Home Taste Food & Spirits Hot Dogs, Cherry Pie, and the Fourth of July

Hot Dogs, Cherry Pie, and the Fourth of July

July is here and summer activities are in full force. One of the biggest American holidays is upon us – the Fourth of July. And what is more American than hot dogs and cherry pie?

As American as hot dogs are, there is certainly no one way to eat them. Hot dogs have developed regional flairs. Being a Chicago girl, I was lucky to be raised on the best hot dog ever made, the Chicago style dog. Now, I visited a friend of mine in New York, and she insisted that the classic NY water dog is the best. She was wrong, but I did enjoy that hot dog. So, this month, we decided to take the hot dog to the next level and see how other parts of the country celebrate the iconic hot dog. Plus, a cherry pie for the Fourth of July, because… it’s ’Murica!

Chicago Style Hot Dog
I think it is important to start with the best hot dog ever made in this country. The one and only Chicago style hot dog. Okay, perhaps I am a little biased, but there are two things true Chicagoan’s are diehard about, hot dogs and Italian beefs. It’s all about hometown pride. Just as turkey and dressing sandwiches are to Dubuque, the Chicago dog is to Chicago.

The Chicago dog has the most ingredients out of all of the regional hot dogs favorites and a Chicago dog is put together in a specific fashion – to ensure you get all the ingredients in every bite. It is often ordered by saying “I’ll have a Chicago dog with ‘the works’ or ‘dragged through the garden.’” You can certainly get a Chicago dog without some of the ingredients, but what you can’t get, ever, is a Chicago dog with ketchup. EVER! Ketchup on a Chicago dog is sacrilege, anarchy, unspeakable! There are even signs in many restaurants that say they are NK-17. No Ketchup over the age of 18.

What makes them so special? The all-beef hot dog is dressed with the signature neon green relish, mustard, kosher pickle slice, tomato, sport pepper, and celery salt, all on a soft, steamed poppy seed bun. It is a meal on a bun, exploding with spice and tang absorbed by chewing warm dough and a steamed dew that bursts in your mouth. It’s heaven! The Chicago is easy to make at home and will knock it out of the park at your next cookout.

All beef hot dogs (Vienna Beef are traditional, but we also like Nathan’s)
Black poppy seed buns
Sweet relish (Chicago is known for it’s neon green relish, which some stores do carry)
Yellow mustard (any brand will do)
Sport peppers
Kosher pickle spears
Diced white onion
Sliced tomato (half moon)
Celery salt

Chicago dogs are steamed, as is the poppy seed bun. A gentle steam keeps the hot dog from bursting and keeps the dog itself nice and juicy. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the temp down until a slight simmer remains and place the desired number of hotdogs into the water and cook, uncovered, for twenty minutes.

Just before your hot dogs are ready, take poppy seed bun and wrap a slightly damp paper towel around the bun and place in in the microwave for 10 seconds. Remove hot dog from the steam bath and place into the warm bun. First squeeze the yellow mustard on your dog, you can either zig-zag across the dog, or go straight up the side of the bun. Next, add a line of the sweet relish along the dog, followed by a couple spoonsfuls of diced white onion. Now, add two tomato slices, a pickle spear and two sport peppers. You finish your Chicago dog off with a dash or two of celery salt. Now, sit back and close your eyes and you can almost feel the breeze from Lake Michigan blow across your face while you enjoy an iconic Chicago hot dog.

NYC Dirty Dog
New York is known for its street food carts. In how many movies and television shows based in NYC have you seen someone get a hot dog on the street? They are everywhere. There are two distinct ways to get a NY hotdog: one is with mustard and sauerkraut and the other is with sweet onions in a tomato sauce – some choose to have it all. Street venders store their unsold hot dogs in a warm water bath, giving them the moniker “dirty water dog,” as the water looks dirty from the oils in the hot dogs. Although there are many who make their own sauerkraut, and it is awesome if you do, we are using jarred kraut for this recipe with a focus on how to make the signature sweet onion sauce of the dirty dog.

All beef hot dogs (Hebrew National or Nathan’s)
Plain hot dog buns
Spicy brown mustard
Sweet onion sauce (recipe below)

Sweet Onion Sauce (3-4 servings):
2 tbs. vegetable oil
2 medium white onions, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup ketchup
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon

In a small saucepan, heat vegetable oil until just shimmering. Add onions and stir well, reduce heat to medium and sauté onions until soft, stirring often to keep onion from burning. Once soft, add water, ketchup, pinch of cinnamon and salt, and mix well. Cook, stirring constantly, until water is reduced by about half, about 20 minutes. If you see the ketchup or onion beginning to brown or burn, lower heat and continue to stir. Remove from heat and cool. The sweet onions can be served on top of hot dog at room temperature or warm. Store any leftovers in a sealed container.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and place desired number of hot dogs into boiling water and lower to a simmer and for about ten minutes, then turn heat to low and keep the hot dogs in the warm water. Take a bun and wrap it in a slightly wet paper towel and microwave for 10 seconds.

Open steamed bun and place your dirty dog in the bun. Squeeze spicy brown mustard on hot dog, line the dog with your sweet onion sauce, place a healthy mound of sauerkraut on your dog and you’ve got yourself a real NYC street cart dog. Now all you need is a New York accent and you are a New Yorker!

You can also skip the sauerkraut and just do the spicy brown mustard and sweet onion relish. The relish is available pre-made online from Sabrett’s. They are THE NY/NJ sweet onion sauce. Often, you see food carts with the Sabrett’s logo and you know it’s going to be good.

Fairmont Style West Virginia Hot Dog Sauce
I’m taking a stroll down memory lane to my days in West Virginia, when my “wasband” was courting me. He would take me to visit his family in Fairmont, WV. My first time there, he said we had to get a hot dog from this place in town that had the best hot dog sauce. Hot dog sauce? What the heck is that? Ketchup?

Hot dog sauce is something completely unique to this region. It’s something similar to chili, but not. The consistency is thinner and it’s not a chili, it’s hot dog sauce, and that’s that! West Virginians take great pride in the regional fare and they are extremely protective of their family recipes. This regional dish is a big part of their food culture and recipes vary from county to county. I asked a friend from West Virginia if she could share her hot dog sauce recipe with me, and in true Southern recipe fashion, I was given a big, fat “NO!” Sorry, it’s a family secret. Sigh… So when I stumbled across this recipe for a Fairmont hot dog sauce, I got so excited I made Carolyn go to the store and by all the ingredients immediately. This sauce is so good, you will find yourself wanting hot dogs a lot more often. This recipe makes a lot of sauce, but once you taste it, you’ll be glad you made extra. It freezes well and is easy to portion out in smaller containers for when you just need a West Virginia style hot dog.

1 tbs. olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
5 lbs. ground beef
1/4 lb. ground pork
1 tbs. black pepper
1 tbs. Salt
3 tbs. chili powder
4 tbs. crushed red chili pepper (medium hot)
1 32 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14 or 15 oz. bottle of ketchup
1 small can tomato paste
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 dash Tabasco sauce

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat, until shimmering. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Crumble the raw hamburger and ground pork and add to the pot. Lower heat and cover with water and cook for one hour, uncovered, adding more water if necessary and stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients and cook covered over low heat, just simmering, for two more hours.

If you prefer a thinner sauce, add more water half way through the final two hours. For thick sauce, cook down, uncovered for a while longer.

Not called “chili” around these parts, it’s “hot dog sauce” and this style of sauce, or some variation of it, is found in all of the dog stands in Fairmont, WV and in most of North Central West Virginia.

Flint-Style Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce
Another regional hot dog takes us to Michigan for the classic Coney Island Chili Dog. In southeastern Michigan, the Coney Island dog stems from the 24-hour diners of the area that served a grilled hot dog topped with a special bean-less chili, or sauce, as the Michiganders call it. They were so popular, many versions have popped up all over the region. This recipe is a Flint, MI-style sauce, which is a dryer sauce than you would find in Detroit, where a Coney Island sauce is wetter and often served with a fork or spoon to be sure you get up every morsel of meaty goodness. The preferred grind on the ground beef for this sauce is very fine. If you have a butcher, you can ask them to give your ground beef a very fine grind. If you are just getting ground beef from the grocery store, simply break up the meat as much as you can.

1 lb. 85/15 very finely ground beef
2 1/2 tbs. grape seed oil
1 medium onion, diced very fine
2 tbs. smoked Spanish paprika
1 tbs. granulated garlic
2 tbs. ground cumin
2 tbs. chili powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
All beef hot dogs grilled until nicely marked and charred
Plain hot dog buns
Diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Maui
Yellow mustard

In heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add oil and heat until shimmering. Add onion and sauté until soft and transparent, about ten minutes. Add spices and stir, toasting the spices until quite fragrant, about two minutes. Add hamburger and sauté over low heat, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through. Drain off fat.

To serve a Coney Island hot dog, wrap bun in slightly damp paper towel and cook for ten seconds in the microwave. Place grilled hot dog in the bun and cover the hot dog with your Coney sauce, a hearty squeeze of yellow mustard, and sprinkle with diced onion.

All-American Cherry Pie
Now that we have our hot dog fix covered, what else screams summer more than pie? Below is a great recipe for the quintessential summer cookout dessert. There are many short cuts one can take with this recipe, from purchasing a pre-made piecrust to buying a pre-made cherry filling. If you are in a pinch for time, either substitution will still lead to great results and a real crowd pleaser on a summer eve.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbs. sugar
12 tbs. unsalted butter, chilled
8 tbs. vegetable shortening such as Crisco or Earth Balance, chilled
8 tbs. ice water

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Cut butter into smaller pieces and add to food processor. Pulse a few times. Cut shortening into smaller pieces and add to food processor. Pulse a few more times until butter and shortening are the size of peas or smaller. Transfer to a large bowl. (You can do all this with a pastry blender instead if you don’t have a food processor.)

Sprinkle three to four tablespoons of ice water over the dough mixture at a time, mixing and pressing with a sturdy rubber spatula until the dough comes together. Divide into two, lay each half on a piece of plastic wrap and form and press into a disk, and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.

(Another option is to buy a pre-made piecrust and just fold it out over your pie pan. We are very fond of the piecrust from Aldi, in the refrigerated section.)

3 15 oz. cans tart cherries in water
4 tbs. cornstarch
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
Scant 1/4 tsp. almond extract

(Alternatively, you can buy a pre-made pie filling that you simply pour straight into your pie crust and proceed to the top crust and bake.)

Make the pie filling by mixing the three cans of cherries (with the juice from one can) with sugar, cornstarch, salt, and almond extract in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat for about ten minutes, stirring regularly, or until the liquid is thick and bubbly (partially gelled). Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and place on a lower rack (to catch any potential drips).

Sprinkle the counter with flour and roll out the bottom piecrust, allowing one to two inches extra dough to cover the edges of the pie dish. Arrange in pie pan. Pour your cooled pie filling in the pan.

Roll out the top crust. Use a sharp knife to cut the top crust into strips for a lattice crust or use a cookie cutter to make other designs.

Either drape your top crust over the pie, if you used a cookie cutter design, or weave your traditional lattice crust.

Trim the edges of the top and bottom crust to half inch beyond the pie pan and then fold under. Either crimp edges with your finger or press the tines of a fork into the dough to seal it.

Brush the crust with a beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees F, then lower the oven temperature to 375 F and add a piecrust shield (or a foil tent with the center cut out) to protect the outer edges of the crust from burning. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the crust looks nicely browned and the juices bubble up thickly.

Remove from the oven and let cool for three hours or so before eating. This is the really hard part, but allowing it to fully cool helps the filling gel properly. Plus, it looks and smells so nice sitting on the table!

This cherry pie is delicious with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy the summer sun and your cookouts! We will see you next month with things to do with your garden bounty. Bring your appetite!

Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.


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