Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

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Welcome, Windy City wanderers and hot dog aficionados! Strap on your stretchy pants and prepare your taste buds because we're embarking on a gastronomical journey to discover the best Chicago-style hot dogs in, well, where else? 

The city of broad shoulders, deep-dish pizza, and the beloved Chicago Cubs — Chicago, of course!

What Is a Chicago Hot Dog?

Ah, the Chicago-style hot dog, a culinary treasure from the Windy City. It's not just a hot dog. It's an experience, a beautiful mess that's utterly delicious and satisfying.

Here's the breakdown:

The Dog: A Chicago-style hot dog recipe starts with a high-quality, all-beef frankfurter. These franks are often steamed or water-simmered, but some grill them for a bit of extra flavor and snap.

The Hot Dog Bun: A good hot dog needs a good home, and in Chicago, that means a steamed poppy seed bun. The poppy seeds add a slight crunch and a bit of nutty flavor. Polish immigrant, Sam Rosen, invented the poppy seed bun at his bakery in New York and Chicago (1909). It’s still popular today. 

The Toppings: This is where the magic happens. A traditional Chicago-style hot dog is "dragged through the garden," which means it's loaded up with vibrant, colorful toppings. This usually includes condiments like yellow mustard and bright green sweet pickle relish. It gets fresh with white onions, juicy tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, and sport peppers (small, medium-hot chili peppers). And to top it all off, a sprinkling of celery salt.

Importantly, one thing you won't find on a true Chicago-style hot dog is ketchup. There's a strong "no ketchup" tradition in Chicago, and many hot dog vendors in the city don't even offer it as a topping.

When combined, these elements create a harmonious blend of flavors and texture — the snap of the frank, the crunch of the pickles and onions, the heat of the peppers, the sweetness of the relish and tomato slices, and the tang of the mustard, all rounded out by the soft, slightly sweet bun. It's a true symphony of taste and a must-try for any hot dog lover.

Who Invented the Chicago Hot Dog?

The origins of the Chicago-style hot dog are a bit murky, as is the case with many popular foods. However, it’s widely believed that the Chicago dog, as we know it today, developed in the city's immigrant communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many immigrants from Eastern Europe, particularly Germany and Poland, brought their love of sausages when they settled in Chicago. Hot dogs, being a type of sausage, quickly became popular, particularly Vienna beef hot dogs. Over time, vendors began to add various toppings to their hot dogs, with many of these toppings reflecting the city's diverse cultural influences.

The tradition of topping hot dogs with a variety of ingredients likely grew out of the city's "Depression-era" sandwich shops, where vendors would "drag" a hot dog "through the garden," adding whatever vegetables were available to make the meal more filling and nutritious.

The exact person who first thought to put all these specific toppings together on a hot dog in the way that defines the Chicago-style hot dog is unknown. But it’s clear that this style of hot dog is a true product of Chicago's rich cultural history and immigrant heritage.

1. Superdawg Drive-In – Milwaukee Avenue

First up is Superdawg Drive-In, a hot dog haven that's been serving up stellar sausages since 1948. Their Superdawg is no ordinary frank; it's a delicious all-beef hot dog in the iconic poppy seed bun, topped with all the classic trimmings, plus a special "Superdawg" sauce that brings it all together. Wash it down with a Super Shake, and you've got the quintessential Chicago meal.

2. Gene & Jude's – River Road, River Grove

Next on our tour is Gene & Jude's, a no-frills hot dog spot that’s a true Chicago institution. Here, it's all about the minimalist approach. 

Your hot dog comes nestled in a steamed poppy-seed bun, topped with mustard, relish, onions, sport peppers, and a generous heap of fresh-cut fries right on top. This place doesn't just break the "no ketchup" rule; it obliterates it — don't even think about asking for the red stuff here.

3. Fatso's Last Stand – Chicago Avenue

Fatso's Last Stand is the spot for you if you like your hot dogs with a quirky charm. They serve up a mean Char Dog — a hot dog grilled until it's slightly charred, giving it a smoky, savory flavor. Complete with traditional toppings and a pickle spear, it's a must-try for any serious hot dog lover.

Stay with me, my sausage-seeking compadres! We're only warming up on this culinary hot dog highway. Believe me; there are plenty more delicious stops to make.

Alright, hold on to your buns, hot dog enthusiasts! We're diving back into our Chicago-style hot dog extravaganza because, let's face it, we're far from full, and we're only getting started.

4. The Wiener's Circle – North Clark Street

Are you a night owl with a hankering for hot dogs and hilarious banter? Then The Wiener's Circle is the spot for you. 

Famous for their loaded Chicago-style hot dogs and infamous for their sassy late-night staff, this place is an experience that's as much about the food as it’s about the atmosphere. Here, you're not just getting a hot dog — you're getting a show!

5. Portillo's – Multiple Locations

With locations all over the city (and now the country), Portillo's is practically synonymous with Chicago-style hot dogs. 

Each Portillo's hot dog is a beautiful blend of an all-beef frank and yellow mustard. Bright green relish, chopped onions, juicy tomatoes, and a kosher-style pickle spear pack a punch. 

Add a couple of fiery sport peppers and a dash of celery salt for a classic done right. No Chicago hot dog crawl would be complete without a stop at Portillo's.

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