America's Favorite Hot Dog Topping Isn't Ketchup

Almost nothing better captures quintessential Americana than two food items: ketchup and hot dogs. Whether they're gulped down together faster than water at Nathan's annual 4th of July hot dog eating contest or they're found dotting a checkerboard picnic tablecloth at your backyard cookout, the duo just goes together. So, we were surprised to see that, in a 2021 survey by the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, it was found that America's most-beloved topping is actually mustard. 

And we aren't talking about the equally glorious lumpy mustard that comes from Eastern Europe or the lightly spicy stuff from Dijon, France. We mean the canary-yellow mustard that is smooth, mild, and tangy that you find in a plastic bottle at the supermarket. 

Mustard tops charts — and hot dogs — thanks to a few things: immigrant food cultures; flavor profile; and, of course, the ever-contentious fight for supremacy of regional hot dog styles

Why is mustard so popular compared to ketchup?

One of the reasons for mustard's hot dog supremacy is because of its flavor profile. Lightly acidic yellow mustard adds brightness and wonderfully cuts through the rich fat and saltiness of pork and beef hot dogs. Ketchup, on the other hand, has the acid of tomatoes, but also typically has added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which some deem too sweet for a savory hot dog. 

Though Brittanica notes that it remains disputed whether hot dogs originated from Frankfurt, Germany or Vienna, Austria — where they are called "frankfurters" and "wieners," respectively — it is clear that German immigrants brought the "dachshund sausages," or hot dogs, to New York in the 19th century. Germany is also home to the original bratwursts, another popular sausage that's typically made from pork. Its traditional toppings included raw onions and pickles, but mustard remains the uncontested, ultimate condiment for them. So, it makes sense that Germans continued that tradition when it came to hot dogs. 

Plus, it's a must on many regional takes. The Chicago, Detroit Coney, and Dodger Dog all call for a hefty measure of mustard, but no ketchup whatsoever. So there's a solid share of America that just doesn't use ketchup on hot dogs thanks to their local food culture. That's why mustard is really the all-time hot dog topping.