Once a year on the last Thursday in July, we celebrate the convergence of two iconic foods—hot dogs and chili—in observance of National Chili Dog Day.
While each is remarkable on its own, when brought together in a single bun with personalized condiments, chili and dogs reach euphoric new heights.
The sum is greater than its parts. It was a fusion before fusion cuisine became hip.
Like many food legends and lore, there isn’t much clarity or agreement about the origins of chili dogs. There are, however, lots of colorful claims.
But just as chili and dogs converge, the chili portion of the equation is where the paths diverge.
The Greek Convention
The oldest type of chili associated with hot dogs stems from a Greek-Macedonian heritage and is not to be confused with the Tex-Mex style of chili, which is the other common type of chili used to create the acclaimed chili dog.
This meat sauce is laced with Greek seasonings—cinnamon, oregano, even chocolate and, sometimes, tomato. This type of meat sauce is found in most parts of the country. The main flavor components are ground beef cooked to a crumble, oil, beef fat, and red chili flakes.
In many cases, this sauce has regional names—Coney (Island) Sauce or Michigan sauce, for example. However, the ingredients and preparation are relatively similar region to region.
The Texas Debate
The other type of chili most commonly used with hot dogs is Tex-Mex style which, in true tradition, is known as a “bowl of red” and has no beans added, but chili variations with beans (generally red kidney beans) abound.
While anything goes when creating your own chili dog, anything and everything qualifies for chili dog toppings. However, diced onion, yellow “ballpark” mustard, and grated cheese are the most standard toppings.
Some say: “The messier, the better.” There’s no doubt about it: a chili dog done right is a major handful and a major mouthful. So, go with the flow and let things fall where they may. Remember to grab a fork or spoon to gather up all the stray bits.
About the Bun
When choosing what kind of bun to use for your masterpiece chili dog, it is best to choose one that is pillowy and absorbent to soak up all the chili juices. A crusty or hard bun doesn’t have as much give and most of the chili will drip off the side.
What type of chili do you prefer for topping your hot dog? Have you tried both styles? What other toppings do you put on your chili dog?