Photo: Juanmonino (Getty Images)
In Acquired Tastes, The Takeout explores the food and drinks we canâ€™t live without.
In Chicago, the rules are firm and shouted from rooftops: absolutely no ketchup on hot dogs.Â Itâ€™s a popular (albeit stubborn) rallying cry for Chicagoans. But Iâ€™m not here to relitigate the merits of the Chicago dog, a variant with seven unyielding toppings. I donâ€™t just think ketchup shouldnâ€™t be on a Chicago-style hot dog; Iâ€™m in favor of hot dogs with no toppings whatsoever. Allow me to make the case for the completely plain hot dog.
There is almost no wrong way to eat a sausage: The bacon-wrapped, mayo-slathered Sonoran dog, the cream-cheese-squirted Seattle dog, the chili-topped Detroit Coney dog, even the cosmopolitan foie gras dog with truffle aioli all have their esteemed place in the encased meat canon. But the plain hot dogâ€”just meat inside bunâ€”is its own minimalistic delight. If you find that statement distasteful or consider it gratuitously contrarian, then itâ€™s possible youâ€™ve never had the pleasure of a high-quality dog to begin with.
Thatâ€™s the key: A high-quality hot dog wiener (Vienna Beef, Nathanâ€™s Famous) inside a fresh, yielding, warm bun. Both components must be on point; there is nowhere to hide a subpar ingredient. With the sausage either boiled or grilled, the snap of the casing surrenders to a wave of juicy, summertime savory flavor; itâ€™s an enigmatic, salty punch of nostalgia. In this glorious season of cookouts, baseball, and a host of other warm-weather clichĂ©s, the joys are simple. Nude inside its bun, the plain hot dog is the simplest joy of all. Devoid of sweet ketchup or powerful mustard or competitive raw onion, itâ€™ll pair better with your light summer beer, too.
Iâ€™m certain there remains skeptics, so let me frame this differently: A salami on cracker also does not require additional accoutrements. Neither does a sheer slice of prosciutto wrapped around a crisp grissini bread stick. The plain hot dog is wholly in service of the wiener; the bun is the pedestal, the holster, the throne. And it keeps your hands sanitary.
I should emphasize that Iâ€™m not a picky, childlike eaterâ€”in fact, Iâ€™m middlingly adventurous, becoming more so every day. Thereâ€™s just an undeniable palatal purity to eating a hot dog and tasting a hot dog, the basal layer of a treat we usually pile high with other distractions. With our nation currently riding a trendy wave of indulgent pork belly and ubiquitous prosciuttoâ€”a flavor experience that even herbivores hope to replicateâ€”itâ€™s only surprising that more of us donâ€™t opt for maximum meat flavor as we bite into our humble hot dogs. But in doing so, in fact, we may be missing out on one of summerâ€™s purest, plainest pleasures.
This Fourth Of July, treat yourself to at least one unadulterated dog and savor the delights of the wiener bare and unadorned. If you find that Iâ€™ve misled you terribly, then congratulations on having an excuse to fix yourself a second.