Can you believe I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly two years and have never managed to eat a Chicago dog?
It shouldn’t be a surprise to people who know me personally, but I’m not much of a meat fan.
Hotdogs especially make me suspicious. Aside from a brief period in my pre-kindergarten years when I enjoyed noshing on uncooked weiners straight from the package, I have largely managed to avoid most tube-shaped, processed meat products. You just never know what’s in those things.
Since I don’t have a natural appetite for hotdogs, I have never stood in a two hour line outside Hot Doug’s or gone for a late night, drunken, catcalling, weenie-fest at The Weiner’s Circle, nor have I ever grubbed at Chubby Weiner’s in Lincoln Square, a corner store bedecked with a giant, cartoon hotdog outside it’s entrance. I feel like I’m missing an essential Chicago experience.
Chicago loves hotdogs and it’s hard to blend in and pretend to be a true Chicagoan when you don’t partake.
So in the spirit of getting to know my new hometown a little better, I’ve decided to finally try out the Chicago dog, sans the actual dog.
But first, a little background: Chicago hotdog lore has the Chicago-style hotdog originating sometime during the Great Depression around the famous and now non-existent Maxwell Street Market. Nowadays, there are hotdog joints galore and a particularly cult-like following for the hometown favorite.
The ingredients, listed in topping order, are:
1. poppyseed bun
2. yellow mustard
3. two tomato wedges
4. a dill pickle spear
5. chopped white onions
6. pickled sport peppers
7. neon green sweet relish (which is somewhat difficult to find outside of Chicago)
8. a sprinkling of celery salt
9. Never, ever, ever ketchup
When it’s all said and done it should look a little something like this:
Technically, a Chicago dog is made with a Vienna beef hotdog, but the results are easy enough to replicate using a faux-dog. As a side note: my favorite brand of fake weenie is Lightlife Smartdogs, I find them eerily realistic in texture and flavor.
So what did I think of the famous Chicago dog?
Really. I grew up eating hotdogs with mustard and ketchup and maybe, if things got fancy, a little relish. Most of the time, we didn’t have buns and used a folded slice of bread, resulting in a soggy doggy mess. The Chicago dog is a revelation. With two, ripe tomato wedges, I honestly didn’t miss the ketchup and that’s saying something because I’m a ketchup fiend. I don’t really understand the aversion to ketchup in Chicago, it may have something to do with this particular type of hotdog pre-dating the corn syrup sweetened Heinz ketchup we all have come to love.
I had a hard time tracking down “sport peppers,” and I had to settle for pepperoncini instead. Why did it take me so long to put hot peppers on a hotdog? Genius!
Yes, Chicago gets props for it’s salad-dog, as I like to call it.
Just be careful and make sure you have a plate conveniently placed directly below the fist that’s stuffing the dog in your mouth, otherwise you’ll probably have to change your shirt.