Sunday, July 5, 2015

American History 101: The Hot Dog - Happy Independence Day America!

Is there any food that is considered more American than the Hot Dog?  I suppose you could make an argument for the Apple Pie, but from where I sit -- there is no food more synonymous with America itself than the stuffed sausage variant we call: Hot Dog.

But where did it come from?  Why is it so popular?  And where did it get that funny name?

The Hot Dog Today
The Hot Dog as we know it today is a cooked sausage that we, traditionally, grill, steam or boil.  We then take that cylindrical combination of meat (or meat like products depending on who made your dog) and throw it in between a sliced bun.  Is it done?  Heck no it isn't!  The toppings for your hot dog are as individual as American culture itself.  While your basic hot dog gets a yellow mustard on top, some folks like to mix it up and use spicy brown, or a honey mustard.  And others like to add ketchup, relish, sauerkraut, onions, pickles, mayonnaise, or chili to their dog.  And placement is important to Americans, too.  Some throw it on top, some love it in between the sides of the bun and the dog, while others enjoy it on the bun first with the hot dog placed loving on top.  

Are their variants to the hot dog?  Of course there are!  Heard of the corn dog?  And what about cocktail weenies, baked hot dogs and the recently more popular deep fried hot dog.  The deep fried dog can be done solo, or battered with the bun.  It is clear that as Americans, out hot dogs are a unique, varied and free as we are!

Where Did the Hot Dog Come From?
The hot dog is a variant of the sausages that came over to America from Germany.  The roots of the dog can be traced back to the German Frankfurter sausage, which itself has three different variants: the Wurstel, Wurschten and Rindswurst.  These are all packaged in a similar manner but with a differing set of ingredients.  These small sausages were used to celebrate everything in Germany as early as the 13th century and gained popularity because of their rich flavors, and ease of portability.

After these wonders of portable-meat-happiness came over to America, it didn't take long before someone thought they'd be great to start selling to the masses.  In the 1870's, German immigrant Charles Feltman is credited as one of (if not the) first to being selling link style sausages rolls to patrons in Coney Island.  Others soon followed suit, including Bavarian immigrant Antoine Feuchtwanger, who allegedly pioneered the practice in the mid-west, garnerng popularity selling them in hot dog stands in St. Louis.  The legend goes that Feuchtwanger used to sell them without a bun initially, and instead would give his customers gloves so they would not burn their hands.  It was only when he began to lose money when customers did not return the gloves that his wife suggested he use a roll instead.  And then during the World's Fair in 1893 held in Chicago, Feuchtwanger was there to serve these hot sausage treats, complete with buns, to the world's travelers who then took the idea how with them to countries all over the globe.

But it was German immigrant Chris von der Ahe who is credited with bringing America's two early loves together.  von der Ahe was the owner of the St. Louis Browns and an Amusement park, and he saw the protential of this portable meat in both settings.  Taking off this idea, Harry Stevens took the idea to a whole new level when he began bringing the sausage into the stands at the ball games, walking through the crowds yelling, "Red Hots!  Get your Red Hots right here!" and the combination of sitting, watching a ball game and consuming a hot sausage finally came together as one.  It is thought that at this time, when asked what these tasty treats were called by a New York Post
 reporter, Stewart told him "red hot daschund sandwiches" -- unfortunately, the reporter seemed unable to spell daschund, published a cartoon showing the food in the Post, he called them "hot dogs".  And from there, the name and popularity took off.

They were being sold on street corners, restaurants and cafe's all over the country by this time -- and remain that way today.  But there was a concern about the "quality" of the hot dog during this early time period, which existed before FDA regulation.  That was when a Polish-American worked of Feltman's went into business to compete with Feltman.  His idea was to was that all his employees would wear white surgical aprons to give the impression that his hot dogs were clean and pure.  His name was Nathan Handwerker, and his hot dogs were called Nathan's Famous.  He also undercut the pricing of his former employer by charging only five cents per dog, while a Feltman dog was ten.  The combination of the high quality meat, lower price and perception of cleanliness quickly catapulted Nathan's Famous to a high level of popularity.

What *is* a Hot Dog?
The basic hot dog is pretty standard.  A meat, or combination of meats, is encased in a clear casing and pre-cooked before being heated and eaten.  A commonly accepted naming convention is that "wieners" tend to be pork based and have a more even flavoring, while "franks" tend to be beef based and have a more robust seasoning to them.  Both are still encased in a natural casing.  The pork varieties tend to be made from meat trimmings and are mixed with flavorings and seasoning to give them a solid flavor, while beef varieties tend to be more pure beef -- but can

also be mixed with meat trimmings and heavy seasonings for flavor.  And these days, there are also chicken, turkey and vegetarian options out there in the popular link form.  

As with most sausages, hot dogs must be encased to be cooked.  These natural casings are usually made our of a sheep's small intestines that give the firm sausage its "snap", and on-rush of seasoned flavoring when you take that first bite.  This does cause an issue with "Kosher" hot dogs, and since these types of casings can be very expensive, Kosher hot dogs tend to be made via what is called a "skinless" cookie process.  This process features a cellulose based encasement instead of the intestine, and is removed before being packages.

Whether you like your hot dog with yellow mustard, or love it lathered with chili, cheese, onions and relish -- it is clear that all of America loves this tasty, meaty treat as much as we love freedom itself!  So on this Independence Day weekend, enjoy a hot dog -- the way you love it most.  Me?  I love it every way possible -- I'm likely to be seen with up to 3 hot dogs at a time... one with sauerkraut and spicy mustard; another with spicy mustard, ketchup and relish and still another with onions, chili and mustard!

Happy Independence Day America!  And remember, freedom and liberty isn't just about eating hot dogs.  It is about having your voice heard, living your life in the most productive way possible and working together in your community to ensure everyone has the same opportunities that you strive for every day.  I rarely get overly political in this space, but I encourage you to check out the links below and consider supporting the causes that exist to help enable freedom, and liberty for everyone.

Our America Initiative for open Presidential Debates
Open Ballot Access Now for fair ballot access for all political candidates

Every Voice Center for publicly funding elections, taking corporate money out of national election.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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