New England-Style Hot Dog Rolls Are A Total Game Changer

New England-style hot dog rolls — or buns, as you may know them — are nothing like those found in Chicago or New York. These freestanding buns have a flat bottom and straight sides that are often grilled, toasted, and even buttered. This gives them a winning combination of both soft and crunchy, with each roll split down the middle and loaded from the top. For some, these rolls are just as important as the ingredients inside them. 

"It's half of the dish," New England food expert Jasper White remarked in 2018 to Serious Eats. "The New England–style buns are smaller and cut on the side, so they're thinner. They don't overpower the hot dog," 

These rolls can be found in just about any restaurant or supermarket in New England, but they're not as easy to find elsewhere. Thanks to the internet, they can be bought online from numerous companies, like Box of Maine. There are some bakeries throughout the country where you can pick some up as well, one of which is Florida's Hearth Artisan Bread. Otherwise, you'll have to go through the grueling process of hand-making the special buns.

How to make the rolls

Whether you're a fan of baking or can't find them elsewhere, these rolls can be made at home with a bit of patience. Their ingredients are fairly typical, requiring yeast, flour, salt, eggs, sugar, water, milk, unsalted butter, and salad oil. The complicated part is making the buns; recipes can involve as many as 30 steps.

USA Pan provides something of a shortcut by offering a dedicated pan. Retailing for $31.99, the pan is made with 10 compartments, a non-stick coating and strong aluminized steel construction. A serrated knife is the best option for cutting the bun, because it's able to slice through the bread without tearing it up. 

In professional environments, it's common to use a mechanical side slicer, which interestingly, wouldn't have been invented if it weren't for New England-style hot dog rolls. 

"There was no way to mechanically slice a bun part of the way through," Michael Cornelis, vice president of American Pan, told the Boston Globe in 2013 while discussing the tool's origins. "If you wanted a roll pre-sliced, commercial bakers would slice them all the way through." 

The best way to use the rolls

After the buns are made, they can be used for hot dogs and various other foods. Not hard to believe, given the area they were created in, New England-style hot dog rolls are often used to hold seafood, making lobster rolls and clam rolls. There are two popular types of lobster rolls, each made with the tail, knuckle, and claw meat of lobster. The Maine lobster roll is served cold with mayonnaise, while the Connecticut lobster roll is enjoyed hot with its meat soaked in butter. Clam rolls, on the other hand, include strips of clam, celery, onions, and mayonnaise.

If you'd prefer to use them as their name suggests, you might as well make New England-style hot dogs for your New England-style bun. These hot dogs are topped with mustard and relish after being both boiled and grilled. At Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, they're called Fenway Franks. Enjoying one (or several) during a game serves as a right of passage for Sox fans.

History and presentation

Despite their name, New England-style hot dog rolls weren't originally intended to hold hot dogs. Rather, they were made as a way to keep a clam dish from Howard Johnson's Restaurant upright. To make this possible, the restaurant appointed J.J. Nielson's bakery to create them at some point in the late 1940s.

It's unknown when or why folks started grilling the bun, but Bruce Kraig, author of "Hot Dog: A Global History," has a theory. 

"I suspect it originates with Friendly's in western Mass," Kraig told Serious Eats in 2018, crediting the beloved restaurant chain. Comparing it to grilled cheese, he added: "If you have a flat griddle, then splitting the bun and heating it is a natural, and butter keeps it from burning." 

Along with various purposes and sweet, buttery taste, these rolls are highly regarded for their appearance. "It's amazing how you can make a presentation with a top-sliced roll — whether it's with lobster or just a hot dog because the roll sits up on its own," Mike McCall, the president of a Maine bakery, said to Boston Globe. It's clear these unique, tasty rolls have changed the way food is served in more ways than one.