Hot dogs are, without a doubt, one of the most iconic American foods — the peak of this dish’s annual notoriety occurring between Memorial Day and Labor day, when the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates Americans consume a total of 7 billion hot dogs. A whopping 150 million of those 7 billion dogs are consumed on Independence Day alone.
As is the case with many other paradigmatic national dishes (pizza, subs and burgers, for instance), many areas of the country have taken the basic hot dog with some mustard, relish and ketchup and modified it into a series of unique, regional varieties. Caribou dogs in Alaska; all-beef franks topped with yellow mustard, white onions, tomatoes, relish, pickled peppers, celery salt and a dill pickle in Chicago; bacon-wrapped dogs in Arizona; a European-style wiener covered in chopped white onions, yellow mustard and a hearty beef sauce in Michigan.
New Orleans, and Louisiana in general, however, have not yet devised a distinctive regional dog. In fact, it wasn’t until recent years that The Big Easy paid much culinary attention to the American foo fixture at all. This all changed when Dat Dog opened their first location on Freret Street in 2011, offering a variety of unique sausages (from a duck-turkey-chicken dog to an alligator sausage, a crawfish wiener to a more conventional bratwurst) and toppings (crawfish ettouffee to hummus to Asian coleslaw), evincing the city that New Orleans hot dogs need not be limited to Bourbon Street fixtures, used to sop up the remnants of one too many drinks at 3 a.m. on a go cup-lined sidewalk.
Following Dat Dogs lead, culinary entrepreneurs set up all-dog eateries offering speciality dogs to be topped as per your liking with a range of traditional and offbeat condiments (for instance, Dreamie Weenies), as well as joints concentrated on regional varieties imported to NOLA (Mr. Chili’s, for example).
In time for National Hot Dog Month and the 4th, NolaVie set out to survey the city’s major hot dog purveyors. At a recent NolaVie meeting, we blind-served our contributors dogs from five of these establishments and asked them for notes on each. At each eatery, we ordered the most popular dog on the menu, as indicated by the staff (we ordered two dogs from one restaurant, as the register employee noted the top two sellers were tied in numbers). The dogs were purchased one to two hours prior to tasting, re-warmed in the oven, numbered 1 – 6 and served to contributors with our telling them each dog’s origin.
For each hot dog, tasters evaluated and voted upon: the bun, the char, the wiener itself, the combination of toppings with the frank. Contributors determined that an ideal bun was rich (a bit “buttery” some noted), bouncy and substantial enough to hold its contents without becoming soggy.
A proper char, noted tasters, gave the casing an extra snap, smoky flavor notes and kept the dog from tasting “spongy.” Since the hot dogs had different combinations of toppings, tasters did not designate a precise equation of toppings that made for an ideal dog, so to speak. Rather, the totality of toppings on each dog were evaluated based on how they melded and how they paired with the flavors of their respective frank. One topping variable that tasters ubiquotsly agreed affected a dog’s topping ranking was acidity. Dogs with some an acidic condiment tended to fare better in their topping evaluation than those without an acidic component.
Genchili dog from Dreamy Weenies: Beef knockwurst with in-house chili, cheese and Creole mix (cilantro, celery, onions)
Tasting comments: “Chili-rama.” “Peculiar red hue.” “The celery added a nice crunch and counterpart to the chili.” “The spices are a little assaulting.” “Sharp and acidic.” “Lack of char.” “Bread was perfectly toasted.”
Satchmo dog from Dreamy Weenies: Beef knockwurst with red beans and rice
Tasting comments: “Tony’s seasoning was a bit much.” “Red beans and rice on a hot dog is too mushy.” “Not enough char.” ” Red beans and rice were too starchy, pasty.” “Good drunk food.” “Red beans and rice might have worked better on a different wiener.”
Tornado dog from Hott Diggity Dog: Beef dog wrapped in fried, spiralized potato and cheddar cheese
Tasting comments: “Ridicuous but in a good, 3 a.m. drunk food.” “I don’t know how to eat this.” “I hate that I love this.” “Needed a little more stick at the end to hold the dog while eating.” “Something you could only eat in the Quarter.”
A Lucky Dog with the works: yellow mustard, ketchup, chili, onions
Tasting comments: “Hated it.” “Made me sad.” “A pale hot dog that needed a summer tan.” “Bland.” “Flavorless dog.” “No char.”
Smoked bratwurst from Dat Dog: topped with Creole mustard, tomatoes, onions, fill relish
Tasting comments: “Love the whole grain mustard.” “The best char.” “Held up with texture.” “Perfect amount of acidity in the toppings.” “The best bread — buttery, grilled and substantial enough to hold the wiener and toppings.” “Best coordination of toppings.” “Sauerkraut wasn’t too overwhelming.”
Broadmoor dog from Mr. Chill’s Broadmoor Dogs: beef dog with onions, olives, sweet relish, jalapenos, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, banana peppers
Tasting comments: “Good char.” “Like the use of olives.” “The most toppings but not overwhelming — balanced.”
Top contenders: Dat Dog, Mr. Chill’s and Hott Diggity