5 Top American Hot Dogs! Plus, the BEST "Hot" Dog You'll Ever Try

Which dog is top dog?
07/31/2013 04:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Cousin Dave was psyched. The other barbecuing Raichlen -- he of Chocolate Chipotle Baby Back Rib fame -- loves folk food as much as I do. He had a monster surprise for me the last time I visited Tucson, where Dave teaches anthropology at the University of Arizona. We raced straight from the airport to El Guero Canelo for the latest rage in franks on a bun: the Sonoran hot dog.

Imagine a hot dog swaddled and cooked in bacon, piled on a soft sweet bun (think Mexican brioche), and heaped high with grilled green onions and jalapenos, stewed beans, fresh radishes and cucumbers, mayo (yes, mayo!), and three kinds of salsa. It sounds excessive. It is excessive, so Dave did what any reasonable foodie anthropologist would do: promptly ordered seconds.

Hot dogs. They've been part of our diet since the late 19th century, when a different set of immigrants -- Germans -- added them to America's melting pot. Back then, they were traditionally precooked sausages made from finely ground or emulsified pork and/or veal, or beef. These days, your hot dog might contain Wagyu beef or even foie gras.

Like most people, I have a preference for the hot dogs of my childhood. My grandfather (Cousin Dave's, too), Sam Raichlen, loved his Hebrew National-brand all-beef hot dogs butterflied, pan-fried in butter, swathed in slices of fried bologna, and topped with spicy mustard, sauerkraut and pickles. (He even requested one from his deathbed.)

To this day, I seek out Hebrew National dogs, but I prefer mine grilled, as I like the subtle smokiness and snappier crunch of the casing. You know Raichlen's Rule: "If something tastes good fried, baked, boiled, or sautᅢᄅed, it probably tastes better grilled."

But which dog is top dog? If you want some heat, then my recipe for a "Hot" Dog is the only one you need to try. But if you want to explore some favorite regional American variations, check out these five top dogs here, and you can find five more on BarbecueBible.com.

  • Sonoran: Found in Tucson, Nogales, and Phoenix, Arizona, these all-beef dogs are spiraled with bacon, sandwiched in a soft Mexican bolillo roll, then buried under layers of pinto beans, chopped onions, diced tomatoes and avocado, cheese, salsa verde, thinned mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. (It's pictured, above, with my cousin David Raichlen's fiance enjoying one.)

  • New York Hot Dog: Not to be confused with its Rhode Island twin above, this is the dog New Yorkers clamor for -- dished up from the ubiquitous pushcarts. These "dirty water dogs" normally come boiled (hum) -- a lowly condition improved by a tomatoey onion sauce or sauerkraut and yellow mustard -- or better yet, all three.
  • Puka Dog: The focus is on the bun -- made from Hawaii's distinctive sweet bread dough, then impaled lengthwise on a preheated rod so they're toasted on the inside. A Polish sausage -- consider it a hot dog on steroids -- is inserted into the toasty tunnel, and served with your choice of fruit salsas and/or mustard.
  • Chicago Dog: If you're generally hostile to "the works" on your dogs, reserve final judgment until you try this iconic masterpiece from the Windy City: A skinless all-beef dog from Vienna Beef in a poppy seed-dusted bun, plus yellow mustard, fluorescent green sweet pickle relish, tomato wedges, chopped onions, piquant pickled green peppers (called "sport peppers" in Chi-Town), a dill pickle spear, and a dusting of celery salt. But absolutely no ketchup ever. Unless you're from Kenosha.
  • Kansas City Dog: Best described as a hot dog masquerading as a Reuben sandwich. Melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, caraway seed and all-beef hot dogs on a sesame seed bun are a mainstay of K.C. sporting events.

    Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is www.barbecuebible.com.