 1/2 lb. pork belly
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- 3 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. dry mustard
- 4 tsp. ginger
- 1/2 tsp. savory
- 1/2 tsp. mace
- 1/4 tsp. fresh grated grapefruit zest
- 1/2 cup ice-cold Malört, straight from the freezer
- 4 1/2 feet rinsed and prepared lamb casings, soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes
Grind the pork shoulder and belly using a 1/4-inch die and combine in a chilled mixer bowl. Add the seasonings and mix over medium-low speed. Add the Malört slowly and continue mixing until completely emulsified. Stuff the sausages, tie off into 8-inch links, and prick the casings all over using a toothpick. Let the sausages sit refrigerated overnight (and preferably at least 24 hours) to allow the flavors to distribute. Poach in salted liquid and finish on the grill.
Anyway, that’s what we started with, served with the VFW all-star lineup of pungent sauerkraut, caramelized onions, and a honey Malörtstard. All that on a brat roll doing its damnedest to keep up.
Will It Hot Dog? Chicken and waffles elicits a shocking and resounding “no” from both judges. Fried chicken is magic, and non-fried chicken just can’t evoke the same feel. The ingredients that come together so fantastically in the original dish are just kind of piled on each other, existing. All the pieces of a compelling meal are there, throwing the overall disappointment into even starker relief.
“I miss the skin,” Doug said.
The Malört hot dog is entirely dependent on which side of the love/hate divide you fall on. “Does it hot dog? ... [10+ seconds of meaningful silence] ... It really depends on how you feel about Malört,” Doug said. “It’s a tough sell. I’d maybe cut it up, serve it with toothpicks and a dipping sauce because it’s weirdly compelling in the same way that Malört is.”
The Malörtstard, he noted, is a solid way to introduce a tiny bit of wormwood into your sausage game if you don’t want to go full bore. Meanwhile, Emily said “The toppings and the Malört together are too much. This is old man hot dog territory.” Which, yes, I totally understand, and also kind of the point for the tiny slice of America I was aiming this at.
The Victor: The bitter Swedish underdog claims victory by a razor-thin margin, in that both judges begrudgingly admitted it can hot dog under certain laboratory conditions. Meanwhile, not much love for the chicken option, aside from the waffle, which is more a credit to the fine people in the KitchenAid waffle maker division than to my conception of the dish.
Kid Friendliness: The kids love waffles, to the point where they’d ignore the sausage entirely. And .. uh ... not gonna feed them Malört sausage and have this article turn up in a child protective services’ case file.
- Boeuf Bourguignon
- Al Pastor
- Double Double, Animal Style
- Stadium Nachos
- Jeppson’s Malört
- Chicken and Waffles
Any day spent consuming six different hot dogs is a true journey of the mind. Sure the disappointment of chicken and waffles stung, and the stadium nachos didn’t reach quite the sublime Sonoran Dog-level we were aiming for. But I’d pay a solid $7 ($9 with chips and drink) for any of our top three. I even managed to make something edible with Malört! I’m already trying to figure out what other French classics to hot dogify. Escargot? Cassoulet? Stay tuned. (And no one tell Jacques Pepin).
Until then, I put out the call to you, brave readers. Discover new and stunning hot dog vistas, and share them with your friends and loved ones. The only barriers are the ones you construct in your mind. Will it hot dog? Damn right it will.