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Hot dog heaven

How to choose the perfect dog for you: the bologna dog versus the New York-Chicago dog
/ Source: msnbc.com

Whether they’re served at barbecues, picnics or baseball games, they seem to go hand in hand with the “dog” days of summer. They’re hot dogs of course. And while many folks in New York prefer their dogs with mustard and maybe some sauerkraut, folks down south like theirs topped with chili or cole slaw. David Rosengarten is the author of “The Rosengarten Report,” and on NBC’s “Today” show, he shares some of his discoveries from his recent hot dog taste test. Read some of his report below.

JUDGING HOT DOGS How will you know a magnificent hot dog when you encounter one? The general theme is this: Inferior hot dogs taste processed and artificial, whereas major-league dogs taste natural, meat-like, real. In the best scenario, they’re magnificent. Inferior dogs often have filler in them, such as cereal, or dried milk or soy protein; these ingredients cheapen, soften, trivialize, compromise the chew. Inferior dogs may have artificial flavorings, and too much of them. Sometimes a bad dog (“Bad Dog!”) cloys with artificial smoke, or rancid garlic powder. And inferior dogs are sometimes wrapped in artificial casings, which can offer an artificial chew —or no casings, which offer no chew at all!

Great dogs taste like great meat. They are subtly seasoned, harmonious, usually with no flavor predominating. The essential alchemy of hot-dog-making is emulsification: meat is ground into a paste and mixed with ice chips at high speed, which creates the fine interior of a hot dog. When a wienermeister has done this, the result is a work of art, with fascinating texture and chew; when a schlockmeister has done this, the result is a soft or spongy mess. To gild the lily, the true hot dog artisan wraps his mighty mousse in a natural casing, usually sheep’s intestine — which helps create the awesome “snap,” or crunch, that to me is the highest good a hot dog can attain on this earth.

In my recent tasting of hot dogs from almost 100 producers across the country, I discovered that most dogs fall into one of two categories: the Bologna Dog, or the New York/Chicago Dog.

THE BOLOGNA DOG Please don’t get confused: The Bologna Dog is my term, a brand-new term, for describing a very important group of hot dogs, brothers under the skin, that stood out from all other hot dogs in my tasting. These dogs have nothing to do with the Italian city of Bologna. They are pronounced “baloney dogs,” and are so named because their taste, and texture, and look can best be summed up by making reference to the popular American luncheon meat named “bologna” or “baloney.”

They actually have a much more distinguished history than that. German and Austrian immigrants — sausage-makers among them — brought their fine, Central European sausages to America when they arrived in the 19th century. They called them “Wienerwurst,” which is German for “sausage from Vienna.” They had a fineness to them, an elegance, an ethereal quality; they were made mostly from pork and/or veal, and so they were an attractive light pink, lighter in color than dogs made from beef; the texture was light, mousse-like; and the flavor reflected a subtle use of various spices, and an absolutely minimal use of garlic. The taste, even of a good one today, is not worlds apart from the taste of good bologna.

But an interesting thing happened along the way. Big American commercial hot dog companies obviously landed on this style dog as a base for their creations. Just as New York pizza resembles Naples pizza, so do commercial American hot dogs today resemble Vienna dogs. But they are a kazillion miles apart. The difference? Many of the commercial ones taste a lot more like bologna, and cheap bologna at that. Many add much more smoke flavoring — and if it’s liquid smoke they add, that flavor’s not attractive.

Many, most unfortunately, add filler, sometimes harming the texture of the thing. I’m giving the name “Bologna Dogs” to both the old-fashioned central European dogs (with very light bologna character) and the modern commercial dogs in this style (with lots of bologna character.) Together, they comprised about 30 percent of the hot dogs I received for my tasting.

THE NEW YORK-CHICAGO DOG

I’m sure that not everyone everywhere would agree — but I love nothing more than the dark red of a good dog in this style, the tight filling, the percussive snap that the best of them have, the firm chew and deep flavor that beef confers, nicking perfectly with the all-out garlicky taste. And, I saved the best for last: I love most of all the almost unbearable richness of a good one, the way the frank almost turns into a glace-like sauce in your mouth, the way your lips get almost sticky from the beefy fat.

Oy vey.....gimme seltzer!

I hasten to add, however, that many trips to the great city of Chicago in the last decade or so have given me the chance to be less parochial, less New-York-provincial — for I love Chicago hot dogs, too! I’m putting them in this broad second category of my hot dog classification, along with the New York dogs because they are related: beefy, maybe a little less garlicky, sometimes a little less rich, but definitely kissin’ cousins.

Approximately 60 percent of the hot dogs I received for this tasting were in the New York-Chicago style. There are variations within the group, of course — but none of them taste even remotely like bologna or pork. Beef and beefy tastes predominate. Another pattern is the smoke factor: There’s very little of it in dogs made in New York and Chicago. (Smoke is a much bigger across-the-board element in category one — the bologna dogs.)


David Rosengarten is the author of The Rosengarten Report, a food newsletter for consumers who love to eat. David recently published a comprehensive article about hot dogs in America — the best ones, the best ways to serve them, etc. You can find out how to get all the hot dog details and recipes by visiting his web site at: www.davidrosengarten.com/index.php?page=shop/recipes.