On the surface, hot dogs appear to be one of the easiest foods to cook. You just heat it up, plop it on a bun, and call it lunch. But there’s a big difference between not screwing something up and turning it into a life-changing dining experience. Recently we rounded up America’s 50 Best Hot Dogs, taking into account the embodiment of regional style, quality of ingredients, reputation both online and among locals, and overall dining experience. These are the three that topped our ranking; click here for the complete list.
3) Rutt’s Hut, Clifton, N.J.: The Ripper with Relish
Even if Rutt’s Hut, located in blue-collar Clifton, N.J., served their trademark Ripper, a pork-and-beef Thumann’s link that’s deep-fried in beef fat until it rips apart, out of the back of a minivan, it would still be one of the country’s most delicious hot dogs. The fact that it resembles the best dive bar you’ll ever visit propels Rutt’s Hut to legendary status. Whether you order an "In-And-Outer," (just a quick dunk in the oil), a Ripper, a well-done "Weller," or the crunchy, almost-overcooked "Cremator," make sure you get it "all the way," topped with mustard and a spicy, sweet, onion- and cabbage-based relish.
2) Katz’s Deli, New York City: Mustard and Sauerkraut
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. And it just so happens that the hot dogs here are very good. Made especially for the restaurant by Sabrett, these garlicky, natural-casing, jumbo-size all-beef dogs spend such a long time on the flat-top grill that the outside gets a nice char and snaps when you bite into it. A smear of mustard is all that’s needed, but a little sauerkraut or stewed onions certainly won’t hurt.
1) Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, Chicago: Mighty Dog
Fat Johnnie’s is a small, ramshackle, white-paneled hut on an industrial stretch of Western Avenue, a 20-minute drive from The Loop. You order through a tiny window after looking over a menu that includes items like the "Mother-in-Law" (a tamale on a bun with chili), a "Father-in-Law" (tamale on a bun with chili and cheese), and a tamale sundae (a tamale in a bowl of chili). If you’re noticing the tamale trend here, you might see where this is going. As every Chicago hot dog lover knows, hot dogs and tamales go hand in hand at many of the city’s storied spots (though they’re frequently not the best thing on the menu). Not so at Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, where John Pawlikowski serves the Mighty Dog — a hot dog and tamale on a bun with chili and cheese. Sounds like a monster, right? You’re right to be scared; it’s a mess. You want tomato, sport peppers, relish, and pickles on that? You bet you do. Soft steamed bun, moist tamale, fresh snap of the dog, chili, cheese, and a slice of cucumber cut on the bias — it’s one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever have.