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Are You Really Going to Eat That? The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

September 23, 2009 Le Cordon Bleu Chicago 0 Comments

What would you think if you heard this, “Gimme one dragged through the garden!”?

Not sure? Here’s a clue: it has something to do with one of the most unique and most loved culinary treats to be found anywhere in the world. Still not sure? Keep reading.

The sentence above wasn’t uttered as part of some secret code or the ravings of a lunatic. It was, however, said in the classic diner speak dialect, or at least Chicago diner speak anyway. What you heard was someone ordering a Chicago-style hot dog at one of Chicago’s many hot dog stands. There are so many hot dog stands in Chicago, in fact, that they outnumber all Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s restaurants combined.*

Clearly Chicago is in love with the good old American hot dog, or red hots as many Chicagoans call them. And their take on it may surprise you.

The “Depression Sandwich” Is Born

Two names are synonymous with the Chicago-style hot dog, Vienna Beef and Fluky’s. Vienna Beef has produced the classic all beef Chicago-style hot dog since 1893 and Fluky’s is famous for being one of the first hot dog vendors to feature Vienna Beef hot dogs with “salad on top” in the 1930s. Their “Depression Sandwich” became famous for being a whole meal in one sandwich. Since then a host of other vendors have joined these two famous names to make the Chicago-style hot dog what it is today.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Now you’re asking, “What’s on one of these things anyway?” Let’s take a look.

First, start with a poppy seed hot dog bun then add, in the following order:

  • Vienna Beef all-beef Chicago-style hot dog
    While other all-beef brands like Hebrew National will work, authenticity requires a Vienna Beef dog
  • Yellow Mustard
    Save the spicy, brown, or stadium mustard for the ball park
  • Bright Green Relish
    Any sweet relish will do, but again authenticity calls for the famous neon green relish popularized by Fluky’s in the 1970s
  • Fresh Chopped Onions
    No dogma here. Any onion will do. Chicago hot dog vendors typically use white onions
  • Two Tomato Wedges
    Wedges, not diced, not sliced
  • A Pickle Spear or Slice
    Don’t overpower your dog with a pickle that is too sour or too spicy. The standard kosher dill is best
  • Two Sport Peppers
    These little pickled peppers are a key ingredient of a Chicago-style dog. Again, they shouldn’t be too hot so they don’t overpower the rest of the ingredients
  • A Dash of Celery Salt
    Don’t overdo it, but don’t leave it out either. Chicago-style fans often say this brings the whole show together

Chicago-style hot dog aficionados will tell you that the order of the condiments is important because, if placed properly, each bite will give the taste of all of the ingredients.

Don’t Knock It Until You Try It

There is no doubt that the Chicago-style hot dog is very different from just about any regional hot dog out there. The unusual blending of toppings and the 100% all-beef hot dog creates a unique flavor experience that can’t be duplicated. The next time you are in Chicago stop by the nearest hot dog cart, hot dog stand, or the legendary Fluky’s to give one a try. One bite and you’ll wonder why you’ve waited so long.

*Secret Chicago: The Unique Guidebook to Chicago's Hidden Sites, Sounds & Tastes. Sam Weller, 2002

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