We keep a close eye on hot dog culture here at The Takeout. It’s very important to us. We’ve explored Detroit’s Coney Island dogs; we’ve unpacked the history of a Chicago staple; we’ve even assessed the elusive Sonoran hot dog, a famed mashup of American and Mexican flavors. So you can imagine our surprise when we stumbled upon a hot dog varietal previously unknown to us: the Massachusetts-style hot dog, known in some circles as a New Englander.
I first heard word of the Massachusetts-style dog in a Boston Magazine column. In it, contributing editor Matthew Reed Baker answers the question, “What’s a Massachusetts hot dog, and why haven’t I heard of it?”
Baker explains that what truly separates the Massachusetts hot dog is not the dog, but the bun, which has flat sides and is “firmly split at the top.” The unique bun is the result of a 1940s collaboration between Howard Johnson’s and Maine bakery J.J. Nissen after Howard Johnson’s requested a bun that could “stand upright to better hold clam strips” without falling over. This is also the same type of bun used to make lobster rolls, which are a true treasure.
The bun is also easier to grill, which is important, because true New England dogs require a thoroughly buttered, griddled bun. To find out more, Serious Eats interviewed Bruce Kraig, author of Hot Dog: A Global History.
“I don’t know where the buttered, grilled bun comes from,” Kraig told Serious Eats, speculating that the bun originated at a Friendly’s restaurant location in western Massachusetts. “If you have a flat griddle, then splitting the bun and heating it is a natural, and butter keeps it from burning. Think of grilled cheese.”
To be fair, there are plenty of variations on the Massachusetts/New England dog. Guy Fieri tried one in Connecticut at a hot dog joint called Super Duper Weenie; there, the restaurant’s owner argued that all New Englander dogs have sauerkraut, sweet relish, and spicy brown mustard.
Ultimately, if you’d like to try a truly traditional Massachusetts dog, you might have to make the bun yourself, if you’re outside of the New England area. Fortunately, I found a very nice bake-along video with a recipe on YouTube. If you’re feeling crafty, give it a crack and let me know what you think.