The Real Reason Chicagoans Don't Put Ketchup On Their Hot Dogs

If you visit Chicago, there are several things you absolutely must do: stroll the Magnificent Mile, catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and order one of the city's signature Chicago dogs. There are also several things you should absolutely not do: make any mention of the New York City skyline being more impressive, root for the St. Louis Cardinals, or ask for ketchup with your hot dog.

Seriously, don't even think about ruining a Chicago dog with ketchup. Former First Chicagoan Barack Obama once famously stated that ketchup does not belong on a hot dog once you're past 8 years old. Legendary Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko did admit that, if anyone wanted to put ketchup on their hot dog, they would have the right to do so, but went on to clarify his opinion: "It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog. Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians" (via Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW).

So why are Chicagoans so up in arms at the thought of anyone defiling their beloved hot dog? While there is no definitive reason, Grub Street states that the Chicago-style hot dog simply does not need ketchup and that the addition of this unnecessary condiment ruins the already-perfect flavor balance.

Why ketchup ruins Chicago dogs

If you haven't already been initiated into the Chicago dog cult, you may be in need of a little explanation regarding the components of this delicacy. According to Chicago's NPR station WBEZ, a true Chicago dog consists of an all-beef wiener in a steamed poppy seed bun topped with seven classic condiments: yellow mustard, chopped onions, sweet pickle relish, tomato slices (exactly two of these), sport peppers (two of these, as well), a dill pickle spear, and a sprinkling of celery salt.

Bruce Kraig, author of Man Bites Dog and Hot Dog: A Global History, offers an explanation of why no ketchup is needed: "If you consider what's on a Chicago hot dog, it is hot, sour, salty, sweet — all together, with crunchy vegetables, set in a soft bun. So, it's a symphony of textures and flavors unmatched anywhere. If you put ketchup on, it will kill everything." Nick Kindelsperger of Grub Street concurs, going on to say, "When perfectly portioned, the seven toppings on a traditional Chicago-style hot dog [...] combine to create something like a less-sweet ketchup."

So there you have it, ketchup on a Chicago-style hot dog is superfluous and just plain wrong. You have been warned: Do not ask for it, lest you find yourself tossed into Lake Michigan... although, should you make it to the opposite shoreline, you may be relieved to know that MLive says it's perfectly acceptable to slather ketchup all over your Michigan meat pasty.