It is National Hot Dog Day, which brings many questions to mind. What’s the big deal about a hot dog? Why are they even called hot dogs? Where can I get one RIGHT NOW? While there is legend and controversy behind the origin of both the hot dog and it’s name, the most widely debated question remains unanswered: Is the hot dog a sandwich?
On a Wednesday each July, The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council established National Hot Dog Day in 1991 to coincide with an annual hot dog lunch on Capitol Hill. This holiday gives us a chance to explore the American food staple once called a Dachsund Sausage.
Thehotdog.org dives right in, with an informative graphic on hot dog history.
People were eating hot dogs in the ancient world!
The word sausage comes from the Latin salsus, which means salted or preserved. Hot dogs are a kind of sausage, which may date back to the 7th century BCE, when Homer mentioned a sausage in his epic poem The Odyssey.
Centuries later, around 64 CE, Emperor Nero’s cook Gaius is said to have “discovered” them. According to legend, a pig he had roasted had not been properly cleaned. Gaius ran a knife into the pig’s belly to check it’s readiness when some puffed up intestines popped out of the roast. Gaius supposedly said, “I have discovered something of great importance,” and proceeded to stuff the intestines with ground venison, ground beef, cooked ground wheat, and spices, tying them into sections as he went.
European Sausages are a staple.
Over the centuries, Europeans loved to incorporate sausages into their meals. The Germans created hundreds of versions of sausages to pair with kraut and beer. Two different European towns now claim to be the birthplace of the hot dog: Frankfurt, Germany, and Vienna, Austria.
Frankfurt (officially Frankfurt am Main) claims that the hot dog was invented there in 1487, pointing to the word frankfurter as proof of the hot dog’s roots in the city. In fact, in 1987, Frankfurt threw a huge celebration honoring the 500th anniversary of the hot dog.
But according to the good people of Vienna (Wien in German, hence the name wiener or wienerwurst), Austro-Hungarians Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany invented the hot dog. The pair then went on to sell their creation at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. This became what we now know as the Chicago-style hot dog, with its signature relish, dill pickle, tomato slices, pickled peppers, and celery salt. Reichel and Ladany are the cofounders of Vienna Beef I. Chicago, and the food has become central to the city itself.
The arrival of the Hot Dog Cart
Around the turn of the 20th Century, sausage carts became a fixture in the city, as vending these meats was an inexpensive startup for many European immigrants. The Duluth News Tribune described Chicago this way in September 1894:
“More numerous than the lunch wagon is the strolling salesman of ‘red hots.’ This individual clothed in ragged trousers, a white coat and cook’s cap, and unlimited cheek, obstructs the night prowler at every corner. He carries a tank in which are swimming and sizzling hundreds of Frankforters or Wieners.”
Sausage VS Hot Dog
Sausage is a broad term that can describe any ground meat encased with herbs and spices. Casings may be either natural or synthetic. Hot dogs are a type of sausage.
The meat in a hot dog is more finely ground than the meat in a sausage, giving the hot dog a smoother texture. The spice mix in a hot dog is generally milder than in a sausage. But the addition of a bun is what made it the beloved hot dog we know. And who came up with THAT groundbreaking idea?
The bun is the thing.
Germans traditionally serve bread with sausages, so it’s hard to say when the bun began. According to one myth, the hot dog roll was introduced around 1880, when German peddler Antoine Feuchtwanger sold hot sausages on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri. So that his customers would not burn their hands or get themselves greasy, Feuchtwanger’s wife suggested putting the sausages on a split bun instead, calling on her brother (a baker), to improvise a long, soft roll to cradle the hot sausages. As the story goes, the concessionaire then went on to sell them at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and thus the birth of the hot dog bun.
Other legends say it was born in Coney Island, created by Charles Feltman in 1867 when he opened the first hot dog cart on the Island.
A German immigrant, Feltman owned a pie-wagon.
His customers hoped the baker would add hot sandwiches to his offerings, but the wagon was too small to accommodate. Perhaps, Feltman thought, something simple like a sausage on a roll could serve as a hot lunch option. The rest, as they say, is history. He claimed an all-time record of serving 100,000 people and 40,000 hot dogs in a single day.
Another Coney Island baker likely played a major role in inventing the hot dog bun. Ignatz Frischman arrived in New York from Austria before 1850. According to his 1904 New York Times obituary, Frischman “observed that the crowds [at Coney Island]… displayed a fondness for frankfurter sandwiches. In those days the frankfurter was served to the hungry pleasure seekers between two slices of bread. It occurred to Mr. Frishman that it would be more delectable tucked in the depths of a Vienna roll of special size.”
The entrepreneurial baker “sold to the frankfurter men in small quantities for a while, and at a small profit, until they became the only means by which the frankfurter could be sold,” wrote the Iola Daily Record. The Brooklyn Daily Times said, “when Frischman opened his modest little bakery and started the manufacture of a certain oblong roll that the frankfurter men needed in their business, ‘Coney’ sprang into the limelight… Visitors to Coney Island did not feel as though they had ‘done’ the resort thoroughly without devouring a hot ‘frankfurter and.’
How did the hot dog get its name?
Our first legend includes a baseball game and hot dog cartoon. Allegedly the term “hot dog” was coined around 1901 at a NY Giants baseball game. It was cold in April, and concessionaire Harry Stevens wasn’t making any money selling ice cream and cold sodas. He sent his salesmen to buy all the rolls and dachshund sausages (named for the shape of the German dog breed they resembled) they could find. Soon, the vendors were back, yelling “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot! From the press box, T.A. “TAD” Dorgan, a sports cartoonist for the New York Evening Journal, was searching for ideas to sketch. Hearing the hawkers, he drew a cartoon of a dachshund dog nestled in a bun. But TAD didn’t know how to spell dachshund. So his caption simply read, “Hot dog!”
In other myths, the term hot dog grew out of crude jokes and college humor. There is a reason we don’t want to see how the sausage gets made. Rumored ingredients such as dogs, rats, cats, and even humans have been feared to be in cased meats since at least the Middle Ages.
Therefore, according to thehotdog.org, it is thought that “the term was based on a popular 19th-century belief that dog meat could turn up in sausages, and this belief had basis in fact.” The hot dog is, as a widespread joke from the 1930s goes, the noblest kind of dog: for it does not bite the hand that feeds it; it feeds the hand that bites it.
Today’s hot dog
The basic hot dog as we know it is still a cured meat spiced with pepper, garlic, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, and allspice. The meat is usually beef or pork, trimmed from larger cuts like roasts, chops, and tenderloins. You can also find hot dogs made of chicken or turkey. And though you may have heard urban legends about how hot dogs are made of a bunch of leftover parts, meat science expert Dr. Janeal Yancey explains that hot dogs are made of “the same stuff that you make into ground beef or ground pork.. the trimmings used to make hot dogs are pieces of meat that don’t make good steaks and roasts because they aren’t a certain tenderness, size, shape, or weight.”
So it comes as no surprise that in 2021, Americans spent $7.4 billion on hot dogs. The average American eats 70 hot dogs per year. For today, this hot-dog-historian will eagerly end research here and go attempt to contribute to that number.