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August 2012

Stuff to Eat: The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Did you know that July is National Hot Dog Month?

Neither did w—of course we knew! We were just so busy stuffing our faces with them that we're just now getting around to writing our homage about them. Because nothing says summer like a hot dog with all the trimmings. And nowhere does hot dogs quite like Chicago…just ask any Chicagoan. Our fair city ranks only fifth on the top 10 hot dog–consuming cities (behind Los Angeles?!), but we do it best. But do you know what makes them special? Can you list off the Chicago-Style Hot Dog ingredients by heart? Go ahead! We'll wait.

Close up of Potillos Chicago Style Hot Dog

Dragged through a garden…just the way we like it.

  • Vienna all-beef hot dog
  • Steamed bun
  • Yellow mustard
  • Sweet green pickle relish (the brighter the better)
  • Raw onion, chopped
  • Tomato wedges
  • Dill pickle spear
  • Sport peppers
  • Celery salt

The classic Chicago-style hot dog is described as being "dragged through a garden."

According to Vienna Beef, whose headquarters are just up Damen from where our 3-1-Chew experience (also known as our Bucktown & Wicker Park Food Tour) begins, the Chicago dog got its start on the street during the Great Depression, when hot dog vendors were stretching their creativity to come up with a full meal for struggling businessmen. The original cost only a nickel! The flavorful hot dog "with a salad on top," which combines hot and cold, crisp and soft, sharp and smooth, caught on immediately and thrived long beyond the last Great Depression and right into this one.

There's another, lesser-known variation on the Chicago dog, known as the "Depression dog" — heard of it? Simpler and decidedly less colorful, it features yellow mustard, onions, sport peppers and the occasional relish — plus a mound of fries thrown on top for good measure.

For our money, it's not a Chicago dog without the tomato slices and kosher dill pickle, but we're not knocking individualism!

The full-blown version of our hometown favorite revs up walkers' appetites at Portillo's, one of the classic Chicag0-style dishes featured on our Best In Chow Neighborhood Food Experience.

Are you visiting more of the west side of tow? Check out George's, one of the best places in Bucktown, who's family has been serving them up since 1948 and haven't flinched from that perfect, original combination of Chicago-Style Hot Dog ingredients.

Oh, heck. Now we're jonesin'…because as Doug "Hot Doug" Sohn says, "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friends."

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