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The Chicago Hotdog: A History

Danny’s Red Hots (2009-07-29 15-03-56a)

I recently wrote a satirical article entitled “The Chicago Hotdog: An abomination on a bun.” The reaction to it was much stronger than I expected. Some people got so upset that one Facebook group I shared it in closed off discussion.

In the words of the late Rodney King: “Can we all just get along?”

Anyway, all this got me wondering about how all this got started. How did the Chicago-style hotdog originate? And why the animosity towards ketchup?

First, where did the hotdog originate? They are also referred to as frankfurters (German for someone from Frankfurt, Germany) and wieners (German for someone from Vienna, Austria). So, is it German or Austrian? Both locations have something similar. Frankfurt had it first, however. It first appeared in the 13th century where it was passed out to the people during the coronation of a king.According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_dog) it came to the United States from Germany and was sold to working class Americans by vendors at stands and street carts. They were served on a split bun and with condiments that vary from one area to another. An immigrant from Frankfurt by the name of Feuchtwanger sold them on the streets of St. Louis after his wife suggested adding the bun. They became popular after he sold them at the 1904 World’s Fair there. There are some accounts which say that he also sold them at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 but that is uncertain. Still another account says that the Vienna Beef Company (get it, wiener, Vienna) sold them at the Chicago fair, a much more likely version.

But what about the combination of toppings that is referred to as the Chicago Hotdog (yellow mustard, white onion, sweet pickle relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, kosher dill pickle spear, celery salt on an all-beef hotdog in a poppy seed bun). Apparently that comes from Fluky’s who, in 1929, started selling their “Depression Sandwich” on Maxwell Street. That the owners of Fluky’s were Jewish explains the switch from a combination of pork and beef to the all-beef hotdogs manufactured by Vienna.

But why does the Chicago Hotdog not have ketchup? In the recent article I wrote about why I dislike the Chicago Hotdog despite having lived in Chicago for over 50 years, I received a couple of suggestions that I will not follow-up on. However, someone much nicer suggested that the ketchup overwhelms the mildness of the hotdog. A reasonable idea until you remember that the Chicago Hotdog includes mustard, sport peppers and onions, which also have very strong flavors.

There is one possible explanation that has been put forward. There is one thing about ketchup that is not true of the Chicago Hotdog ingredients: it’s sweet. Remember that hotdogs were originally sold from carts. The sweetness of the ketchup would attract flies. (This is before the invention of the squeeze bottle.)Another account puts the origin with Jimmy Faruggia who opened Jimmy’s Red Hots on the west side in 1954. Jimmy believed that ketchup was used to cover-up the taste of rotten meat so he refused to serve ketchup. A sign on the wall told his customers, “Don’t even ask.”So, in short, barring some new revelation, we’re unlikely to ever 

find out the true origin of the Chicago Hotdog.

Photo © 2009 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.

Text © 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.

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Written by Gary J Sibio

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    • Nathan’s definitely has the best hotdogs of any I’ve had but I still wouldn’t put mustard on one. Sauerkraut is great on a hotdog and, if the place has it, I will use it. Try kimchi sometime. It’s like sauerkraut on steroids.

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