Designing a hotter dog

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From food trucks to chains to chef-driven restaurants, hot dogs are experiencing a renaissance. And while well-done classics continue to thrive, many of the crowd-pleasers on menus across the U.S. are surpassing tradition to include inventive toppings and ingredients.

Nancy Kruse, menu trend analyst and president of The Kruse Company consultancy in Atlanta, says these haute dogs owe a debt to the burger upgrades that have occurred during past five years.

“The answer can be neatly summed up in three words: better-burger tailwind,” she said. “I think the extraordinary success of the new-age burger chain has caused chains and chefs to reconsider the hot dog and treat it the same way they do the burger, namely, as a carrier for a range of creative, premium toppings.”

For example, Richard Blais, winner of Bravo's television cooking competition “Top Chef All-Stars,” has created HD1, a restaurant focused on serving high-quality hot dogs. The menu at his Atlanta-based restaurant includes offerings such as a chicken-apple sausage with crème fraiche, walnuts and grape relish.

“I think it's instructive that Richard Blais has jumped in,” noted Kruse, “and I suspect we'll see more migration from fine-dining chefs — just as we've seen with the burger phenomenon.”

In time for National Hot Dog Month, Nation's Restaurant News surveyed 25 leading vendors across the country, from chains to independents, to see what goes into their popular hot dogs. Take a look at the 10 top dogs that made the cut.

First: Ben’s Chili Bowl