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Aug 31, 2003 10:00 AM

Chicago Style Hot Dogs (from a New Jersey perspective)

  • j

I know the subject of hot dogs and Chicago hot dogs versus N.Y. hot dogs has been talked to death on here. So feel free to skip this long post if you wish. I am a hot dog fanatic and would just like to post my observations on Chicago and New Jersey dogs.

I wouldn't comment previously (except to say what I would anticipate a Chicago hot dog would be like) because I've never been to Chicago and never had an authentic Chicago hot dog. There is a place in N.J. (a truck actually) selling what it considers a Chicago style hot dog. They did use Vienna franks, but I doubt that it would be considered authentic by Chicago standards. And it was so long ago, that I don't recall much of the experience. There is a place in New York's Madison Park which serves what is considered by the Chicago Tribune as an authentic Chicago style hot dog. There was even an article in the Aug. 3rd Tribune. Check this link:

I was looking forward to trying this place, and finally made it there on vacation 2 weeks ago. First, let me say that I've been to dozens of hot dog restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and even Maine. I've sampled commercial brands from all over the country via mail order. I've been written about in the New York Times and the Hartford Advocate. That said, I must say that when it comes to hot dogs (or anything else) taste is subjective. And my opinion is just that, my opinion. Much of the enjoyment for me in this weird hobby (my family says obsession) comes in the anticipation of finally trying something for myself that I've heard so much and read so much about. I also love reading people's opinions of hot dogs. They vary so much. I've heard opinions of the same dog ranging from "the best dog there is" to "absolutely inedible". I love judging for myself.

Living in N.J., I have access to what I consider the widest variety of hot dogs available. We have Italian Style Hot Dogs, (available nowhere else but northern Jersey) Texas Weiners, North Jersey style deep fried hot dogs, kosher style all beef franks, German style beef and pork dogs, etc. Comparing the different types and styles is a little like comparing apples and oranges. I love both the all beef dogs and the beef and pork franks. But both have completely different flavor profiles. People that like the all beef consider the German style bland. People that like the German style say that the all beef kosher style is too spicy. Plus we employ different cooking methods ranging form boiled/steamed to griddled, char broiled, deep fried, and combinations of these.

In my opinion, N.J. offers the best and widest variety of hot dogs. We have Thumann's (beef and pork) which is the most delicious hot dog of it's type. In my opinion, head and shoulders above any German style dog. For all beef dogs we have Best (Newark, N.J. not Chicago), Sabrett, and Nathan's. The spicing for these dogs differs; I would say all are of the same high quality, depends on the degree of spiciness that you prefer. Not made here, but maybe my favorite all beef dog is Usinger's from Milwaukee. I believe that you have access to this brand.

New York dogs are limited, for the most part, to street cart dogs (usually boiled Sabrett's). Personally, I don't use sauerkraut or that nasty onion mix. I like just some mustard. Occassionally I'll get chili on my dog (Texas Weiner style) or the unique mustard relish at Rutt's Hut. New York dogs are stereotyped, especially by Chicagoans, as "bland pieces of mystery meat". But there are places, namely Nathan's, Papaya King, and Katz's that serve flavorfull all beef dogs that are slow cooked on a griddle. This brings out the flavor much more than boiling. Here in Jersey, we have these types, as well as the ones mentioned earlier. We also have a dog made especially for deep frying that contains soy protein and semolina that puffs up and takes on some of the flavor of the oil. Rutt's Hut is an example of this. Named in Gourmet Magazine last year as one of the top dogs in the U.S. This type of dog is pork based and wickedly delicious. Around here, people either love it or hate it. I love it, my family hates it. A place called Syd's has a delicious foot long beef dog that is boiled, then grilled. A great blend of spices, a perfect casing and great texture.

Now on to Chicago dogs. I appreciate the fact that Chicago has more hot dog stands than McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's combined. In much of the country, hot dogs have characteristics that apply to specific regions. You have the Chicago style dog, Baltimore has it's split and deep fried dogs, the South has slaw dogs, etc. I've studied and read about Chicago dogs, and can say that I know much about the many hot dog emporiums in Chicago without actually going there. is a great site that reviews hot dogs. Recently he went to Chicago and reviewed some of the more popular places. Pictures are included.

But none of this compares to actually sampling a Chicago dog. Going to Danny Meyer's hot dog cart is the next best thing to going to Chicago. They serve a Chicago Hot Dog and a New York Hot Dog. The New Yorker is a Vienna frank (skinless, unfortunately) with mustard, relish, onion, and the red onion mix. I got mine with just mustard so I could really sample the vaunted Vienna Frank. The Chicago style frank has the same Vienna dog with the condiments all imported from Chicago.

I sampled the New York dog first. The Vienna frank was ok, but very mild for an all beef dog. Good size (8 to a lb rather than 10 like many N.Y. street cart dogs) but not as flavorfull or spicy as a Sabrett, Nathan's, Usinger's, or Best (N.J.). And definitely not as good in my opinion. Mild, with a slight aftertaste reminding me somewhat of the spicing in a piece of corned beef; but very subdued. This dog was the same size and shape of a Best (N.J.) skinless dog. It even tasted a little bit like it, but much lighter in flavor. In fact, I would describe this as a Best Light. I know that a boiled Vienna frank is the Chicago style, but I would have liked this dog better if it had a natural casing and was grilled.

Next was the Chicago Dog. As for appearance, I would say that this dog is closer in appearance to Byron's than any of the other dogs pictured on Holly's web page. A lot of condiments rather than a little like Gene and Jude's. The lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, relish, etc. were good. And fresh. And it was great to finally try an authentic Chicago Hot Dog. With an open mind. But I must say that it was pretty much what I expected. I enjoyed the contrast between cold vegetables and hot meat. But for me, the hot dog's the thing. And you would be hard pressed to identify even a spicier, bolder frank under all the ingredients contained on this dog. It really is a salad dog. Not bad in this context, and I can understand how some people may like it. But it is not for me. Given a choice, I'd take a grilled Nathan's or Papaya King any day.

I suspect that if I lived in Chicago, I would go for one of the places like Gold Coast or Weiner's Circle that charbroil their dogs. And use the natural casing rather than skinless. Without much of the condiments. But that's just me. I would also prefer the brand of dog served at SuperDawg (Sinai 48) which is closer in taste to a Jersey style all beef dog. I've also heard that at least one Fluky's location uses franks from Klements of Milwaukee rather than Vienna Beef.

I do take issue with the writer from the Chicago Tribune who said, "Compared with the bland tubes of mystery meat for sale at most street corner carts, the typical Chicago hot dog is meaty and has more spice. And following Chicago custom, the specimens sold at the Madison Ave. Park stand are boiled, not grilled." Well, at the carts they are boiled, not grilled like at Nathan's, Papaya King, Katz's, etc. And at 8 to a lb they are a little bigger than the 10 to a lb dogs sold at most street carts. (You can get bigger dogs elewhere). But no way does the Vienna dog have more spice. If a Sabrett is bland, than the Vienna would have to be considered less than bland.

Your comments welcome. Especially if you've tried a dog in or around Jersey.

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  1. Many chicagoans skip the salad dogs, too. Me, I'm happy with just mustard, or maybe some onions/pickle added as well.


    14 Replies
    1. re: Ed Fisher

      Lifetime Chicagoan here and I definitely skip the salad sog....I mean dog :-)

      Good mustard and some celery salt is about it for me. I do use ketchup on occasion but more for color than anything, I'm not a fan of lettuce, onions, tomoatoes, etc. on the dog. Oh some kosher dill relish sometimes as well, I loves me my pickeled foods.

      I will take a few sport peppers on the side and munch on them as I eat, usually in conjunction with the pickle.

      1. re: Octarine

        I can't recall ever seeing anyone eat ALL that stuff ON their dog. Now picking the pickle and the peppers off and eating them by themselves, sure. But chomping into the so-called "salad dog," as if it were a sub with a hot dog in the middle of it, I don't know anybody who does that.

        Also, is lettuce even really one of the ingredients generally offered?

        1. re: Mike G

          That's how the dog is eaten, I'm sure. At least it was in Madison Park. Now some people may pick off the pickles and stuff, but I'm sure most Chicagoans agree that this dog is made to be eaten as is. As for lettuce, some places do use it. Byron,s for one.

          1. re: John Fox

            Okay, so we've proven that New Jerseyans eat a Chicago hot dog that way-- has anyone ever seen a Chicagoan do it? The possibility that it's an elaborate prank on out of towners remains...

            1. re: Mike G

              As I said, Byron's serves lettuce, and I'm sure that most of their customers are not from N.J. Other Chicago places also serve lettuce; I'll try and come back with some names.

              1. re: John Fox
                Vital Information

                Read the hot dog primer below. The salad on the bun is found in the contra, "tastee" school of Chicago hot dogs, a style that has mostly dissipated from the scene. Hence, the disdain expressed above for lettuce/salad.

                Also, the Danny Meyer carts in New York, according to the articles kind of poach their dogs in a weiner courtboullion, loaded with various herbs and spices. I have no idea if this helps or hurts the hot dog.

                For what its worth, having eaten Gray's and Nathan's, I prefer Vienna.



                1. re: Vital Information

                  I agree that the places serving lettuce are in the minority, but they do exist. As a result, this type of dog is the one stereotyped and put down by a lot of people. I still think that there is too much stuff on a Chicago dog; and , as I said, ingredients like sports peppers and relish hide the taste of the dog, which, in my opinion, should be the focus of the experience. At Danny Meyers, I had the loaded Chicago dog, and another dog with just the Vienna Frank and mustard so I could taste and judge the dog.

                  As mentioned, the dogs are boiled in a broth containing onions, garlic, coriander, and other spices. This is how I had them, and they were still bland. Taste is subjective; I prefer a hearty, flavorfull Nathan's or Sabrett dog grilled and slightly charred. You prefer the less agressively spiced Vienna boiled. I wonder how much of what we prefer is a result of what we grew up eating?

                  In Jersey, we have 2 main types of hot dogs, all beef, and beef and pork. These are then further broken down into cooking methods. So we have a lot of dogs to choose from. Have you ever had a Thumann's frank? German style beef and pork that is tasty without being very spicy. Or a Usinger's? I believe that they are available in Chicago. This dog is similar in spicing to a Sabrett or Nathan's. And what's the deal with Fluky's? I spoke with someone from Klement's (A Milwaukee sausage company) who told me that they provide Fluky's with their dogs. Yet the Vienna Beef sign hangs over at least one Fluky's. And I also heard that someone who worked at Vienna and was a part of the family owning it left to start his own company in Chicago. And that they supply many places. I'm assuming that these other brands (especially Best Kosher) appeal to people like myself who prefer a bolder tasting dog than Vienna.

                  1. re: John Fox

                    Red Hot Chicago began making hot dogs in 1986. Check for the history and connection to Vienna Beef. Fluky's are now available at food stores in the Chicagoland area. The Fluky recipe is made by Klements. Only a rabbit eats lettuce on a hot dog in Chicago. A char cheddar dog or Polish with grilled onions from Poochie's in Skokie would convert anyone from anywhere!

            2. re: John Fox

              Byron's on Irving Park is what I was thinking of when I typed in lettuce, on reflection I do not see lettuce on a regular basis but then again hot dog stands are not high on my list of places to have a snack. I'd m,uch rather get a taco or a bahn mi or some xlb or a chicken boti paratha get the picture.

            3. re: Mike G

              I'm more of a "Polish with mustard and grilled onions" girl, myself.

              ps - no, I have never seen lettuce as an option in Chicago, and when done with the right dog, it shouldn't be skinless.

              1. re: Mike G


                I have also not seen cucumbers. I have never seen lettuce. I see sauerkraut available but it is for out-of-towners who feel it must be present. Chicagoans are very accomodating to guests.

                My hot dog is mustard, relish, (lots of) onions, a dill pickle spear, two tomato wedges and sport peppers. All on a poppy seed bun. No celery salt, which some people like. The sport peppers I lift off and give to my Dad.

                I also like Leek's Polish, grilled onions and mustard from Jim's near Maxwell Street.


                1. re: Cathy2

                  I, too, like mine with mustard, relish, tomatoes & pickles. I leave off the raw onion but add celery salt. Yum. I often get my hot dog fix at Best Kosher's Outlet Store in Highland Park. (They are strictly Kosher, so don't try to go there on a Saturday.) My wife likes hers with ketchup (yucch!) and my son prefers plain, but all of us like the hot dogs from Best.

                  How come so much talk about Vienna Beef and no mention of Best Kosher? They also have outlet stores in Morton Grove and at 1000 W. Pershing in Chicago (I think it's next to the plant).

                  I know that Best Kosher is now owned by Sara Lee Corp., but according to their website, it's still run by a great grandson of founder Oscar Oscherwitz.

            4. re: Ed Fisher

              My ideal hot dog:Meat.Into the bun.Into the hand.Into the mouth.Any former plant life just hides the taste and the texture.

            5. Oh John! How can you say such bad things about the Chicago salad dog? When I commented on it, strictly to stir it up, I was taken to task by half of ChiTown.

              Now, amazingly so, these first two local posters have responded to your comments and they are not fighting! Frankly speaking, I could personally live with the salad. Its the quality of that hot dog that I take issue with. A boiled skinless dog just doesn't cut it. With a Sabrette natural casing dog, it might be able to overcome all that salad. Well....not really.

              This should be very interesting though. If Jim Leff allows this to go on for any length of time, the whole fight, NY vs ChiTown, could start up once again - What fun. Sort of like the Hatfields and the McCoy's?

              We are really looking forward to our visit to Chicago in mid-September. We have heard only great things about the city. I hope the Cubs are still in the race by then. There is hope for them since they will be playing the Mutts when I attend Wrigley - a childhood dream. Sure looks like they will at least have the Sox in the playoffs anyway. Congrats.

              My hopes are for a great lunch at The Weber Grill since this is a very unique situation for me - I use to design restaurant kitchens for a living. To actually use outdoor charcoal grills beneath a conventional restaurant hood/exhaust system is going to be terrific. I loved their menu on the Net - If the food is as good as the interessting menu, it's going to be great.

              Looking forward to a steak and the town's unique Chicken Vesuvio at Harry Caray's ( We wanted to at least try one of the town's long time establishments) a somewhat upper end "Chinese style" meal at Ben Poa, a first experience with deep dish pizza at Gino's or Lou Malantis(?),fish at Catch 35 and a USA/French meal at Kiki's. It should all be great. The only thing we'll be missing is one of those famous salad dogs.

              John, thanks for stirring it up a bit - It's all in good fun and we all get to learn a little bit about each other and our foods. No harm done. Let's get it on.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Chuck

                Glad to hear that you will be visiting Chicago.

                I would like to take this opportunity to try to dissuade you from sampling Lou Malnati's. As someone who has grown up eating Lou's, I can sincerely say (IMHO) that, as of late, their pizza has declined in quality. Others,however, may disagree with my opinion.

                If you would like to experience the quintessential Chicago style pizza, I would suggest Pizzeria Due.

                1. re: cito

                  Just had Lou's in Lincolnwood yesterday. Medium butter crust sausage. It was delicious and has not changed one bit in the twenty years I've been enjoying this pizza. I highly recommend it as one of the best examples of it's kind. I cannot recommend (alas) any of Lou's other locations. Lincolnwood gets it right.

                  1. re: bryan

                    You can't recommend other locations because you haven't been to them, or because you have and found them lacking?

                    1. re: Mike G

                      I've been to two other locations and they just weren't the same. Sad to say, but true. Have heard the same comment from several Lou's lovers.

                2. re: Chuck

                  re: Weber grill

                  Once you get past the somewhat campy, canned service and atmosphere of Weber, the steaks are wonderful. I put my rare filet from Weber right there with steaks I've had at a couple of the $teak place$ that were 1-1/2 times as expensive. Enjoy- the place smells wonderful and there is a thin cloud of smoke throughout the restaurant, quite unique really.

                  btw- I enjoy the salad dog (tomato slice, pepper, cucumber, seasoned salt and mustard), although it is better with a nice Hebrew National or Best Kosher imo. I've taken to making these at home.

                  1. re: Chuck

                    To me, the real dog in Chicago is at Superdawg's or Demon Dogs - a local place where you hang out with the crowd. The places are half the fun in having the dog. Mustard's Last Stand, Fluky's, Wolfy's, etc. are other places.

                    As to Harry Caray being a traditional Chicago place - puh-lease!!! A relative newcomer! Berghoff's is one of the places to go to for tradition. Great German-American food (and their own beer) at pretty reasonable prices. Best steak in Chicago - Gibson's and Gene and Georgetti's are my faves - but watch out for the Kinzie Chop House - they have some great stuff and a super wine selection too.

                    Best new place - Nine (near the Thompson Metra Train Station) - expensive, but worth the money!

                    Salad dog? Ha! Chicago is the hot dog capital of the country - everyone else is just faking it! ;)

                    All in good fun!

                    - Riff

                    1. re: Riffster

                      Hot dog capital of the country? Maybe in terms of hot dog joints per square mile. But then again, New York has a cart on every corner. I would say New Jersey is the hot dog capital of the world. Other than your differences in types of toppings (lettuce or no) described as traditional or "tastee" styles, your dogs are fairly similar. Similar ingredients with 80 to 85% of the places using one brand of dog.
                      In Jersey, we have many different styles and types of dogs as described before. Greater variety. And places that sell thousands of dogs a day (Rutt's Hut, Hot Grill, Texas Weiner ll). A few places are open almost 24 hours. The one type of dog not sold is the Chicago Hot Dog. Hopefully that will change soon. There is a small cart off a highway in South Jersey that sells the Vienna franks with some of the toppings that are used on a Chicago dog, but I would not consider this to be an authentic example.

                      1. re: Riffster

                        Also, I wouldn't suggest Catch 35 as your fish choice. I haven't been in a while, but you might want to check out what has been pretty negative reviews of it on this board. Shaw's Crab House and even McCormick & Schmick have gotten more favorable notice.

                    2. r
                      Ric (from Florida)

                      I never like to miss an opportunity to mix it up with John Fox. My contribution is simply to say thanks to Chicago for introducing this Floridian-New Yorker to sport peppers! Just today, we had grilled "Belly Buster" hot dogs for lunch (a Florida over-sized favorite) and among other condiments, had to add my sport peppers! Never had one until about a year or two ago, and they are not sold just anywhere in Florida. I found a hot dog place in Orlando that has all the Chicago condiments shipped in, and he keeps me supplied with sport peppers. My southern "hi, y'all" to John, V.I., and All!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Ric (from Florida)

                        Rick - Just wondering, aside from the poppy seed roll and the Vienna Beef dog itself, why is it necessary to ship in the remainder of the items found on a Chi Dog?

                        Those little peppers? Aren't they available in other cities? The flat sliced cuke/pickle, yellow mustard, tomatoes, and the rest of the salad items? Aren't they available in any city?

                        Please explain althought you are probably right because Danny Meyer, a pretty famous NY chef, also felt it necessary to import everything for his version of the ChiDog from Chicago as well.

                        Thanks in advance for the education.

                        1. re: Chuck

                          Re: your very special ingredients- no, they are not available down here (Florida), alas! And you can probably tell from my posts, I am the type of 'hound who has looked, too! Sport peppers? Totally unique to your neck of the woods. Other various and sundry peppers abound, but sport peppers??? Nooooo. How about flourescent green relish? Someone, it may have been Vital Information, posted about a year or more ago, that the bright green of Chicago is exactly the same as regular relish, but we have all come to think of it as something special, and so- is it available anywhere near me? Nooooo! And most hot dog stands that try to tell Floridians they are getting a Chicago 'dog, don't bother bringing in the bright green, IMHO. Finally, your wonderful hot dog buns with poppy seeds: the bakery dept at Publix has told me they will do up a special order for me, but I haven't put them to the test yet. Plainjane buns around here, for the most part. Sesame seeds? Would Chicagoans be impressed? I think not. So, that's the scoop on why I make a run over to the guys in Orlando who can sell me my peppers and relish, and a couple of poppyseed buns for the freezer. (I think I've seen a lot of ketchup for sale in Florida, though...bite my tongue!)

                          1. re: ric
                            Todd Schumacher

                            They just opened a "Game Dawgs" over by Arbor Green in North Tampa - they have arcade games and sell the Chicago Style Hot Dog that I have recently started to read about. The opened three days ago. I'll get the address or phone number if you are intersted.

                      2. From one who was raised in Chicago and lived in New York City for several years (and used to dine on Sabrett's outside the library at CCNY and outside the Metropolitan Art Museum): I don't know if it's fair to compare Chicago hot dogs to New York or New Jersey hot dogs, any more than it's fair to compare New York pizza to Chicago pizza. They are two totally different critters, and I think that each should be appreciated and compared only against those within their own ranks or types. (Some of my colleagues who have done time at the prison in Hyde Park, Chicago--and I know you are out there, I have seen your posts and I have also met with you--would appreciate this perspective.) In other words, I think that Fat Johnnie's should be compared against Fluky's, but Sabrett's should be compared only against Nathan's or Papaya King's. I think that there are good Chicago style hot dogs (and pizza)and bad Chicago style hot dogs (and pizza), and I think that there are good New York style hot dogs (and pizza) and bad New York style hot dogs (and pizza). So there.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Bruce

                          One more thing: Lettuce is some kind of weird abomination that I've heard about but have never really seen on Chicago hot dogs. Some may disagree with me on this issue, but they are, no doubt, callow and pimple-faced youths. The same applies to catsup (or kethchup or whatever): verboten. Your standard Chicago dog includes (besides weiner WITH CASING and bun (preferably with poppy seeds)): bright yellow mustard, flourescent green relish, chopped raw onions, wedges of tomato, sport peppers, and celery salt. Slices of pickle and/or cucumber optional. An acceptable variation: Topped only with mustard, onions, and chile. Don't get steered wrong.

                          1. re: Bruce

                            Bruce - In NJ, the bright green relish you are alluding to is called Emerald Relish.

                            We also have ordinary pickle relish (the traditional green - yet sometimes even a little dull green because the pickles are dills), red relish, which actually has bits of red peppers and tomato paste mixed in, and yellow mustard and relish mixed together (Rutt's Hut).

                            You'll find a wide variety of relishes in the deep fried dog places (pork/beef)in NJ like Hirums in Ft. Lee, NJ. The main reason that these deep fried dog places have varieties of relish and most have terrific brown mustard is the dog itself is somewhat bland. But, the crispy natural casing of the dog, the extreme heat when you bite into these blown up babies and those wonderful relish/mustard combinations make for a great eating experience. It is a unique product.

                            And, a Yoo Hoo or frosted mug of Birch Beer is a must to accompany it! Do they have Birch Beer in ChiTown? For those unfamiliar with Birch Beer, it is red in color and tastes like a less sweet version of Root Beer. Its really good.

                            1. re: Chuck
                              Judy LaBarbera

                              Help!! Trying to find Emerald (bright green relish) for my sister's birthday. She lives in Mi. and hasn't been able to find any and neither have I. If you can help it would be fantastic . Thanks

                            2. re: Bruce

                              I agree with Bruce - lettuce does not belong on a chicago-style hot dog. neither does catsup.

                              I'd also add that boiled is not necessarily the only way a chicago-style is done. Steamed or charred are also acceptable. Charred (from weiner circle) is my preference.

                              thank you john fox for your detailed report. for myself, I cannot tell the difference in flavor between a hebrew national, a best kosher and a vienna beef. your palate is far more refined than my own. you really ought to visit us and try Weiner Circle and Superdawg for yourself.

                              1. re: SC

                                I don't know what Superdawg uses but in terms of its garlic quotient it seems closer to a Nathan's type than most Chidogs. Plus it has a lot of other things going for it...

                                1. re: Mike G

                                  Superdawg uses a frank from Best's Kosher called Sinai 48. I believe at least one Fluky's uses a dog from Klements in Milwaukee. If you have been eating Vienna franks for a long time, I'm sure you can tell the difference. I would prefer the tastier ones from Klement's or Best, but then again I wasn't raised on Vienna. As someone from Chicago said, "Vienna isn't the best dog, but it's what we use here and considered the Chicago dog."

                            3. re: Bruce

                              Bruce- You are absolutely correct! I strongly just believe in comparisons, but they should probably be done within a particular city - especially if they are so different like thin vs thick crusted pizzas.

                              But, perhaps you'd agree that something more generic, like a burger or a steak, could be put to a comparison test on a more national basis?

                            4. Italian style hot dogs (made the original way) are also found in Central New Jersey at "Jersey Joe's"