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Hot Dogs: The Sandwich That Divides America

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Hot Dogs have long divided America. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Meat roll you eat with your hands?


Maybe you think the idea of a hot dog is disgusting. No matter how you feel about it, at some point, I’m sure you’ve wondered where it came from. Like the foot-long, the history of this glorious meat can not be devoured in one bite.

 

Hot Dog History

Many stories claim to be the creation of the original hot dog. Some are entertaining, and some are so basic they might be true. Many hot dog historians agree that the earliest version of the hot dog began in Roman times. Emperor Nero’s cook accidentally allowed an uncleaned hog to be fully roasted and nearly served before it noticing. Gaius, the cook, stuck his knife into the pig’s belly to check if it was done.

At this point, the intestine popped out and puffed up, empty from starvation. It was common in those times to starve a pig for a week before slaughter (possibly to reduce parasites and tapeworms). Gaius decided to utilize the intestine as a casing for game meats, creating the first sausage.

From here, the record gets fuzzy. Sausage began to pop up across Europe until it finally got to Germany, where it took hold. The town of Frankfurt claims to have created what we know as the hot dog in 1487. The early Vienna Sausages more closely resemble the hot dog we love today.

The hot dogs we know made their first appearance in America in the 1860s. A German immigrant sold them in the lower East side of New York City in an area known as the Bowery. By 1871, they became popular on Coney Island, served on a milk roll.


Popularization

While the hot dog was sought-after in the 1870s, it wasn’t until the Colombian Exposition in 1893 that hot dogs took off, thanks to their low cost and good taste. The exposition is more commonly known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Some 27 million people attended the fair and saw the hot dog for sale across the grounds.

In 1916, the hot dog indeed became American when Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker started Nathan’s Famous. Handwerker saved $300 while working for what would become his competitor, sleeping on the floor and eating only hot dogs. Handwerker undercut his competitors and soon was the only stand around selling hot dogs.

The first Coney Island Hot Dog eating contest allegedly took place in 1916 when Jim Mullens beat out three other immigrants to win. This story was proven false and was a lie fabricated by Mortimer Matz — an icon in the PR world. The first contest was, in fact, held in 1972 and won by Jason Schechter.

By 1939, Nathan’s Hot Dogs was such an iconic piece of Americana that President Roosevelt fed it to King George VI of England. After eating it, King George is said to have asked for seconds.


Where the name came from

Again, hot dog lore says different things. Before being popularized as a “hot dog,” it was referred to as “Dachshund Sausage” due to its resemblance to the dog.

The first story states that in 1901, at the Polo Grounds of New York, vendors were shouting, “Get your Dachshund Sausage while they’re red hot!” New York Journal cartoonist Tad Dorgan was on site for the game and overheard the calls. After hearing this, he quickly sketched out a cartoon of the scene and, because he didn’t know how to spell Dachshund (thank you Google), he replaced it with “hot.”

Other culinary historians point to college magazines in the 1890s that used the term to refer to the food we now know as hot dogs.


Hot Dogs today

When you think of hot dogs, you think of family cookouts, baseball games, and the Fourth of July. Today, people often forget that this noble dog is deeply seated in world history. It doesn’t matter if you reach for a corn dog, a hot dog, or a sausage — it was initially served on a bun.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes a sandwich as “a meat, or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit.” By that definition, a hot dog is a sandwich.

Editor’s note: a hot dog is most definitely NOT a sandwich. 


Thank you for investing some time in my articles. If you’d like to read more, you can visit my IDP Guys author page or follow me on Twitter at @FF_Skinnychef. If there is something you would like to see written, DM me. May the waivers be forever in your favor.

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