I Ate A Chicago Style Hot Dog and I Liked It

By on Saturday, July 1st, 2023 at 3:13 am

A Chicago Style hot dog

Early versions of the modern hot dog first emerged on Coney Island and in Chicago about the same time. The two cities have had rival hot dogs ever since.

New York dogs are typically made from beef. This preference developed a century ago when processed meat was considered dangerously unclean–think of human body parts accidentally getting crushed in machines and ending up on the dinner plate. Kosher meat was perceived as cleaner, and beef dogs could be certified, so New Yorkers ate a lot of them. In Chicago, hot dogs have historically contained pork because of the strong influence from Polish and German immigrants, which of course, made them not kosher.

The two cities have also long differed on how the dogs are topped. New York’s typical dog comes out of a pot of boiled, oily water and then topped with onions cooked with tomato paste or with sauerkraut. Raw onions are sometimes available. I prefer both cooked and raw onions with a dab of ketchup. Yes, ketchup.

Chicago on the other hand throws on a full blown salad bar: pickles, hot peppers, relish, tomato, and yellow mustard. It sounds absurd, so obviously it was on the top of the list of foods I wanted to put in my mouth after touching down.

We arrived from Wisconsin late on a Sunday afternoon having not really eaten anything and still hung over from a wedding the night before. We planned on eating dinner later that night, but knew we require some kind of snack to ward off hangry bickering.

There was a hot dog stand a few blocks from our hotel. It was on the waterfront where we wanted to explore anyway. The place we found was Relish, a free standing hot dog stand near the gateway to the Navy Pier. The pier is one of those places renovated into a farce of a city, like South Street Seaport in New York, but is actually just a shopping mall in some recycled space.

The Relish stand was absolutely perfect. It was the sort of unassuming stall designed to trick tourists into paying too much for a hot dog, and that’s exactly what we did.

A Chicago Style hot dog

I ordered mine with everything on it. I wanted the authentic experience, however that came.

You might have noticed earlier I mentioned my preferred condiment is ketchup. I know some people consider this controversial. I have even heard people accuse ketchup users as being childish, as though a hot dog is some sophisticated artisanal sausage. Anyway, stand down defenders of the faith; I ordered this one smothered in yellow mustard.

The mustard, I’ll admit was a good addition. So was all the vegetables. I was impressed that the hot peppers on the bun were actually quite spicy. I bit into one by itself and it surprised with its bite.

A Chicago Style hot dog layered with pickles and relish

The poppy seed bun is a nice touch. I love a poppy seed bagel, and adding the seeds to a hot dog bun certainly seemed to class it up.

It was hard not to miss the relish, an unnatural shade of green. I assume whatever colored the relish is the same product used to they dye the Chicago River for St. Patricks Day. But it was also a nice addition to the flavor.

The pickle spear was my favorite bit. The tomato, I was indifferent too. And yes, ultimately, the mustard was a delightful addition, but Chicago still probably hasn’t convinced me to top my hot dogs with it.

Overall I was impressed with the Chicago hot dog. I definitely enjoyed it, and all the added vegetables was both more filling but felt less like a stone in the gut afterward. It was good enough I contemplated getting one in the airport on the third hour of our delayed flight back to New York.


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