How to Build the Perfect Hot Dog

Here’s everything you need to consider when constructing the dog and the bun

While simple in nature, the hot dog takes some thought before you start building it.

Here are some numbers for you to consider. Last year, Americans spent 1.7 billion dollars on hot dogs in supermarkets alone. Past statistics have shown that during “hot dog season” — the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day — Americans will be eating 818 hot dogs every second, and that this past Fourth of July,  Americans ate enough hot dogs to stretch from D.C. to L.A., and back again, five times over.

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Looking at the statistics, it’s easy to see that hot dogs are one of America’s favorite foods. And even with numbers aside, how can you resist them? They’re a pairing of meat and bun, they’re easy to wrap your mouth around, and they serve as a canvas for all kinds of different toppings and sauces with which to create a masterpiece. No matter where you are in the country, you’ll be amongst hot dog fans, and depending on what region you’re in, you’ll experience a variety of ways that they’re built, whether that is the hot dog itself, the bun that’s used, or the toppings.

For example, you'd be amiss not to have your all beef hot dog served in a poppy seed bun and topped with chopped onions, a bright green pickle spear, sport peppers, and tomato slices if you were in Chicago. You might be in Kansas and therefore will enjoy a pork sausage in a poppy seed bun, or if you’re in Maine, you might have a red snapper — a hot dog in natural casing that’s been dyed pink. In New Jersey, you’ll see Italian dogs, or Newark dogs, which are deep fried  served in pizza dough, and in the southwest, Sonoran dogs — bacon-wrapped dogs served in bolillo rolls — reign.

So you see that, along with America’s overwhelming love of hot dogs, its people are also really passionate about how to build them, and you should be, too. Just because there’s already a whole plethora of regional hot dogs for us to choose from, doesn’t mean you can’t think of your own creations, as well, and we want to make sure you’re doing it right.

While the idea of placing a cooked dog in a bun and topping it with a few condiments seems simple, there’s a lot of thought that goes into each aspect of building a hot dog. For exmaple, how are you going to cook your dog? And what kind of dog are you going to cook with? What kind of bun are you going to use, and will it be steamed, griddled, or left on its own? Last but not least are the toppings, will you do the regular mustard, ketchup, and relish? And if so, then in what order?

As you can see, building a hot dog takes a lot of thought, and we wanted to make sure that we got the processes of it down right. To do this, we turned to someone who has been in the hot dog business his entire life — someone that stands behind a brand that’s been running for 93 years strong. Eugene Warrington of Walter’s Hot Dogs in Mamaroneck, N.Y., took over his father’s namesake business over 60 years ago, and has been running it the same exact way his father did since its birth in 1919 (which is why it’s a registered historical landmark).

When his father, Walter, decided what his hot dog would be, he had thought it through carefully —everything from the blend of meat in the dog, how it would be made, what kind of bun it would rest in, and what dressing it would have. For all of the 93 years of its life, the Walter’s hot dog stand has been a favorite spot to visit on both weekdays and weekends, and the line snaking down several blocks of sidewalk is always worth the wait. When something works, it works, and it often only happens that way because it was given such careful consideration.

We’re not trying to say Walter’s dogs are the be all end all (but at number fifteen on our list for America’s 35 Best Hot Dogs, they’re pretty darn good), but we’re hoping that Warrington’s and his father’s careful consideration of how their hot dog should be built will inspire you to give it just as much thought. Because if you’re going to be eating so many of them this summer, you might as well make them perfect, right? 


Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce