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Thoughts on the chili dog

When I'm cooking for myself my eating habits tend to resemble laboratory test procedures: fixate on one food, cook it every which way until I get it exactly how I want it, eat it for every meal until I'm sick of it, then become obsessed with something else. Last week it was romaine lettuce salads, the week before that it was roast chicken leg quarters. This week for some reason I have an inexplicable fixation on chili dogs. After doing my standard futzing around with the preparation I've come to a few conclusions:

1) I can't make a better hot dog chili than Wolf brand no beans, with a little cayenne added
2) Any cheap bun will do as long as it's softened up for 20 seconds in the microwave
3) Likewise, a stripe of the cheapest yellow mustard on top of the chili provides just the right vinegar tang. More expensive mustards don't work.
4) The quality, casing, and animal of origin almost doesn't matter as long as you get a good crisp char on the outside.

What do you think? To my palate the above chili dog tastes great, but I don't like these findings because I know better chili dogs are out there. I'd love a great homemade chili recipe, for example. Any tips and tricks for improving the home chili dog are welcome.

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  1. The key for me is judicious use of the chili.

    Never use so much that a chili dog becomes a knife-and-fork endeavor.

    Never use so little that the mustard is the dominant flavor.

    Use just enough that you can pick it up in one hand, open wide, and take a nice even bite without the chili spilling over the bun, or squirting up your nostrils when you bite down on the dog.

    It's what I call the "Goldilocks effect of Chili Dogs"

    1 Reply
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Agree with RMJ and ipse. My only additions to their observations are that diced raw onion and grated extra sharp cheddar make a sublime C-dawg even better.

    2. I love chili. I love hot dogs with mustard. I cannot abide the two combined. Yuck. Just plain yuck. However, I will happily agree that Wolf's is the best canned chili I've tasted yet.

      3 Replies
      1. re: rockycat

        Mustard on Chili Dogs is extremely prevalent. In fact, I think more common than not.


        1. re: Davwud

          I agree w/Davwud - I have assumed - wrongly, I guess - that mustard is a default on a chili dog. I like onions, too, but I am used to having to ask for the onions to be added.

          1. re: jeanmarieok

            I'm used to being asked if I want it. Skyline Chili for example. Now, if you go to Va or WVa and ask for a dog "The Works" or to Carolina and ask for "All the way" you'll get mustard. As well as chili, cheese and slaw.

            Some dogs taste better and others don't. My general rule still applies here. It's you food, eat it how you like it.

            One thing that I was surprised to find is that hot dog chili is not eatin' chili. Most often they're made somewhat differently. Most hot dog chili's aren't that great on their own and most eatin' chilies aren't great on dogs. YMMV.


      2. I can enjoy either a light chili hand held model like ipsedixit or a sloppy knife and fork job with a full cup or so of chili on it.

        I like mustard, onion, and pickle relish in either case. If I have good tomatoes in the garden I also like diced tomato on it.

        Will have to look for the Wolf chili because I've never had a canned chili that was even close to as good as a chili made from a packet of seasoning.

        4 Replies
        1. re: kengk

          Kengk, what is your preferred seasoning packet and how do you prepare it?


          1. re: RealMenJulienne

            McCormicks, hot. The only thing I do different from the package directions is that I usually cook a little onion with the meat.

          2. re: kengk

            If you haven't been yet, you have GOT to check out the chili dog at the Dinglewood Pharmacy lunch counter in Columbus. I'm with you on how you like your chili dog (messy with lots of chili, mustard, onion, pickles, and oyster crackers) and that's exactly how they serve it. They call it the "Scrambled Dog".

            1. re: 1POINT21GW

              It's been years since I've been to the Dinglewood. Several places around here serve scrambled dogs.

          3. I never tried (nor heard of) Wolf chili, but like kengk, I'm shocked to hear a home made chili cannot beat a canned version - and chili is way easy to make, even without a seasoning packet. (OK, not your guru bowl of red, I'm talking about your garden variety browned hash meat with onion, chili powder, and tomato sauce).
            Perhaps get fixated on chili and perfect that and move on to the chili dog?

            My preference: dog is boiled, not grilled or griddled.
            Mustard: like rockycat - on hot dogs, but not chili dogs.
            Small diced onion.
            Sprinkle of cayenne.
            Also, I like to open the bun wide when adding the chili, then let the beast rest a bit, maybe 4-5 minutes. This allows your softened bun (steamed) to soak up some of the goodness.

            3 Replies
            1. re: porker

              I can make a decent Midwestern or Texas Red to my satisfaction, but hot dog chili is a whole different thing. The processed salty blast of the canned stuff just seems to work better than anything I can come up with. Can you elaborate on your chili recipe? Specifically I'm wondering what thickener you use (if any)

              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                I think you're right to point out the difference between hot dog chili and (as I mentioned) a bowl of red.
                I ran a restaurant in another life and we sold chili dogs. It was a simple chili (and by god, we used beans), similar to Dirtywextraolives method below. Something like this;
                Brown ground beef (hash meat) and chopped onions (ratio is up to you).
                Near end of browning, sprinkle in chili powder to taste (doesn't have to be any fancy brand, just any old chili powder, but not to be confused with crushed chili or ground chili. Its a blend of spices called "chili powder". I think its this seasoning that'll give you the "salty blast").
                Stir while sauteing, kinda cooking the powder into the meat while still somewhat dry.
                Add tomato sauce (I use non-flavored, Hunts) and kidney beans with liquid (optional - I know this freaks some people out...)
                Stir and simmer until it reaches the consistency you want (no thickening agent).
                Thats it .

                Of course, theres the 'Michigan' in southern Quebec and upstate New York (and fringes of northern Vermont) which is a different animal altogether (and different from a coney dog as well). Maybe have a look here
                for various recipes - many people claim to have the 'original' recipe.

                1. re: porker

                  "Stir while sauteing, kinda cooking the powder into the meat while still somewhat dry."

                  I agree that cooking the chili powder/spices, or seasoning packet, into the meat before adding liquid greatly improves the flavor.

            2. Agree with your first three points. But for me, the hot dog MUST have a casing.

              1. Would LOVE to find a recipe for the "secret sauce" from a little hotdog place I stop at anytime I'm in that area. Not a typical chili? If it has tomato product in it... VERY little... NOT at all red. Has super-fine meat in it (assuming beef) and lots of onions.

                1. I think this debate can and will go on for decades if not centuries. LOL.

                  Fresh steamed bun, hot dog, French's yellow mustard, chili of choice, fresh chopped yellow onions. Done.

                  BUT-----------if it were only so simple.

                  I'm a midwesterner so I like Cincinnati chili and cheese coneys. I actually adore them. If not then a good homemade Michigan sauce or Texas red or if out the the can, Tony Packo's hot dog chili out of Toledo for me.

                  Wolf is among the best for national brands I think for chili though.

                  Hot dogs? Casing some days, non-casing others. Some days dirty water dogs, some days flat top fired. No grilled dogs tho. Too overpowering by the gas or charcoal.

                  It's all what you know and what you grew up with for the most part along with where you are in the USA or in the world.

                  1. I have been making chili for 30+ years and feel like I have finally hit it on how to make the best chili for dawgs.

                    Use 80/20 ground beef. Add salt, finely chopped onion, half a large onion for 1/2 lb. of beef. Brown the beef. Do not drain the fat. Use a Mexican brand of tomato sauce. I use El Pato jalapeƱo sauce, or Herdez, if I can't find el Pato. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes to thicken. Taste and add seasonings to your taste. Sometimes I add chili powder, sometimes none is necessary, but you don't have to season it so hard if you start out with a flavorful tomato sauce.

                    Agree with the rest of the suggestions, except I like to run ours under the salamander for a few minutes to melt all that grated cheddar cheese.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                      My SO's all for the melty cheese, too, but I think it's more flavorful when it's cool.

                    2. What other brands of chili did you try? Only because I've never seen Wolf, here in NY, but the hot dog trucks have several other favorites I'm familiar with. So I'm curious.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: coll

                        Hi, in addition to my own cooking attempts I have tried Wolf, Skyline, Hormel (ugh), Campbell's (too chunky), Sysco, and a few store brands (value time, shopper's choice, Aldi, etc). The Aldi house brand is actually surprisingly good on a dog. All of these were the no-bean variety because I am a firm believer that bean skins create a textural problem on chili dogs.

                        1. re: RealMenJulienne

                          Good to know. Have you ever heard of Chefmate, a lot of food wholesaler carry it? Just curious, until now I always heard that was the best, although most doctor it up a bit.

                          1. re: coll

                            It takes alot of "doctoring", it only comes in #10 cans and leftovers don't hold long, after a couple of days it get's an off taste. Alot of small diners and C-stores use it. I guess what I'm trying to say is it's lousy.

                      2. I love my mom's hotdog chili. I don't even eat the dog anymore, just chili on a bun. It's very simple. Fry the ground beef, crumbled, in a skillet. When the beef is almost all brown, add equal parts ketchup and water (for a pound of meat, about 3/4 cup each.) Then add chili powder mix, my mom uses McCormick, I like Penzey's medium heat mix. I have no idea of measurements, I add the chili powder until the sauce turns from red to brown, probably a couple of tablespoons in all. Stir really well and continue to cook until the sauce is at your desired thickness.
                        I eat the chili on a bun with mustard and shredded cheddar cheese.

                        1. I love Wolf's, though it's current incarnation isn't as good as it was back in the 70s. When I visit family in TX, I sometimes bring home a case. And, I can make good chili sauce from scratch. But, when I want a hot dog, I want it for a quick, mindless dinner or snack. I've found Castleberry's American Originals Chili (no beans) to be acceptable.

                          Oh, and I chop up onion and mix it with yellow mustard to sprinkle over the top. It's not a proper chili dog without the onion/mustard mix! :-)

                          1. I've never had any brand of canned chili that I thought was halfway good, except for maybe Steak 'N Shake. Even though I don't usually eat chili with beans it's tolerable every once in a while if I don't feel like making any especially with some vinegar from pickled peppers added, but not for a chili dog because it's mostly beans. Brands like Wolf are cheap school lunch type slop imo, other brands like the chunky ones or Hormel ones in glass jars are sickeningly sweet to me.

                            I make chili for chili dogs mostly the same way as normally. Toast dried peppers (usually ancho/New Mexico/cascabel base plus chiltepines and other hot ones), cumin, and some black pepper in a dry skillet then grind in my coffee grinder. Brown the meat, add fresh red jalapenos or cherry peppers, then add onions, then garlic to the pan, add then ground peppers/cumin/black pepper and cook a little longer. De-glaze the pan with stock (beef or chicken) or beer, then add to a pot, plus some water/stock or beer. Put some fire roasted tomatoes and a can of chipotles with adobo sauce in the food processor, puree and add to the pot. Let simmer for 4-5+ hours, taste, and adjust using sugar, vinegar, water, or whatever I think it needs. Then add some fresh oregano (usually Mexican, sometimes Cuban).

                            The main difference with chili for chili dogs is that I make sure when I brown the meat that I chop it very finely, and I go lighter on the liquid. Then after it's cooked I'll take a few cups of the chili, run it through the food processor, and add it back into the pot so it makes a less liquidy and thicker chili. I like to use Nathan's Hot Dogs and make sure the outside is a little crispy. Add the chili, some sharp shredded cheddar, a line of mustard, and some hot sauce.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: StringerBell

                              Wow. As I type from my hammock with a beverage, that sounds like a lot of work for a chili dog!

                              1. re: Veggo

                                Were you Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes in another life?

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Probably only about 30 minutes, if that, of prep/cooking, since I'm prepping while cooking. Then I'm doing other stuff while it simmers. It's not like making tamales or homemade curry pastes or something, that's more like a job. :D

                                  By the way, the drink + hammock sounds really nice right now.

                              2. I like to partially split the dog before grilling, so it opens up at least part way. This provides extra crevice for the chili to go into and makes the dog easier to bite.

                                1. You are getting some great feedback. I am not familiar with Wolf brand chili. I don't know if you've run across a particular "chili" that makes a West Virginia hot dog, so I will post the recipe here. I put out this recipe on a "Slaw dog" thread a ways back, but you'd never find it unless you knew it was posted there. The WV dog includes your yellow mustard, but usually the buns are steamed. And you can add some of your favorite slaw or leave it off. Even West Virginians are split on that.
                                  I have never lived in WV, but in the past few years, have really come to love this stuff, and have met some very cool West Virginia folks in the process.
                                  Buzz shared this recipe with me and gave me permission to share it with the Chow Hound world:

                                  BUZZ' AUTHENTIC WEST VIRGINIA HOT DOG CHILI
                                  [Recipe from The Sanitary Hot Dog Restaurant, Clarksburg, WV]
                                  1/4 lb. lard (Crisco) [= 1/2 Cup +1+1/2 Tablespoons Crisco]
                                  1 large onion. chopped
                                  3 or 4 garlic cloves, chopped
                                  3 oz. hot chili powder
                                  2 Cups water
                                  5 lb. lean ground beef
                                  1/4 teaspoon allspice
                                  1+1/2 teaspoons paprika
                                  1/2 Cup cracker meal
                                  1+1/2 teaspoons salt
                                  Pepper to taste
                                  ***Note: Hot dog assembling instructions to follow.
                                  For the chili: A day ahead: In a heavy kettle (5- 6 quart), fry lard, onion, and garlic until tender (Flatlanders refer to this as saute.) Add chili powder. Fry (saute) 3 minutes and stir. Add water and cook 3 more minutes. Remove from heat. Add meat and mix until no lumps. I discovered this weekend a heavy duty potato masher is a good tool here. Put back on fire and stir for 10 minutes. Simmer for 1/2 hour.
                                  Take off heat and add allspice, paprika, salt and pepper, and cracker meal. Let cool, then pour into 9 x 13" (or so) dish. Place in refrigerator overnight.
                                  The next day, cut the chili mixture into 3" squares. Then you can wrap in foil and freeze. It freezes well. Buzz says, "it's better aged to perfection." However, at this step, you may want to keep enough out for the day's round of hot dogs!
                                  When re-heating frozen squares, add a little water.
                                  *** For authentic Clarksburg, West Virginia Hot Dogs:
                                  Add mustard to steam heated buns (steam heat - we want the real deal.)
                                  Place weenie on bun.
                                  Add enough chili to cover weenies
                                  Sprinkle with chopped onions
                                  And as I quoted Buzz in my earlier post, "If you want to ruin it, add cole slaw like them Southern West Virginia hillbillies do."
                                  Per our measurements, this recipe makes enough chili to cover 60 hot dogs.

                                  Try it and post how you liked it,
                                  Florida Hound

                                  1. Growing up in Detroit, I was told that the "Coney Dog" was first offered by Gus Keros, a Greek immigrant in 1917 at the American Coney Island restaurant on Lafayette Street in Detroit (his brother subsequently the Lafayette Coney Island restaurant next door). Both restaurants are still going strong and Coney Dogs are found all over the metropolitan Detroit area.

                                    Although the term "Chili Dog" and "Coney Dog" are sometimes used interchangeably, the key difference to me is that Coney Dog sauce is a relatively thin beef sauce that never has beans. Many of the spices are similar to tradiitional chili but I would be surprised to see anyone eat a bowl of "Coney" sauce.

                                    A Coney Dog almost always consists of a steamed, grilled (flat iron grill not charcoal or gas) or boiling "dirty water" pork and beef hot dog (Koegel, Dearborn, and Kowalski are popular brands in Detroit) on a steamed bun with Coney sauce, yellow mustard, and chopped onions.

                                    Internet search will provide more detailed history on Gus Keros and the Coney Dog as well as his and other recipes for a proper Coney Sauce.

                                    A visit to Michigan is never complete for me without a Coney Dog meal (as well as some White Castle sliders but that's grist for another thread).

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: sandiegomike

                                      "Another thread?" Wish you hadn't opened this door, but I have relatives in Detroit, was raised in New York, and for this NY-now-Florida boy, "a visit to Michigan is never complete for me without...some White Castle sliders, but that's grist for another thread." There. I said it (You said it). Now, back to chili dogs, folks.

                                      1. re: sandiegomike

                                        "...but I would be surprised to see anyone eat a bowl of "Coney" sauce."

                                        Well said.
                                        I mentioned another discussion upthread - its titled "Your Best Michigan Sauce Recipe" and like the Coney Dog, many people think a Michigan is simply a chili dog. Others assume a Michigan is a Coney Dog.
                                        All are different and are based, in part, on region (although Coney Dogs aren't necessarily associated with Coney Island and Michigans are unheard of in that state...)
                                        I think I'll steal the quote - Michigan sauce might be compared to chili, but with a totally different seasoning set and I would be surprised to see anyone eat a bowl of it.

                                        There was a foodnetwork show (can't remember which one) which showcased the Keros brothers two restaurants awhile back.

                                            1. re: Davwud

                                              Yes, you may be right, but those two places were featured in a man v food episode also. I remember Adam Richman comparing the two different chili dogs.

                                      2. What i make are what we always called Coney Islands.
                                        My family always made them this way, but most other families i knew didn't.
                                        Cooked wiener of your choice in a bun, Chil on top (if using canned wolf Brand is good)
                                        no mustard.
                                        Chopped onions on top of that. Cover all with medium cheddar (now days we usually use Colby Jack since that is what seems to be in the house)
                                        Put in a baking dish and stick in a 350 degree oven until all the cheese is melted. The bread will get a little toasty. You want to crowd the dish a little so they don't open up and fall apart.
                                        And, yeah this is a fork required dish.
                                        All these other recipes sound pretty good. But for me this is perfect comfort food, combined with some fritos and a beer.

                                        1. Fried natural-casing hot dogs make all the difference. Then chili (no beans!) and chopped raw onions.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ZBeebs

                                            I usually like a natural casing all-beef but with chili dogs I think a softer skinless dog is actually better. It gives a cleaner bite through all the messy layers. The flavor tends to be milder too, which is good because it doesn't fight the chili.

                                            1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                              Totally agree. If I want a regular hot dog, I always go for the natural casing. When I want a chili dog, a plain old' skinless dog is the way to go.

                                          2. Make a batch of 2-Alarm chili using 80/20 ground chuck and substituting a can of Ro*Tel for the tomato sauce and chicken broth instead of the water. Skip the masa step.

                                            Use a Martin's potato hot dog roll, a simmered Nathan's frank, one stripe each of yellow mustard and Huy Fong Sriracha, top with chili, diced white onions and sharp cheddar cheese.

                                            1. There is a world of difference between a chili dog (lame-o generic thing) and a coney dog (original awesome thing). So let's focus on the coney. First off, if your coney sauce doesn't have beef heart in it, it ain't coney sauce. Secondly, the dogs should be steamed or boiled, or maybe flat-top grilled, but NEVER charcoal grilled. Thirdly, it must, must, must be served with mustard and onions. I don't even like raw onions that much, so I just brush most of 'em off, but the few that are left definitely add a little zip that makes a coney a coney. Michigan represent!

                                              1. I also am a Wolf's fan for chili dogs. Untoasted bun, hot dogs browned in a skillet, processed cheese sauce, diced tomatoes and chopped onions. And I'll take a plate, knife and fork, please :)