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Hot Diggity Dogs — It’s Time for the Fourth!

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Chicago-style Hot Dog at Big'z

“A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.”
Humphrey Bogart

Americans love hot dogs.

So much do we love them that the average person in this great country eats 60 a year, according to

That’s a lot of tube steak and buns on the part of those making up for the rest who only eat them on the Fourth of July or at the annual neighborhood cookout.

We love ’em plain with a streak of yellow mustard. We love ’em wrapped in corn batter and fried. We love ’em in breakfast tacos with scrambled egg (just look at the number of taquerias in town offering “winnie” tacos). We love ’em stuffed with foie gras (OK, well, only the folks who patronize Hot Doug’s in Chicago probably love them, but we love the concept).

There are even vegan hot dogs out there, and somebody even loves those, too.

We at SavorSA wanted to find out what there was to love in a hot dog, an all-beef hot dog, to be precise. All-beef Hebrew Nationals are what I usually feast on when I’m at Costco. For $1.50 in the public food court, you can get a jumbo dog and a soda in what seems like the best bargain in town.

So, we conducted several side-by-side tastings of all-beef hot dogs purchased at a neighborhood H-E-B. The names were largely familiar: Nathan’s, Ball Park, Oscar Meyer and Hebrew National, as well as two H-E-B brands, including one made with Angus beef and another called Texas Heritage (original flavor). We also threw in a ringer, another Texas all-beef dog; this one was from Pederson’s Natural Farms and featured no preservatives or nitrates.

hotdogs21All were grilled, and we topped them with whatever we chose, from stone-ground mustard to dill relish. Tasted plain or with mayonnaise, one thing became quickly clear: There really wasn’t a great deal of difference between the major brands.

So, you would have to be really picky to notice much difference between the Nathan’s and the Hebrew National. The Ball Park Franks we tried had garlic in them, which added extra flavor, but, in terms of beef, it tasted pretty much like the rest.

In the end, the H-E-B Angus dogs had a slight edge because its beefiness was pumped up.

Only one dog was different, and that was the Pederson’s, which one taster spit out, angrily decrying the lack of hot dog flavor that most of us have come to expect from preservatives and nitrates. Why eat a hot dog, if it’s not going to taste all unnaturally natural?

It brings up an age-old question: If you’re looking to avoid preservatives, why even consider a hot dog? By the same token, if you’re vegan, why eat something that is shaped like and reminds you of meat? Doesn’t that somehow defeat the purpose?

If you’re too smart to cook out in this heat, you might want to get a hot dog from one of the growing number of eateries in the city.

A traditional corn dog can be found amid the burgers at Bobby J’s on Bandera Road in Helotes, while MoMak’s on Jones Maltsberger has its MoMak Daddy Dog, a grilled 9-ounce Angus dog. Another taste of hot dog heaven is at Chunky’s, 4602 Callaghan.

Something strange has happened in San Antonio in the last few years. The city has become an outpost of the Windy City with a growing number of outlets offering Chicago-style dogs.

If you’re not familiar with this regional delicacy, it consists of an all-beef frankfurter, preferably made by Vienna Beef, served on a poppy seed bun. It is then crowned with all manner of toppings, including mustard, onion, brightly colored sweet pickle relish, sport peppers, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear and celery salt.

One major reason for its growth in popularity was the opening of Jerry’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs at 149 E. Commerce St.

Owner Jerry Cahue is an artist with his ingredients, and he knows how to make a sandwich truly special. People who had never had a Chicago dog before suddenly wanted more, and they were willing to stand in line outside the shop he runs with his wife.

In the next few years, more Chicago dogs appeared, and the results were good, if not quite as inspired. Still, not all of us can get downtown when we’d like, so we’ll gladly accept the versions at R&B’s Taste of Chicago on Austin Highway or any of the Freddy’s Frozen Custard stands.

Even Big’z Burger Joint on Loop 1604 has added this treat with all the trimmings. And, yes, Vienna Beef are used.

Relatively new on the dining scene is King’s Court Frankfurter Express at 111 Kings Court, which does a dog most any way you’d like. I haven’t been yet, but, then again, I haven’t had my 60 this year, so there’s still time.

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One Response to “Hot Diggity Dogs — It’s Time for the Fourth!”

  1. I guess I am in the small camp who seeks out nitrate free hot dogs and yes, I am a fan of Pederson’s. Their all beef hot dogs actually taste like real beef, not some bland imitation that the main stream guys make. In Pederson’s case, it is not about slathering the hot dog with condiments to make it palatable; rather it is about eating something that tastes more like a steak or an unprocessed cut of meat. Guess we all have our preferences! Now, please don’t berate me for liking whole wheat buns!