What Does It Mean To Get A Hot Dog 'Alligator' Style?

While they may not be the healthiest meal on the menu, hot dog cravings are real. Lucky for those who decide to indulge, they come in all shapes and sizes. From New York System "hot wieners" in Rhode Island to bigger-than-the-bun dogs served at Pink's in Hollywood, coast-to-coast these bun-filled delights cater to every taste.

One of the best things about hot dogs is you can top them with just about anything imaginable and many Americans do just that. Jalapenos, coleslaw, avocado, and even potato chips are a few of the many add-ons that can elevate the humble hot dog into a personal delicacy, as noted by Martin's Famous Potato Rolls. You can also tuck other things inside the bun, which is a key factor in getting one alligator style. You might think you're not familiar with the term, but there's a good chance you've already tried one if you regularly sample hot dogs in a variety of styles.

Where you can get a hot dog alligator style

Headed to your local diner for a quick bite, or a Major League Baseball ballpark for a day of fun (and hot dogs)? You'll likely be able to order your hot dog "alligator style" and be able to get just that. What exactly is that, though? "Alligator style" simply means a pickle spear is served next to the wiener right inside the bun — whether it's by itself or among the other toppings. According to Food & Wine, this request is more common in Ohio, where dogs are often topped with Cincinnati chili.

Adding a dill pickle spear isn't a unique idea when it comes to favored hot dogs, though. If you're a fan of the ever-popular Chicago-style hot dog, you'll remember that a pickle spear is part of its appeal, too, as noted in The New Yorker. In the same vein as alligator style, that ever-present pickle lays together the wiener in a Chicago dog. So, when you have a hankering, you can make any hot dog alligator style by just tucking a long slice of pickle into the bun right next to the meat.

What is the story of Cincinnati chili?

Skyline Chili, founded in 1949 by Nicholas Lambrinides, is one of the most famous purveyors of what would come to be known as Cincinnati chili. According to WXVU, this chili recipe has Greek and Macedonian roots and could be derived from a meat sauce called saltsa kima or a dish called pastitsio. An authentic pastitsio recipe layers tubed pasta, bechamel sauce, and a meat sauce to create a lasagna-esque baked dish. Many people describe Cincinnati chili as sweet, and it's the use of warm spices like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice in the bolognese-like sauce that conjures up this association in the American palate.

According to The Atlantic, the chili dog is a story of American assimilation. The hot dog wiener itself is the industrialized version of a German-style sausage. The mass-produced meat tubes grew in popularity as a response to the perceived "foreign" nature of the artisan sausages enjoyed by other Eastern European immigrants. The hot dog's affordability and speed made the handheld meal a hit at street food carts for late-night bites and for hungry workers on a short lunch break.

As for the topping, two chili lineages unfolded nearly simultaneously in different parts of the country. A version of chili inspired by Mexican chile con carne eventually transformed into a sanitized version for the American palate by the early 1900s, while the Greek and Macedonian-inspired chili gained traction in the northeast and midwest.

How does this chili relate to alligator-style dogs?

Several restaurants in Michigan and Indiana claim to have served the first coney dog, a hot dog topped with chili, onions, and yellow mustard. New York City's Coney Island does have a long history of serving hot dogs, but it was diners in the midwest that repurposed the name. These often-Greek diners called themselves Coney Islands, and it's there that hot dogs began to be regularly topped with chili (via Smithsonian Magazine). Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, both in Detroit, are two of the most well-known. Thomas and John Kiradjieff claim to have been the first to serve the cheese-covered, Cincinnati chili-slathered coney dog in 1922 at their stand in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A different story unfolded around the same time in Chicago, Illinois in 1929. Per Block Club Chicago, the first Chicago-style hot dog is attributed to Fluky's and was originally called a Depression Sandwich. A simple dog could be loaded up with cheap toppings to create a meal. Typical adornments include relish, mustard, tomato, onions, sports peppers, celery salt, and a dill pickle spear.

If you ask for a hot dog alligator-style in Chicago it likely won't mean a thing, but in Ohio, you'll get the pickle spear on your chili cheese dog (via Food & Wine). It can't be said for sure how alligator-style became a practice, but getting a dill pickle on a Cincinnati coney is definitely a snapshot of two iconic moments in American hot dog history.