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Should hot dogs be eaten with toppings? Two of our SI staffers with polar opposite opinions on the matter make their respective cases. 

By The SI Staff
July 04, 2017

Happy 4th of July! What better way to celebrate your day off than by considering a truly crucial question of our time: Should you put toppings on your hot dogs? Two of our SI staffers with polar opposite opinions on the matter duke it out and make their respective cases. Whose side are you on? Think it over while hopefully enjoying one of many, many hot dogs.  

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Before you put a hot dog in your mouth this summer, I need to tell you something. You know those little squiggly lines of ketchup and mustard you’ve been putting on your dogs all these years? Sometimes you criss-cross them. Sometimes you keep them straight and separate. Sometimes you get little globs spread intermittently across the sausage because you’ve been using the same ketchup and mustard since the Bush administration. What if I told you you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time?

My family moved to America from Bombay in 1996. The first distinctly American meal I remember eating was a Papa John’s pizza in our humble apartment in Coral Springs, Fla. Since then, I’ve sampled the entire milieu of our national cuisine a hundred times over, and I’ve repeatedly asked myself the following very important question: What’s with all the damn sauce?

Which brings me back to hot dogs. Look, hot dogs aren’t typically a fancy meal. You’re not serving your franks au poivre. So why do we insist on ruining the best part of hot dogs—the plump, juicy sausage—by drowning it in cold, boring condiments? This summer, I want you to eat your hot dogs sans condiments.

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What does this mean? First of all, it means buying the right sausages. Spring for something a little special. Look for meat that’s been flavored with garlic or cheese or sun-dried tomatoes, and avoid franks that are pink, long and wobbly. Then, I want you to take the time to cook this meat properly. Find a charcoal grill, whether it’s at the local park or temporarily borrowed from your neighbor’s backyard. Now sear your sausages until they have a nice, charred bark on the outside but are cooked all the way through the middle.

The result? A piece of meat that has a crunchy snap when you bite down, but is also so juicy your potato bun can barely hold it together. (Seriously, potato buns are the best.) Why would something like that need a hideous smattering of ketchup? Your sausage should already be well-seasoned, and the juiciness will keep it moist. Instead of tasting ketchup and mustard, your mouth will be delighted by the meat-forward taste of a smokey sausage.

Don’t overthink your hot dogs, or any meat for that matter. Buy something slightly nicer than your average weiner, plop that bad boy on the grill, place it in a bun so you have a vehicle for shoving it into your mouth, and then actually shove it in your mouth. Let the children and unenlightened folk worry about gently spreading relish across the side of their bun. You’re already halfway through your first hot dog. And more importantly, you’re that much closer to your next one.

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Mustard. Ketchup. Relish. Chili. Peppers. Onions. Sauerkraut. Coleslaw. Jalapeno. Bacon. Blue cheese. Salsa.

These are all toppings that make your hot dog better. I’m not here to tell you which to choose, but I am here to tell you that you should choose at least one. Nobody should eat a naked hot dog. Never.

I knew this before I started researching this story. It was Thursday and our SI Eats (SI’s newest section dedicated to food. Check it out now!) editor told me Rohan Nadkarni, a usually smart co-worker of mine, was making the case that “no topping” was the best topping for a hot dog. I laughed at his premise and told the editor I’d take the counterpoint.

And since it was nearly time for dinner, I headed downtown to to Crif Dogs, one of my favorite hot dog spots in the city.

It was Helen Keller who once said, “Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” I didn’t have enough time to research the context of Keller’s quote but I’m pretty sure it was in reference to the Spicy Redneck—a hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with cole slaw, chili, and jalapeños—available at Crifs.

It was as if a big jumble of deliciousness exploding in my mouth. The bacon and chili were a perfect combination, like Hall and Oates, but for taste and not ‘80s adult rock. The cole slaw and jalapenos meshed seamlessly and I instantly wanted 10 more. Then I thought of Rohan, sitting in the lame section of a random Gray’s Papaya, eating his dry dog and saving the napkins for later.

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And that’s just one flavor at one restaurant in one city. Hot dogs are a blank canvas that can satisfy any foodie. Know someone obsessed with breakfast? Scrambled eggs and bacon on a frank is the perfect way to start your day. Got a friend in from Greece? Give them a dog topped with tzatziki, Feta and olives. Want to get in with someone north of the border? Give them a Poutine Dog topped fries, gravy and cheese curds.

Or for those less daring, ketchup or mustard work just fine. Relish alone is always a good bet. But nothing at all? No thanks.

So my fellow Americans: As we celebrate our country’s anniversary and stuff our faces with barbecue, I urge you to try an experiment. Take a couple bites of your hot dog with no toppings.Torture yourself with the strange sensation of something that tastes pretty good but could be a million times better. Then spit that out, grab a fresh dog and top it off however you want. But top it off with something. Life is too short not to take chances. 

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