Hot dogs are popular year-round but are a summer picnic favorite. They are relatively cheap, easy to cook, and tasty.
Some historians say the hot dog sausage originated with Nero’s chef, who stuffed pig intestines with game meats mixed with spices and wheat. These sausages were introduced to other European areas, including what is present-day Germany.
Vienna (Wien, in German) say they created the wiener, another name for hot dog. Frankfurt claims the hot dog or frankfurter was invented there. While the European roots may be disputed, it is generally agreed that German immigrants in New York City sold frankfurters with milk rolls and sauerkraut out of pushcarts on the Bowery as early as the 1860s.
In 1871, a man named Charles Feltman opened the first hot dog stand on Coney Island, but the man most responsible for popularizing the hot dog in the United States was neither Austrian nor German. His name was Nathan Handwerker, a Jewish immigrant from Poland.
Handwerker worked in Feltman’s hot dog stand on Coney Island. He was a hard worker but made very little money. A romanticized story says he lived on hot dogs and slept on the kitchen floor for a year until he saved $300 which allowed him to open his own hot dog stand in 1916.
Perhaps a more accurate account says that Handwerker and his wife, Ida, borrowed the money from friends to start his business. We do know the money was obtained and “Nathan’s Famous” concession was born.
By the time the Depression hit, Nathan’s hot dogs were well-known throughout the United States.
When President Franklin Roosevelt hosted King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt made grilled hot dogs a part of the menu.
Like Donald Trump’s decision to serve fast food at White House functions, Mrs. Roosevelt’s decision to serve hot dogs to her royal guests generated a lot of negative publicity.
To counter the criticism, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote in her syndicated newspaper column, “So many people are worried that the dignity of our country will be imperiled by inviting royalty to a picnic, particularly a hot dog picnic!”
But, it was reported, King George VI enjoyed the hot dogs so much he asked for seconds.
It is estimated that 20 billion hot dogs are consumed each year in the United States. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there are 818 hot dogs eaten per second, making hot dogs the quintessential summer food.
Hot dogs are served in different ways throughout the country. There are multiple variations right here in West Virginia. I grew up in the Northern Panhandle, where boiled hot dogs were served topped with sauerkraut, which is the Pittsburgh way.
Later, while attending Glenville State College, I was introduced to the best hot dogs I’d ever tasted. When I could afford a treat, I would go to the student union, where hot dogs were cooked on a hot dog roller, placed on a bun with dill pickles and American cheese and steamed until the cheese melted. I have tried to replicate that sandwich many times to no avail. (I attribute the difference to not having a hot dog roller.)
Here in the southern part of the state, I’ve learned to like hot dogs topped with sauce, coleslaw, onion and mustard. However, the sauce must be prepared in the proper West Virginia manner.
The ground beef is boiled, NEVER fried. (I’ve noticed even Food Network and local celebrity chef Katie Lee agrees.)
Here is a recipe for West Virginia sauce. I’m sure there are many variations.
West Virginia Hot Dog Sauce
½ pound ground beef
1 cup water
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (6-oz) can tomato paste
½ tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon vinegar
Place ground beef and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to break up the meat.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Do not drain. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer another 30 minutes or until the right consistency is reached. Stir in vinegar and simmer an additional 10 minutes.