There is no food connected more with America’s Pastime than the humble hot dog. Today, on National Hot Dog Day, the ballpark is the best spot to snare a dog, whether it be a basic Dodger Dog or Fenway Frank, a decked-out Chicago Dog or an elaborate Tamale Dog.
The history of the hot dog has been traced back to the 1600s, when German butcher Johann Georghehner combined bread and “dachshunds,” or “little-dog” sausages. That tradition came to American with the Germans, and there are accounts of dachshunds wrapped in milk rolls sold at Coney Island in 1871. And the legendary Chris van der Ahe was known to have sold dachshunds in buns at St. Louis Browns games in 1893, leading to a strong argument that the visionary team owner was the first to bring the hot dog to the ballpark.
Harry Stevens, the concessionaire extraordinaire who invented the modern scorecard, brought the hot dog to New York City’s Polo Grounds. But that hasn’t stopped various creation myths emerging placing Harry Stevens as the inventor of the modern hot dog. One such creation myth has New York Journal sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan working a game at the Polo Grounds in 1901 (or 1902 or maybe 1903; various accounts have various dates), jotting down a drawing of a dachshunds—a combo of the real dog and the sausage—and labeling the pup as a “hot dog” because he didn’t know how to spell dachshund. Voila! Dorgan invented the term hot dog. Problem is, that original drawing has never been found, and the term hot dog as a reference for hot dachshunds had been around for a decade or so. “Dog wagons” sold hot dogs at Yale University as early as 1894, and a 1893 Knoxville Journal article referred to sausages in buns as hot dogs.
Still, even if he didn’t invent the hot dog, Stevens did lay the groundwork for the modern food scene at ballparks. Offering concessions at venues varying as widely as Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Saratoga Race Course, Stevens matched the venue to the food, according to the New York Daily News:
“Baseball crowds are great consumers of hot dogs, peanuts and bottled drinks,” he said. “Heavier food is popular at race tracks. Prizefight crowds go in for mineral waters, near-beer and hot dogs. A boxing crowd is also a great cigar-consuming crowd. Chocolate goes well in spring and fall, but the hot dog is the all-year-round best seller.”
And that’s still true today. According to concessionaire Levy, Dodger Stadium sells the most hot dogs in the major leagues: some 2.5 million each year. The traditional Dodger Dog is a foot-long pork hot dog either grilled or steamed, served with mustard and relish. Another traditional dog is sold by Levy at Wrigley Field: a Chicago Dog is a grilled Vienna Beef Hot Dog served with yellow mustard, neon relish, diced onions, sport peppers, tomato wedges and celery salt in a poppy seed bun. The White Sox Chicago Dog served at Guaranteed Rate Field is beefier, anchored by a footlong served with the traditional toppings. And, of course, the Boston Red Sox feature a traditional Fenway Frank at Fenway Park: A steamed Kayem hot dog topped with brown mustard and relish, on a New England-style bun.
Touring America’s ballparks will yield some local treasures as well:
- At Marlins Park, the Miami Marlins offer a Butifarra Dog: pork sausage finished with aioli and Frito pie, topped with Spanish Ibérico pork chili and Idiazabal cheese sauce.
- At Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals sell a Ben’s Chili Dog—a traditional hot dog smothered in Ben’s Chili Bowl’s famous chili.
- At the Oakland Coliseum, the Oakland Athletics offer a Tamale Dog: a Miller’s All beef hot dog topped with sweet corn tamale, pico de gallo salsa, chipotle crema, scallions, and crisp tortilla threads.
- At Minute Maid Park, the Houston Astros sell the Bayou City Hot Dog (above): A Nolan Ryan hot dog with smoked pork burnt ends, Rico’s cheese sauce, pickle chips, green onions and a spicy BBQ sauce.
- At Citi Field, the New York Mets offer a Bases Loaded Dog: A Nathan’s foot long with cheddar fondue, Applewood smoked bacon and green onions, on a potato roll.
Finally, not every hot dog actually contains a hot dog or meat. You can find vegan hot dogs at many ballparks, while the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals serve meatless brats and sausages, respectively.
The Arizona Diamondbacks offer a Churro Dog (above): warm cinnamon churro served on a donut “bun” and topped with frozen yogurt, whipped cream, caramel, and chocolate sauce. Riffing on that sugary theme, the Diamondbacks are offering a Discovery Dog (below) this Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing: It’s a chocolate-iced, long john donut topped with Oreo churro; vanilla frozen yogurt; whipped cream; Raspberry, dark chocolate and white chocolate sauces; and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream pieces.
Hot dogs have been a part of the ballpark experience for over 120 years. When you head to your favorite ballpark today and tonight, honor that legacy with a hot dog or three—and remember, no ketchup.
Images courtesy Levy and Aramark.
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