So What Exactly is a Chicago Style Hot Dog?

A Classic Chicago DogBefore we explain what a Chicago Dog is and what makes it so special, let's take quick look at what a Hot Dog is. If you look up the definition of "Hot Dog", you will generally see the following:

hot dog or hot·dog (hot'dôg', -dog')

  1. A frankfurter, especially one served hot in a long soft roll. Also called red-hot.
  2. A type of cooked meat in the shape of a sausage; it is usually served in a long bun. 
  3. One who performs showy, often dangerous stunts, in order to attract attention

A Dog With a Difference
A Chicago Style Hot Dog is more than just a Hot Dog; it's a taste sensation with the perfect blend of toppings. So, what exactly is a Chicago Dog? A Chicago Style Hot Dog is a steamed all beef Hot Dog topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, onions, tomato wedges, pickle spear or slice, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt served in the all-important steamed poppy seed bun.

The toppings are just as important as the order they are applied to the Hot Dog. Add toppings in the following order:

  1. Yellow Mustard
  2. Bright "Neon" Green Relish
  3. Fresh Chopped Onions
  4. Two Tomato Wedges
  5. A Pickle Spear or Slice
  6. Two Sport Peppers
  7. A Dash of Celery Salt

Remember: When adding toppings, dress the dog and not the bun!


Why is the placement of the toppings so important? If your Chicago Dog has been made properly, you will get a taste of each ingredient in every bite.

A Chicago Style Hot Dog is never boiled, but slowly simmered using steam heat until the hot dog reaches approximately 170-180 degrees. Although steam is the preferred method to heat the Hot Dog, grilling, heating in water or using the microwave are also acceptable. Since Hot Dogs are pre-cooked all you need to do is heat the dog.

Fluky's (a Chicago institution since 1929) provides these instructions for heating your Hot Dogs: Bring the water to a boil, turn the water down until it stops boiling, or a slight simmer. (DO NOT COOK HOT DOGS IN BOILING WATER). Place desired number of hot dogs into water and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.

Vienna LogoVienna® Beef Hot Dogs are probably the some of the best tasting dogs you will ever experience. Over 80% of hot dog vendors in Chicago proudly serve Vienna® Beef Hot Dogs. However, buyer beware. It is increasingly apparent to us that not all places claiming to serve the Vienna brand actually do. Vienna provides promotional support to restaurants in order to get the Vienna name out there. Just because the sign says Vienna Beef, doesn't mean the establishment still serves Vienna brand products. One would hope that Vienna would have a special department (i.e the "hot dog police") to spot check restaurants and enforce this.

There is a new dog in town! Red Hot Chicago is slowly but surely taking over market share from Vienna. Their quality great tasting dogs are already served in many establishments and the list is steadily growing. Red Hot Chicago was established in 1983 and now has a full line of products which include dogs, poppy seed buns, relish and sport peppers.  Their pure beef hot dogs are specially formulated to be significantly leaner and contain less added water than standards used by other hot dog manufacturers.

Where's the Ketchup?
As mentioned earlier, the toppings are just as important as the Hot Dog itself. If you look at the required toppings for a Chicago Dog, you will notice that Ketchup is not listed among them. Ketchup is an ingredient frowned upon by Hot Dog aficionados. Although ketchup remains one of the most popular condiments on Hot Dogs, "properly made" Hot Dogs, like the Chicago Style, usually lack the condiment.

Those who consider themselves Hot Dog connoisseurs are often vehemently opposed to eating (or even witnessing) Hot Dogs with ketchup; they think the flavor of ketchup overpowers and destroys the taste of the Hot Dog instead of complementing it. Nowhere is this difference in opinion more apparent than in Chicago.

The inclusion of ketchup on a Chicago Style Hot Dog is a controversial issue. Most adult Chicagoans will shun ketchup. Chicago Hot Dog stands will not, as a rule, put ketchup on a Chicago Dog. Some stands will provide ketchup although you are responsible for defacing your Dog.

"You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It's watching you stuff your face with those Hot Dogs! Nobody - I mean nobody puts ketchup on a Hot Dog!".  - This is a famous line from the movie Sudden Impact starring Clint Eastwood.

The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, in its recommendations for proper Hot Dog Etiquette capitulate only slightly to the public's general regard for ketchup, saying "Don't use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.". 

Learn the Lingo
"The Works" - When ordering a Chicago Style Hot Dog it is important to understand the terminology. Probably the most important words are "works" and "everything". For example, the proper way to order your Dog is to say, "I'll take a Chicago Dog with the works" or "I'll take a dog with everything". First of all, it is important to say "Chicago Dog" when placing your order. This sends a clear message that you want an all beef Hot Dog served on a steamed poppy seed bun. When you say " with the works" or "with everything" you are saying that you want yellow mustard, bright green relish, onions, tomato wedges, pickle spear, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt on your Dog.
Tip: When it is your turn to order you better have an idea of what you want.  Hot Dog establishments are usually very crowded and very fast paced. The person behind the counter expects you to know what you want. If you are not ready, let the person behind you place their order first.

"Snap" - When biting into an all beef Hot Dog, there should be slight resistance from the casing. The resistance is referred to as the "snap". For example, "it has the nice 'snap'.". Next time you have a Chicago Dog, impress your friends and family by taking a bite and commenting on the "snap".

"Dragged Through the Garden" - Chicago Dogs are sometimes described this way because of all the vegetables. You definitely would not say this while ordering.

"Depression Dog" - Some hot dog places serve a version of the Chicago Style hot dog which is known as a "depression dog". This minimalist variation is a natural casing all-beef hot dog served on a steamed plain bun (no poppy seeds) and usually only includes mustard, onion, sport peppers and sometimes relish. This is how Chicago Style hot dogs were originally served by street vendors during the Great Depression. The depression dog is often served with hand-cut french fries that get wrapped up with the dog. Along the way, other ingredients were added to create the classic Chicago Style hot dog we are familiar with today. There are many theories circulating as to how the Chicago dog evolved over the years to include poppy seeds, neon green relish, tomatoes, a pickle spear and celety salt. 

Don't be too concerned about the appearance of the place you get your Dog from
. For me the ambiance is important and contributes to the overall Chicago Dog experience. Some of the best Hot Dog joints are probably considered "dives" by most people's standards. Don't expect a typical sit-down restaurant with a well-appointed interior and full menu. Many don't even have any place to sit while other places are not much more than an order counter and some stools to sit on (the round ones are my favorite). Typically, there is always a deal that includes fries and a drink. Fries complete the package.

We should mention that you should also try a Chicago Style Italian Beef Sandwich. If they have great Dogs, they should have great Italian Beefs.

Examples of Hot Dog SignsGive Us a Sign!
One thing for sure in the Hot Dog business is brand loyalty. Places that serve Chicago Style Hot Dogs are proud of the brand they sell and that should be apparent (in most cases) even before you walk through the door. If there are no signs on the outside indicating the Hot Dog brand served, there had better be some indication on the inside. Be skeptical 
of any place that claims to serve a Chicago Dog and gives no indication of their brand affiliation.

Hot Dog CartThe Cart Experience
Nothing compares to getting your dog from a Hot Dog cart. There is something special about the Hot Dog stand that creates an indescribable feeling of intrigue. Even people who don't usually eat Hot Dogs can't resist the urge to eat one when they see a Hot Dog cart. I think that Louie DiRaimondo, president of All American Hot Dog Carts in Miami, said it best when talking about the carts they sell: "We create an experience, not just a product". That is so true!

Relish Your Dog
Next to the Dog itself, the most important ingredient of a Chicago Style Dog is the Relish. It is certainly the topping that either makes or breaks your Dog. Classic Chicago Dogs are famous for their bright green relish. Although standard relish can be used, nothing compares to the taste and look of the neon colored green relish. The neon green relish was introduced in the early 1970s by Fluky’s, an original west side Hot Dog vendor.

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