Hot dogs may just be the easiest, most accessible food around. Think about it: They’re one of a few foods sold and eaten just about everywhere, from discount and hardware stores to ballparks, gas stations, street kiosks, and, of course, restaurants. They’re cheap, they can be eaten on the run, and kids love them. People even argue over the best way to dress them up — in Chicago, the mighty dog is loaded with such toppings as celery salt, dark-green relish, tomatoes, and mustard and served on a poppyseed bun. On the East Coast, it’s covered with steamed onions and yellow-mustard sauce.
However you prefer to dress your dog, there’s no mistaking the popularity of this all-American food. In fact, Americans consumed about 20 billion hot dogs last year — about 70 hot dogs per person each year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. (The fact there is such an organization devoted to the wiener should tell you something.)
According to the council, about 38 percent of hot dogs are sold at retail between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Last year, approximately $614 million worth of hot dogs were sold during that period, 10 percent of them during July, which happens to be National Hot Dog Month.
So what exactly is in a hot dog?The ingredients in hot dogs have been the subject of endless jokes, rumors, and speculation. But the answer is really quite simple and not as scary as you might think, according to the council.Hot dogs are cured, cooked sausages consisting mostly of pork, beef, chicken, and turkey. Other ingredients include water, curing agents, and spices such as garlic, salt, sugar, ground mustard, nutmeg, coriander, and white pepper. If organ meats, such as liver and heart, are used in processed meats, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the manufacturer to display a statement to this effect on the package.
Here are a few favorites for flavorful franks in Springfield:
Cozy Dog Drive In (2935 S. Sixth St., 217-525-1992) The birthplace of the corn dog, founded in 1949 by Ed Waldmire, also serves up hot dogs, chili dogs, and other fast food. It gets points for atmosphere and the funky Route 66 memorabilia covering the walls. Inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and named one of the “50 Great Plates in America” by USA Today, the business sells as many as 500 Cozy Dogs a day during the busiest months.
Coney Island(219 S. Fifth St., 217-522-2050) Springfield’s second-oldest restaurant last year got a new address (moving across Fifth to a former Hardee’s location) and a fresh coat of paint, but it still serves up old-fashioned charm. Gold-and-coral walls and glass light fixtures mix with antique oak booths. After a battle with City Hall and a pesky city ordinance banning neon signage on new buildings in the historic downtown area, owners Nancy and John Burton reinstalled the famous neon sign spelling out the restaurant’s name, which has been a downtown fixture since the 1940s. The Coney Special, which comprises two dogs, hand-cut fries, and a drink, is a mainstay here, along with homemade pies, butter cake, and sandwiches.
Wienerdog (113 N. Sixth St., 217-744-3644) Owners Mark Anderson and Rob Deaton have been busy since the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The biggest seller at the tiny eatery, located across from the tourist attraction, is the Chicago dog — an all-beef dog served in a toasted New England-style roll and topped with mustard, deli relish, onion, tomato, pickle, cucumber, celery salt, and the all-important sport pepper. Other specialty dogs include the (Seersdog,) named for the hot dogs served with Cheez Whiz that many Springfieldians recall being served at the (Sears) store.
Dog dos and don’ts
Yes, you must follow the rules for proper hot-dog consumption — or risk being a wiener. Here are some recommendations from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council:
Put hot-dog toppings between the hot dog and the bun. Always “dress the dog,” not the bun.
Apply condiments in the following order: wet condiments such as mustard and chili first, followed by chunky condiments such as relish, onions and sauerkraut, followed by shredded cheese and then spices such as celery salt or pepper.
Serve sesame-seed, poppyseed, or plain buns with hot dogs. Sun-dried-tomato buns or basil buns are considered gauche with franks.
Take more than five bites to finish a hot dog. For foot-long wiener, seven bites are acceptable.
Put ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.