Whether they are steamed, boiled or grilled; made from pork, beef or poultry; hot dogs have been a staple of the American diet since German immigrants introduced them to the United States sometime in the mid-to-late 19th century.
The original hot dog, or the frankfurter, is believed to been developed in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1487, five years before Columbus landed in the New World.
Fast-forward 527 years and it is estimated that Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs per year, a study conducted by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council stated. Those 20 billion hot dogs are served in 95 percent of households nationwide and generated $2.5 billion in retail sales in 2013, with a majority sold around National Hot Dog Month in July.
Like barbecue or pizza, the ideal image of a hot dog varies depending on what region of the United States prepares it, and more specifically, what city.
To New Yorkers, a hot dog is an all-beef dog topped with steamed onions and deli mustard. In Chicago, the all-beef dog is often dressed with yellow mustard, dark green relish, raw onion, a pickle spear, sweet peppers and tomato slices in a poppy seed bun.
The southern United States consumes the most hot dogs of any region in the country and a Southern dog is usually a mix of pork and beef topped with slaw and chili.
To better serve all of his customers, Trolly Stop Hot Dogs owner Rick Coombs began offering a variety of hot dogs when he bought the original store on South Lumina Avenue in 1996. The varietals include the Original Trolly Southern pork and beef dog, the Sabrett all-beef dog, a Carolina pork smoked sausage, a vegetarian Smart Dog and a fat-free turkey dog.
Those varieties added to the list of different topping styles have most of his customers covered, Coombs said, with the Wrightsville Beach location averaging sales of 700 to 1,000 hot dogs per day during the summer.
“A regular hot dog to anyone is what is regular in their area of the country,” Coombs said from across the Trolly Stop bar while prepping for the lunch rush on Monday, July 21. “Different people come and they want different things.”
Coombs said the top sellers for Trolly Stop are the Surfer Dog with melted cheese, deli mustard and bacon bits, and the North Carolina Dog with homemade chili, slaw and deli mustard.
Another hot dog meat varietal unique to Maine and some parts of the South are those brightly colored, almost neon, red hot dogs.
Ever since she can remember, Judy Merritt of Merritt’s Burger House on Carolina Beach Road said red dogs have been a staple at the longtime Wilmington drive-up eatery.
“Everyone loves them,” Merritt said. “I think it is the color, everyone is drawn to the color red and they are seriously just very good wieners.”
In addition to the color, Merritt said diners keep coming back for their red dogs because their dogs have a lot of meat.
“We go with a wiener that has a good size to it; it is not like a little, old, dried-up wiener,” she said.
The toppings of choice for many that pull up to Merritt’s for a red dog are chili, slaw and onions, Merritt said.
Just north of Wilmington lies Lane’s Ferry Dock and Grill on the banks of the northeast Cape Fear River in Rocky Point. It was there that proprietor and head chef Kenny McManus dreamed up his unique Mac Attack Dog that is a Nathan’s all-beef dog wrapped in bacon topped with mustard, ketchup, onions, jalapenos, cheese, slaw and pickles.
McManus also offers a regular Nathan’s hot dog for those less adventurous eaters but said the deep-fried and grilled Mac Attack is one of a kind.
“I kept messing around with it; the Mac Attack came together and it became a really big hit,” McManus said. “Once people try that hot dog they will come back to it, but I sell more of the regular hot dog because people are kind of scared of it.”
Like meat blends and condiments, the hot dog bun is another area of contention among hot dog connoisseurs.
When it comes to the bun, McManus serves up his hot dogs in a toasted bun that is seasoned with a mix of spices he developed. Coombs steams traditional and gluten-free buns. Merritt’s serves its red dogs on steamed buns too, but will toast to order.