Sausage Party! Which U.S. Region Serves the Best Hot Dog Variety?
Show me a hot dog with all the fixings, and I’ll tell you what part of the United States you’re in.
Many regions of the country have distinct ways of dressing up their dogs, and to aficionados, these differences say as much about local culture as they do about taste. Here are some that we think belong in the—sorry, sorry—wiener's circle.
Despite the name, these loaded treats don’t come from Coney Island in New York. They’re Michigan all the way, with three restaurants—American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, both in Detroit, and Todoroff’s Original Coney Island in Jackson—all claiming to be the creators of the dish. The Detroit eateries were founded by a pair of feuding Greek brothers over a hundred years ago. According to the Detroit Historical Society, the pair tried their first hot dogs soon after they arrived at Ellis Island in New York, where Coney Island was the popular place to hang out on a day off.
At base, a Coney Dog is grilled and nestled in a soft steamed bun, then topped with all-meat chili (no beans!), a zigzag of mustard, and chopped onion. A variety from the city of Flint uses a less soupy chili, but is essentially the same.
This type of dog comes from New Jersey—you gotta problem with that?
It’s wrapped in a flat, chewy bread that the locals call "pizza bread" because, well, that’s what it tastes like—and it sops up oil like a champ. That last quality is key for this dog, because not only is the frank fried, but so are the potatoes, red peppers, and onions that are heaped atop it. With all that grease, who needs sauce? Most aficionados simply eat these without any additional condiments. In certain parts of New Jersey, the beverage of choice with the Italian hot dog is either birch beer or, bizarrely, buttermilk (according to Robert Sietsema and the New York Times).
Since 2009, Kayem Foods has been supplying the franks, and they're a hair spicier than the ones your grandparents ate. These hot dogs are both boiled and grilled, which gives them a combination of juiciness and snap, according to New England Today. Mustard is the primary condiment, though some people add piccalilli (a relish made of chopped pickled vegetables), and/or diced onion.
In the 1900s, vendors in Rhode Island often gave their hot dogs a mark of authenticity by bragging they came from New York. The Greek cart cooks of Providence would line up buns along one arm and use their free hand to load the bread up with wieners, mustard, meat sauce, onions, and salt. It was an assembly style that came to be known as "the system," according to the New England Historical Society. Today, New York System dogs are crafted from veal and pork and the sauce is known for being as spicy as many curries, incorporating cumin, paprika, allspice, and chili powder.
Made with either a regular hot dog or kielbasa, this Cleveland fave is as layered as lasagna: First comes a steamed bun, then grilled meat, then French fries, barbecue sauce, and (usually, though not in this photo) a crown of coleslaw. Poles first came to the Cleveland area in the late 1860s to work in the stone quarries, establishing such a vibrant community that many relatives followed and took up other professions in the 1870s and 1880s. The city is still known for its rich Polish traditions, both culinary and otherwise.
It’s thought that the inventor of this regional treat might have been a bagel cart owner who decided to expand into wieners. That makes sense; a lashing of cream cheese is applied to the bun just before the hot dog is nestled in. Fried onions, mustard, and jalapeños are some of the other pick-and-choose condiments.
Seattle Dogs were the sustenance of choice outside the city's famous music clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, with carts selling the sausages into the wee hours of the morning—sort of like a very early breakfast.
These sausages—made of uncured and unsmoked pork, veal, and beef—turn an ashy white color when grilled over charcoal. Hence the name of this Rochester, New York, favorite. "Hot" comes into the picture because, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, manufacturers used to disguise cheaper cuts of meat by loading up on the spices. Today’s higher-quality version has been around since the 1920s and is most notably made by a firm called Zweigle’s, which became famous supplying these dogs to Red Wing Stadium (now known as Silver Stadium). Those who want the classic experience paint on a sauce made from relish, onions, peppers, molasses, and vinegar. Or you can go for the carb-intense "garbage plate" (pictured), which is usually a sausage with home fries, baked beans, and macaroni salad.