The Untold Truth Of The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

The Chicago Dog is a staple fast-food item in the Windy City and has become popular outside the city for which it was named as well.

The Chicago Dog starts somewhat simply, with an all beef hot dog, often steamed, sometimes grilled, but not boiled (via Hot Dog Chicago Style). Fluky's, a Chicago institution that has been serving the hot dogs since 1929 and played a large role in the selection of the toppings which has made them famous today, advises bringing small amount water to a boil, then down to a low simmer, at which point the number of desired hot dogs should be added to the pot and cooked uncovered. The dog is then put in a poppy seed bun and then showered with toppings.

The majority of Chicago Dogs are made using Vienna Beef hot dogs, with some estimates suggesting that the brand accounts for four fifths of all Chicago Dogs made in the city. Vienna Beef hot dogs go all the way back to 1893, when they were introduced at Chicago's Columbian Exposition and World's Fair (via the Vienna Beef website)

What goes into a Chicago-style dog?

The toppings for a traditional Chicago Dog are: yellow mustard, green relish, chopped onions, tomato slices, a pickle, sport peppers, and celery salt. Though it may seem like everything but the kitchen sink is being added to the hot dog, there's one topping that you'll never see on a Chicago Dog, and that's ketchup.

There are a number of stipulations made by traditionalists about how the toppings need to be arranged: there must be two wedges of tomatoes and two sports peppers.

The green relish used on the hot dog is widely described as being "neon" in color. It looks like Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day, when it's dyed green (via Mental Floss). One theory attributes the bright color to a relish maker who used a bit of food coloring to make up for some naturally uneven coloring in his relish. He was a bit heavy handed with the green dye but the tradition stuck (via Dining Chicago). 

An artful Chicago Dog maker will arrange the toppings so that every bite of the hot dog contains a little bit of each topping.

The Chicago Dog has immigrant roots

How did this Chicago concoction come about? It seems probably that it had something to do with the city's early immigrant inhabitants, who were from Germany, where sausages reign supreme (via Thrillist). German immigrants made up a huge portion of the population and by the end of the 1800s, a fourth of the city had either been born in Germany or were first generation German immigrants. On top of that, some 36 percent of the city's butchers were German. The German sausage tradition that they brought with them to the United States, coupled with the fact that Chicago was known for its meatpacking industry, and new technological innovations like the steam-powered meat chopper led to the development of sausage brands, and Jewish immigrants to the city introduced the all-beef hot dog that would serve as the base of the Chicago Dog. 

Legend has it that in the 1920s, the Maxwell Street area of the city was home to immigrants from many different nations and the hot dogs that were being sold on the street started taking on new toppings in addition to the traditional German ones: mustard and pickles.

The Great Depression plays a part

When the Great Depression hit, consumers wanted to get the biggest possible bang for their buck and a tradition began of piling on vegetables onto hot dogs to make the street food more of a full meal. The most popular combination of toppings and vegetables was made popular by Fluky's and is the Chicago Dog that we know and love today.

Once the Great Depression ended, hot dog stands began popping up around Chicago and the invention that had its roots in necessity began to spread like wildfire. City dwellers started moving out to the suburbs once they had earned a bit of money. Those who were in the hot dog stand business took the dogs with them and the Chicago Dog was introduced to more and more people as Chicagoans began to trickle out of the city and into the surrounding areas. 

While it would be difficult to estimate the number of Chicago Dogs sold annually, suffice it to say that Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is the country's biggest hotdog retailer, with two million hot dogs (and certainly many of them are Chicago-style) sold annually, beating out every Major League Baseball stadium, including Chicago's Wrigley field (via Hot Dog Chicago Style).