The crack of a baseball bat and aroma of hot dogs heaped in condiments signal summer is here in full swing. And the two often go hand-in-hand.

Many a summer festivity, picnic, barbecue, and baseball game include hot dogs. It’s estimated that more than 7 billion hot dogs will be consumed this summer in the U.S. Americans eat about 60 dogs a year.

The creation of the hot dog is debated but the name is thought to have originated in Germany in the mid to late 1800s where it wasn’t uncommon to consume dog meat. Sometimes they also are called franks, after Frankfurt, Germany.

Today hot dogs are cooked sausages typically made from pork and/or beef, fillers, flavorings, and preservatives. The filling is encased in small intestines of sheep or sold without any skin.

Their more nutritious, but not so delectable, cousins may be made from chicken, turkey, or vegetarian ingredients. They may also be gluten-free, preservative-free, or organic.

Hot dogs can be grilled, steamed, fried, broiled, or microwaved. They are pre-cooked but should be served warm to avoid Listeria bacteria. My favorite dogs are Hebrew National 100% all natural kosher beef. They are tasty and relatively healthy.

Hot dogs can be topped with mustard, ketchup, onions, mayonnaise, relish, cheese, chili, or sauerkraut, but beware where you make your garnish selection. Areas and baseball parks, such as Coney Island and Fenway Park, offer their specialties with signature flavorings and toppings. In some areas of the country the dogateur will be highly offended if you request toppings outside the local cuisine.

The traditional serving in Chicago is a Vienna beef hot dog topped with mustard, chopped onions, sport peppers, fresh sliced tomatoes, a pickle, and a sprinkle of celery salt. One last important touch is that the delicacy be served in a poppy-seed bun.  You don’t want to frustrate a vendor in Chicago by asking for ketchup. It you really want it, you might ask them for ketchup on the side for your fries.

For a twist on tradition, order a corn dog, which is dipped in corn batter and deep-fried. Enjoy a plain hot dogged chopped in some baked beans or a mini-hot dog wrapped in bread dough and served as an hors d’oeuvres.

Nathan’s Hot Dogs holds an annual hot dog eating contest every July 4th. This year’s winner, Joey Chestnut, proposed to his girlfriend before chowing down 61 franks and buns.

Hopefully, the young man does not practice every day. Although delicious, the tasty treat is not recommended as a daily diet. The American Institute for Cancer Research states that consuming one hot dog or serving of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 20%. Hot dogs also are high in sodium, fat, and nitrites. In addition, hot dogs pose a choking risk in young children. The suggestion is to cut them into small pieces to reduce the risk.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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