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Aug 13, 2008 12:46 AM

Perfect Chili Dogs

I too love the chili dog but I see I'm out of my league on this one. So I pose a philosophical chili dog question to my Chowhound peers so I can learn the ways of the the perfect chili dog served with a boiled dog or a flame grilled dog?

I prefer flame grilled for my regular hot dog but not sure how chili factors into the equation.

And as always, I want to use this soapbox opportunity to take another shot at Pink's, the most over-rated establishment in Los Angeles....

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  1. Ok, I'll chime in. The perfect chili dog is made with a Nathan's All Beef Dog that has been boiled for exactly four minutes.

    Background: There have been at least 3-4 CH threads in the recent past exhaustively dealing with hot dogs, chili dogs, and "dogs with sauce." There was no consensus, but LOTS of opinions. I researched this because I grew up in the Midwest (Kansas and Oklahoma and then went to Texas for college and then moved to California to go to graduate school and have never left California) and was a chili dog fanatic. There were wonderful dogs available there, one at a drive-in across the street from my father's piano and organ store in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I worked summers and on weekends. God those were great chili dogs!

    I've been in California since 1965 and have NEVER found an edible chili dog in the entire state, and believe me, I've repeatedly looked everywhere. So I decided I would have to make my own.

    Recently America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated rated both hot dogs and hot dog buns. Their tasting panel gave the nod to Nathans dogs and, believe it or not, plain old Safeway hot dog buns. They also had a consensus that the dogs should be boiled for four mintes and the buns should be briefly steamed. After experimenting, I completely agree. And the other two ingredients (besides chili) should be plain yellow mustard and finely chopped white onions.

    For chili: All canned chili is crap (when putting it on a chili dog). You have to make your own. One very important secret I got from reading the CH chili dog threads is that the hamburger should be 80/20 (grease is good!) and should be finely "smooshed," i.e. browned and broken up until the hamburger has been reduced to tiny bits (no clumps). The best way to do this is (beyond just using a fork to break up the clumps) by using a wire potato masher to repeatedly smash/break up the hamburger while it browns. This is really necessary and makes a great difference.

    Chili: Everyone has his own great chili recipe. For chili dogs I always use a prepared chili powder/seasoning mix made by Chili by Max. We discovered this in, of all places, Hawaii, where for a fast food lunch we wandered into the Chili by Max hot dog joint in Kailua-Kona on the big island. Their chili was just incredible--and perfect for a chili dog. They sell their "chili fixin's" by the packet (hot or mild) to make chili at home. We brought a half dozen packets back home and since then have bought them a dozen at a time by mail. (They do a large mail order business.) If you're interested, you can Google them or email me and I'll send you ordering information.

    In conclusion, for chili dogs, the dogs should be boiled but there is nothing wrong with briefly grilling them (in a skillet, on the stove) to finish them off. But I wouldn't bother. That doesn't really add anything to the "chili dog experience." Grilled hot dogs are great but a hot dog is NOT a chili dog. But this is all just my personal preferences.

    23 Replies
    1. re: dlglidden

      You've never had a Wienerschnitzel chili dog? They aren't gourmet but they're oddly tasty.

      1. re: aynrandgirl

        Actually, I have had Der Wienerschnitzel chili dogs and they aren't bad--perhaps the best I've had in the Bay Area--but they're a long way from "good."

        Ipsedixit: "Deep-fried? Are you serious? Is this your own recipe or are there actually commercial hot dog joints that deep fry their dogs?

        1. re: dlglidden

          Deep-fried? Yes.

          Just go to Jersey and you'll find a plethora of hot dog joints peddling deep-fried dogs. Ugly suckers, but damn tasty.

          If you're ever in the area, check out Rutt's Hut in Clifton.

            1. re: Bakersfield Hound

              That's a very interesting menu! I wasn't aware that one could get a Sonoran Hot Dog except in Phoenix, Tucson, and--of course--the state of Sonora. I may check it out this winter on my way to Mazatlán. Is their chili any good? Inquiring minds want to know.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              Only 'cause I watch the food network, but aren't the well-done fried weiners called 'rippers'?

              We used to make a version of whats known as a Texas Tommy: split a weiner open, fill with strips of cheese, fold back closed, spiral wrap with two pieces of bacon (held on with toothpicks) and drop in the fryer.
              Totally unhealthy (like a weiner is healthy to begin with), but it did have its following!

              1. re: porker

                Funny you should mention that, because I had posted on the "Ketchup on hot dogs" thread that I missed a hot dog that was split, filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon, that I used to have as a child in Chicago. Someone responded that it was called a Francheezie. I think it was pan fried, or on a grill. Now you have a different name but in a deep fryer. I may yet figure out how to make that artery clogging treat!

                1. re: danhole

                  Your first 10 or so will look sloppy, but as your wrapping technique improves (tightly wound around the dog) it'll look good.
                  If left too long in the oil, the cheese melts out.
                  Don't forget to remove the toothpicks...

                  1. re: danhole

                    cheese-filled bacon-wrapped doggies were a staple item of Girl Scout cuisine. We'd start them on top of the stove and finish them under the broiler, so as to get all the bacon cooked.

                    1. re: Sharuf

                      My family called them "Pigwinkles". We would broil them on tin foil...only used Oscar Meyer.... The best part was after the dogs were eaten...scrapping the cheese that leaked out off the tin foil....YUM!!

            3. re: dlglidden

              mr lidden, you never discovered the"Coney Island Reds" in two or thee ancient places in downtown Fresno when you arrived in 1965?

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka


                When I came to California in '65, Fresno was not on my route to SF from Houston. But since I came to the Bay Area I actually have been to Fresno several times and there are quite a few very good restaurants there. Are the "ancient places" that serve good Coney Island chili dogs still there? If so, I'll check them out the next time I'm in the central valley.

                1. re: dlglidden

                  I doubt it very much. They were downtown near the old (outdoor) Fulton mall and old even in the 50s. Classics and great, however. Ask some old timers if they remember them.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Coney Island is still downtown, at least last year. I get the urge for a couple of dogs and bowl of red, just can't make there as often. They are on Tulare street 2 blocks south of the old Fulton Mall.

                2. re: dlglidden

                  Can you get this "Chili by Max" online anywhere ?

                  1. re: Jimbosox04


                    Not to my knowledge. You can order by phone (808-325-7006) or you can fax your order to 808-325-7841 or you can snail mail them: PO Box 2892 Kailua-Kona, HI 96745. I order a case at a time (12 1.73oz seasoning packets). It's available in either hot or mild and the hot isn't super hot, it's just the "right hot."

                    Since I buy the stuff "by the case." it's been a couple of years since I last ordered from them but I think the information is current. The price at that time was $18.00 for 12 packets and the priority mail shipping charge was $6.95. It's probably a little higher now, hell, everything's higher now.

                    There's a place in Oahu which also distributes Chili by Max seasoning packets (or so the Internet tells me), but they don't accept on-line orders either: "It's Chili in Hawaii," 808-945-7070.

                  2. re: dlglidden

                    "The perfect chili dog is made with a Nathan's All Beef Dog that has been boiled for exactly four minutes."

                    Is that a Nathans All Beef Dog with natural casing?
                    Just an FYI, Nathan's grills their hot dogs.

                    1. re: monku

                      Yes. All the other dogs are skinless, but I doubt it matters much except for the "snap." I think all Nathan's dogs sold in supermarkets (and in restaurants) are the "original recipe."

                      I like grilled dogs at cookouts, but that's about it. "Indoor" hot dogs and chili dogs—IMO—should be boiled.

                      1. re: dlglidden

                        To be clear, they are not grilled, but griddled, i.e. done on a flattop. You can do the same at home in a skillet, prferably with just a touch of butter. That's what I do. For me, if you boil a hot dog you make it fit only to feed to your dog. Grilling is not much better. JMHO

                        1. re: johnb

                          Yes Nathan's cooks them on a griddle....not "grill" as in a BBQ.

                    1. My experiments with fried loose chorizo mixed in with hamburger meat failed miserably, but a chorizo based chili with minced onion and peppers works nicely on a hotdog.

                      1. Boiled or steamed dog, potato roll, a thin stripe of mustard, Cincinnati chili over the mustard (not too much that it slops all over the place), minced raw onions over that, cheese optional, Texas Pete hot sauce optional.

                        Best chili dog in the history of eating: Town Chef, off Weybosset St., Providence RI (in the mid-70's)
                        Best chili dog of modern day: Arbetter Hot Dogs, Bird Road, Miami, FL

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: HSBSteveM

                          And Cincinnati chili is . . .?

                          And about the only thing I can think of that you guys on the east coast have over us guys on the west coast is easy access to great hot dog joints. Out here, unfortunately, we have to make our own (no decent HDJs).

                          1. re: dlglidden

                            Probably lots of threads you can find on Cincinnati chili, but it has some basic elements that are unique:
                            - The consistency is fine (vs. coarse)
                            - It has a tomato base
                            - It is spiced with a hint of Cinnamon and/ or allspice

                            1. re: HSBSteveM

                              From my query about Cincinnati chili, I found out it is more of a greek or lebanese type recipe. A sauce more so than a chili.

                              1. re: danhole

                                Saucy, yes. Good description. That's more the consistency.

                                1. re: HSBSteveM

                                  The first, and last time, I had Cincinnati Chili I was expecting a chili flavor. Boy was my mouth surprised. So I came to the chowhounds and asked about it. Once I understood it's origins, I decided to give it one more try (haven't yet, though.) If they had put Cincinnati Sauce on the package I would have been prepared!

                                  1. re: danhole

                                    You raise a good point that is proven time and again. When you taste a version of something that is not "true" to the original, it is usually dismissed as "wrong", unless you are astute enough to educate yourself on its origins. I was introduced to "Cincy" chili when I worked at a chili joint in the DC area, accepted it for what it was, and it has become my favorite version ever since. It took me 15 years to perfect my own recipe for it.

                        2. I truly love a good hotdog. Chili dogs, even more. I won’t begin to discuss which is the best chili (I like mine with a bit of masa) – because that’d be like talking about which is the best religion … we all have opinions on the subject, but polite folk don’t go there … However, regarding the dog itself, the best comment I’ve heard that I agree with is the dog should bite back … i.e. it must have a an intact natural casing that bursts when you bite into it. (Easy when steamed - difficult if grilled.) Re mustard, I prefer deli-style. IMHO, we lost a great doghouse last year, which was The Weiner Factory, in Van Nuys. Snicker at the name if you will, but it was a noble pup.