Food, Fun and More

Hotdog Cravings

Hot Dog StandHot Dog 03 - Corn Dog

Why do hot dogs taste so good at the county fair?  Is it the fresh air or the excitement of the lights and the people?  I don’t usually eat them, what with all the nitrates and preservatives; they’re just not “good” food.  But when I’m at a festival, fair or a ballgame, I indulge.  There’s nothing like the anticipation of waiting in line at a food wagon for a warm, steamy corn dog smothered in mustard.  And on a cool autumn day at a football game, when the vendors are walking up and down the stadium shouting “Hot dogs, get your hot dogs”,  a hot dog in a warm steamed bun wrapped in wax paper with ketchup rivals an expensive dinner at an exclusive restaurant.  Even if they are slightly smashed and little bits of the bun stick to the paper.

My love/hate relationship with hot dogs is my father’s fault.  They’re tied to memories of dad firing up the charcoal in our Hibachi grill.  I remember the day he brought it home along with metal adjustable forks, a package of hotdogs and a bag of marshmallows.  I was sure we were the richest family in the neighborhood.  Gone were the days of cutting twigs from the brush in the ditch across the road and cooking over a wood fire in the back yard.

He fired up that brand new grill and I loaded my roasting fork with a dog.  Dad told me to hold it over the glowing coals and take my time roasting.  I wanted to use the flames and get the cooking over and done with.  I was hungry.  Finally I bit into that hot dog.  It was charred on one side and close to raw on the other.  The skin split with a snap and the juice ran out with a meaty, spicy flavor.  I swear it is the best hot dog I ever tasted.

I found out much later that the skin casing on those hot dogs was made from sheep intestine.  I’m so glad I didn’t know that back then.  Now I make sure to eat the “skinless” variety.  I don’t think they use sheep intestines anymore, but I’m not taking any chances.

It is believed that hot dogs were brought to America from Germany in the late 1800’s by Chris Von de Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns baseball team.  He sold them at the games.  My great-grandfather was German and came to America about that time.  I wonder if he brought some hot dogs with him.  I grew up in a small town in central Michigan which has a large population of German and European descent.  So, hot dogs are part of my heritage.

There is some disagreement as to who first thought up the name Hot Dog.  One opinion is that the term was first used by cartoonist Thomas Aloysius at the beginning of the 20th century.   Another version is that a street vendor, Thomas, Hot Dog, Morris came up with the name when he would announce “Come and get ‘em.  Hot dogs,” meaning hot and steamy sausages.  I can imagine him standing behind his cart, canvas apron tied around his waist, sleeves rolled up, hawking his wares on a busy city street.

The oldest reference to sausages, which include hot dogs, was in writings from the 9th century BC.  That says something for the staying power of the good ole Hot Dog.

The hot dog has been around a long time for a very good reason.  They are a part of so many good memories.  There is just nothing like roasting hotdogs at a cookout in the backyard, a dog in a warm steamy bun at the ball park or a footlong smothered in onions and green peppers at the county fair.  My guess is we’ll be eating hot dogs for a very long time.


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