5 of America’s Glizziest, Gross-in-a-Good-Way Hot Dog Joints

Leave your self-worth at the door
5 of America’s Glizziest, Gross-in-a-Good-Way Hot Dog Joints

Whatever your taste buds’ opinion of the hot dog, it’s still among the most iconic foods in America. There’s maybe no better representation of this melting pot of a country than a little tube that’s itself a melting pot of every possible animal part. Despite the slander and common criticisms thrown its way, it weathers them all with a level of value that borders on mathematically impossible. There aren’t many meat products that clock in under a dollar apiece, well below that in bulk. It’s a proposition that makes the continued success of the hot dog inevitable.

It’s also not surprising that they’ve spawned pretty much an entirely independent genre of restaurant, buoyed by customers and operators alike that both are looking for minimal money outlay. Given that by definition hot dogs have a pretty limited ceiling, it’s on the providers to present them in a way that sets them apart. They’re a thin, wet canvas, an eager carrier of toppings and vibes alike. Crafting an enduring dog can even lock a good frankfurter distributor into local legend.

And so, let’s take a look at five of America’s great sausage-slingers…

The Wiener’s Circle

Chicago natives — and people on their first lease pretending to be — have very strict beliefs about their hot dogs. Ones that, uncharacteristically for the timid city, are delivered loudly, aggressively and usually with a light dusting of spit. The last sentence, of course, was intended to be swimming in sarcasm like a hot dog in sweet relish. I thoroughly enjoy Chicago, but in my experience, it’s basically like an entire city of mean older brothers. 

Attempt, or even mention, putting ketchup on a hot dog and you’ll immediately be put in the conversational equivalent of a headlock until you say “uncle.” If you want to absorb all this ambience in a short amount of time, the place to go is the famous Wiener’s Circle, a place known for their strict adherence to Chicago hot dogma as much as for their endearing verbal assaults on customers. If I’m going to get called “Zoloft Shrek,” I at least want to get a meal out of it.

American/Lafayette Coney Island

It’s a citywide icon of shameful eating, known to most locals as a “coney.” Should you want a meal that requires both an extreme amount of napkins and a slight abandonment of self-respect, American (or Lafayette, depending on who you talk to) Coney Island is a must-visit located in, confusingly, Detroit. The name supposedly comes from immigrants who may have inhaled a hot dog at Coney Island shortly after entering the country, and took that connection with them as they moved inland.

The Coney dog is a particular species within the greater genus of chili dogs. It’s topped with raw onions, yellow mustard and the titular “coney sauce.” Coney sauce is somewhere between a (bean free, Cincinnati-like) chili and what squirts out the side of a microwaveable beef burrito on an overzealous bite. It’s the kind of thing you could eat at noon dead sober and feel drunk. 

These might sound like criticisms, but instead, they’re central, beloved quirks. It’s the culinary equivalent of splashing around in a mud-puddle: pure, lizard-brained joy that reflects more poorly on the people scoffing at it.

Rutt’s Hut

On the side of the road in New Jersey is a hot doggery that’s managed, in what’s far from a one-horse-race, to repeatedly claim the title of the Best Hot Dog in America. That’s high praise. It’s like being named the best pizzeria in Italy, or the drunkest man in Munich. They did it by combining two powerful American loves: low quality meat and deep frying shit.

Deep-frying their hot dogs is their secret strategy, and one that shows their dedication to taste above all. The deep-frying process also leaves the dogs swollen, blistered and shattered, a presentation that would make a molecular gastronomist toss their tweezers aside and puke into their bowl of liquid nitrogen. Instead, they nicknamed them “rippers” and correctly assumed that if they tasted better that way, people would quickly get over the fact that they looked like a blacksmith’s finger after he missed a hammer strike.

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs

If you’re like me, the words “gourmet hot dogs” immediately raise your hackles. You’re expecting to get hit with a $7 up-charge because they use “stone-ground” mustard or grow their own bun wheat. Biker Jim’s, in Denver, once you take a look at the menu, earns the moniker. Not because of white tablecloths or a wine selection, but because they have a meat selection pulled straight from the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Is a hot dog made with other types of meat and in a natural casing even a hot dog? That’s the sort of academic argument that goes against the entire vibe of hot dogs, and not worth entertaining. What is entertaining is the sheer spread of species available tubed for your pleasure at Biker Jim’s. Never tried rabbit meat, or, even more unlikely, rattlesnake? Well you can check both boxes with a single hot dog, subject, understandably, to availability. Also available are boar and ostrich meat. It sounds less like a menu and more like a list of spirit animals.

Your Kitchen, Alone


Dinner for one.

Even when you reach fame to the point of ubiquity, it’s important to remember where you came from. Part of what makes the hot dog such an unquestionable totem of the casual American diet is its unassuming nature. With that in mind, even as we examine the glitz and glamour these cylinders of borderline offal have achieved, we must credit their purest form: boiled, alone, in a vulnerable human moment. 

To forget a hot dog’s base existence, twisting around a kitchen pot like a dull pink eel, is to forget its roots. Even in your darkest, most depressed days, the hot dog is here for you to make it slightly worse.

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