This week marks a highly anticipated event that for many, many Chicagoans is the harbinger of spring: Major League Baseball’s Opening Day!
The game is paramount, of course, but what you eat while watching it in the stands is of vital importance. How did that classic component of ballpark cuisine — the hot dog — become so prevalent? And how has it evolved as a sporting event concession?
In 1893, St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe was seeking an inexpensive, quick-to-prepare, hand-held snack for spectators to consume while also juggling a beer. Local food cart operator Antonoine Feuchtwanger provided the answer, after some trial and error. He had been serving scalding hot sausages to his customers along with white gloves to keep them from burning their hands (which is why hot dogs are still sometimes called “red hots”). Observing her husband losing money hand-over-fist on unreturned gloves, his wife suggested encasing the sausages in long bread rolls, which would also allow for additional toppings. This was, in baseball parlance, a homerun, and von der Ahe immediately latched on to it; soon, other team owners were following him around the bases.
How many hot dogs do Americans consume each summer? Seven billion! (Babe Ruth was famously a big fan — on one sweltering doubleheader day, he put away a dozen of them, washed down with eight bottles of soda pop.)
Most believe that the hot dog got its name on a chilly April day at the New York Polo Grounds in 1901. A sports cartoonist, Tad Dorgan, watching vendors hawking their “red hot dachshund sausages” outside the arena, sketched a barking dachshund in a roll, and, unsure how to spell “dachshund,” he captioned it “Hot Dog!” This admittedly catchier name stuck.
Today’s major league ballparks, along with their classic peanuts and Cracker Jack, offer everything from poutine to Po’boys to pork belly fries. And hot dogs have come a long way since the St. Louis Browns first served them up. Here are a few interesting variations from around the league:
Ode to Detroit Dog (Detroit Tigers) — This hot dog is served with brisket chili and topped with scallions and habanero cheese sauce. In a word, it’s spicy.
Dilly Dogs (Texas Rangers) — Reminiscent of a state fair, this hot dog is stuffed into a large, cored dill pickle, dipped in batter, and deep fried.
M.V.T. (“Most Valuable Tamale”) Dog (Texas Rangers) — Find three friends to eat this with you: the Texas Rangers’ famous “Boomstick” is a 16-ounce (one pound!) dog, stuffed into a tamale and slathered with chili, nacho cheese, and grilled onions.
Asada Dog (Arizona Diamondbacks) — This may be the longest hot dog served in any ballpark — 18 inches, and its Mexican flare includes toppings of carne asada, guacamole, pico de gallo, and queso blanco, as well as fries. You may need a friend to help you hold it (much less eat it).
Chicken Enchilada Dog (Arizona Diamondbacks) — The innovative D-Backs also offer an 18-inch chicken enchilada sausage that sports many of the toppings of its Asada Dog but adds black olives, multicolored tortilla chip confetti, sour cream, and enchilada sauce. Be prepared to ante up $25 for this one, not including the beer.
Everything Dog (Atlanta Braves) — There’s nothing like Southern hospitality! The Braves’ signature dog is a foot-long, topped with nacho chips, jalapeño peppers, melted cheese, and barbecue sauce, sprinkled liberally with popcorn (hey, it’s fiber!).
Cheese Coney (Cincinnati Reds) — Cinci is world-famous for its chili, and their dog is slathered in it, along with a generous pile of shredded cheddar cheese and chopped onions. There’s no Coney Island dog quite like it. Except maybe at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, who also offer “tribute” hot dogs to other states (their Georgia dog includes barbecue sauce, onions, and coleslaw; their New York variation is topped with hot mustard and grilled sauerkraut).
Sunrise Dog (Kansas City Royals) — No time for breakfast before the game? Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium has you covered. Their foot-long Sunrise Dog is topped with a fried egg, bacon crumbles, white sausage gravy, and cheddar cheese. Orange juice sold separately.
Dodger Dog (Los Angeles Dodgers) — The Dodgers offer a variety of dogs, but notable is their Hawaiian pineapple barbecue version, which is topped with pulled pork and sauce, encased in a sweet King’s Hawaiian roll.
Bratwurst (Milwaukee Brewers) — You just knew Milwaukee fans would insist on their legendary brats — these are beef and pork with the park’s famous “secret stadium sauce,” and include spicy brown mustard and a heap of sauerkraut.
Pastrami Sausage (Philadelphia Phillies) — Phillies devotees love this distinctive sausage made from flavorful pastrami — it’s topped with red cabbage, hickory-smoked bacon, and tarragon mustard.
Cracker Jack and Mac Dog (Pittsburgh Pirates) — This is dog and dessert all rolled into one: the Pirates’ foot-long dog is buried in mac ‘n’ cheese, topped with caramel corn, deep-fried pickled jalapeño peppers, and salted caramel sauce. Palatable? You’ll never know unless you try.
And for local Chicago fans…
Wrigley Dog (Chicago Cubs) — This one is for North Siders who like their hot dog “dragged through the garden.” It’s topped with mustard (NO ketchup!), and relish made from chopped tomatoes, pickles, onion, sport peppers, celery salt, and sport peppers. You’ll need lots of napkins.
The Heater (Chicago White Sox) — Fans at Guaranteed Rate Field love this sinus-clearing cheddar jalapeño sausage, which is topped with Sriracha mayonnaise and coleslaw with a kick.