How the hot dog became an American icon

How the hot dog became an American icon

(CNN) – No matter how you like your wiener to be prepared, grilled or cooked, with mustard, ketchup or chili, we can all agree on one thing, and that is that hot dogs have become part of a certain American cultural narrative.

And this year, more than ever, hot dogs are red; in March, data company IRI reported this sales increased by as much as 127%, which was even before the start of the barbecue season.

Billions of hot dogs

“Americans eat about 7 billion hot dogs between Remembrance Day and Labor Day,” said Eric Mittenthal, president of the National Council for Hot Dogs and Sausages.

It is estimated that Americans eat seven billion hot dogs between Remembrance Day and Labor Day.

Friendly National Council for Hot Dogs and Sausages

But while hot dogs may feel “all-American,” they are fundamentally something else.

Also known as a frankfurter, this particular style of cake sausage is believed to be originally from the city of Frankfurt in Germany, but hot dog historians claim that the sausage culture, native to Eastern Europe and, in particular, Germany, has no specific city of origin.

The traditional German hot dog, when it arrived in the United States, was a blend of pork and beef; “Hot-dog” hot-dog, as we now know it, draws its roots from Jewish-American butchers, who, due to kosher limitations, chose not to use pork in their meat mixes.

“When the Germans came, you have to look at where they came from,” said Dr. Bruce Kraig, a professor emeritus at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Dr. Kraig is a historical historian and author of several books, including “Hot Dog: Global History” and “Rich and Fertile Land: A History of Food in America.”

“A good number of early [Germans] comes from the Palatine, “which is generally the area surrounding the real city of Frankfurt,” explains Kraig. Frankfurt, Kraig said, refers to the region of origin, although the actual food does not necessarily come from Frankfurt itself.

July is the national month of hot dogs.

July is the national month of hot dogs.

Friendly National Council for Hot Dogs and Sausages

Brought by German immigrants in the mid-1800s, hot dogs began their journey as American zeitgeists in New York hot dog carts, where they were a natural convenience for sandwiches who loved New Yorkers, who already preferred to eat on the go.

“They appear with the first German settlers in the late 1840s,” Dr. Kraig said.

“The Germans have a sausage culture, so they eat sausages from butchers. They also eat them at home. They eat them on the street, at fairs and festivals and in pubs, so when the Germans arrived in America, they immediately set up beer gardens.”

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Classic street eats

Americans, he said, fell in love with the German idea of ​​eating sausages on the street. “You have a lot of evidence that sausage sellers sell, probably in the 1840s, but certainly in the 1860s. Wherever there are Germans, sausages are sold on the streets.”

Hot dog historian Bruce Kraig says there is a lot of evidence that vendors sold sausages, probably in the 1840s, but certainly in the 1860s.

Hot dog historian Bruce Kraig says there is a lot of evidence that vendors sold sausages, probably in the 1840s, but certainly in the 1860s.

Friendly National Council for Hot Dogs and Sausages

In fact, this plural is important. After all, Germany is not known for any sausages, but for the abundance of them, from veal and poultry species, to pork bratwurst to dry earth.

German sausages are so plentiful that it is remarkable that the Americans inherited only one in the common food canon.

In 1867, an entrepreneurial baker from Brooklyn named Charles Feltman began selling hot dogs from a converted pie cake on Coney Island. “Coney Island became a place where people would go for recreation, but at the time there was really nothing,” said Michael Quinn, co-owner of Feltman’s hot dog brand of Coney Island, which he and his brother Joe Quinn bought in 2015.

The birth of bunnies

Charles Feltman developed a hand-cut, elongated bun that set a precedent for the modern hot dog bun.

As popularity grew – Michael Quinn, a Coney Island historian himself, said the wheelchair sold about 4,000 hot dogs that first summer – Feltman raised his sights, partnering in a restaurant and hotel and opening a mat in Coney Island in 1873.

A summer visit to Coney Island almost always includes hot dogs and, often, beer.

A summer visit to Coney Island almost always includes hot dogs and, often, beer.

Channon Hodge, CNN

“They ended up charging it as the biggest restaurant in the world,” Michael Quinn said.

Numerous historical sources, including the Coney Island History Project, have acknowledged that until the 1920s, Feltman’s Ocean Pavilion served approximately five million customers a year and sold somewhere around 40,000 hot dogs a day.

Suddenly, hot dogs appeared on the national stage, and Coney Island became an accessible epicenter of summer fun for everyone and everyone in and around New York City.

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Coney Island

That phase had already begun to spread when, in 1875, Charles Feltman persuaded Prospect Park Rail Station President Andrew Culver to take the subway to Coney Island, offering public transportation to thousands of New Yorkers who had never had access to the distance to Brooklyn.

In a way, Nathan’s hot dogs now define the fourth of July - and are the main attraction of Coney Island.

In a way, Nathan’s hot dogs now define the fourth of July – and are the main attraction of Coney Island.

Channon Hodge

The connection of the subway line and the mass resort of Feltman made Coney Island important – and hot dogs were at the center of this great cultural moment.

Although Feltman’s empire shrank over time, and Coney Island became less known for its rhythmic resort and more for plate kitsch, Feltman was already unknowingly contributing to the greatest icon of American hot dog culture, when he hired slices of pigs to go on to become one. from the most famous American hot dog suppliers.

“They didn’t have machines at the time, so one of the pastry cutters the Feltman family hired was Nathan Handwerker,” Michael Quinn said. “He worked like Feltman as a dice cutter!”

The same Nathan Handwerker would open his own competing brand, Nathan’s famous hot dogs, in 1916, and that brand would become synonymous with Coney Island hot dogs.

Nathan’s famous on Surf Avenue on Coney Island has existed since 1916.

Nathan’s famous on Surf Avenue on Coney Island has existed since 1916.

Channon Hodge, CNN

In a way, Nathan’s hot dogs now define the fourth of July, and that is when Nathan’s famous competition for feeding hot dogs is held every summer. Hot dogs helped shape the fame of Coney Island.

“They were such an amazing sensation that Charles Feltman eventually built an almost 100-year empire on them,” said Joe Quinn, co-owner of Feltman of Coney Island.

How do you take that?

New York, of course, was not the only place where hot dogs appeared in the late 19th century. “Hot dogs have spread across the country as immigrants have spread to different regions,” said Eric Mittenthal. “The hot dog in Chicago took place during the Depression, when stalls would offer a variety of toppings that people would push for hot dogs, even though Chicago isn’t alone in offering distinctive dogs.”

While toppings vary dogs from place to place, one constant is price advantage. Hot dogs are food approaches. It It’s delicious, filling and cheap, no matter where you find yourself, what city you are in, and what makes it attractive to anyone, regardless of physical location. (Even vegetarians and vegans can enjoy hot dogs – albeit without meat like Beyond Meats and other brands on the market.)

German settlers spread their love of sausages to other cities across the United States: Detroit, Milwaukee, and, later, Los Angeles.

Where the Germans went, hot dogs followed. New Yorkers will, of course, argue that the specificity of a hot dog – a food that is suitable to eat while moving – works particularly well in their city, which is why the association is the one that resonates, a century later.

“The advantage of hot sausage on an elongated basket – it’s a thing from New York,” said Michael Quinn. “New Yorkers like to walk and eat.”

As for the name, hot dogs were first coined “red embers” – a term still used in both Maine and Detroit – sometime around the late 1800s, due to the heat of the grill used to cook them. But the dog part was really just cheeks. “Hot dog is a joke word,” Dr. Kraig said.

He first managed to trace that word from 1892 in a newspaper cut from Patterson, New Jersey. “The identification of sausages with dogs is much earlier,” he admitted.

According to Dr. Kraig, a popular song from the 1800s, written by Septimus Winner, posed the question, “Where, where did my little dog go?”, Supposedly a reference to a dog that disappeared in sausage meat. Fortunately, in an age of transparency, we know that the hot dogs we eat today – seven billion this summer, if not more – are all hot, without a dog.

It’s a bit of a relief for those looking to celebrate National Hot Dog Month in July. Take out the mustard.

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