The Real Difference Between New York And Chicago Style Hot Dogs

While Chicago has been playing Second City to New York for the past few centuries, one thing you can say about the Windy City is they never keep trying to get a leg up on their pomaceous rival (vocabulary word of the day, according to Merriam-Webster, it means 'of or pertaining to apples). While they may lag behind in population, in entertainment, and in general abrasive self-promotion — Chicago, after all, can't quite seem to shake off the last vestiges of "Midwestern nice" — the one territory where they absolutely refuse to cede the field is that of food, or regional specialties, to be specific. The Chicago vs. New York pizza debate has been raging since back when zoot suits were in style, but it's a question to which there will never be an answer since the two are so different, with Chicago's being deep-dish and New York's having more of a traditional crust.

Yet another iconic food has the country equally divided as to which city is top when it comes to hot dogs. Call it what you will — frankfurter, wiener, tube steak, or hot dog, there's no denying that the two most famous city-specific variants are the ones from New York and Chicago. And, as with the city's pizzas, these two variants on a single theme couldn't be more different.

NYC hot dogs are a street cart classic

Long before the era of food trucks, the streets of New York were known for their hot dog carts. Even if you've never taken a trip out to Gotham City, you may be familiar with these from their numerous big screen cameos including appearances in both Ghostbusters (via YouTube) and Spider-Man 2 (via YouTube). The hot dogs are boiled right there in the cart, then served up fresh and hot and topped with brown (not yellow) mustard, sauerkraut, and a special type of sweet onion relish.

The Spruce Eats shares a copycat recipe for this last-named condiment that reveals the shocking truth that the onions are cooked in ketchup (something you'll never see on a Chicago-style dog). The other ingredients include honey, chili powder, cinnamon, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. This flavor combo makes for a spicy-sweet, uniquely New York hot dog topping.

Chicago-style dogs date back to the Great Depression

Hot dogs became a nationwide phenomenon starting in the 1890s, and they were nowhere more popular than in the meat-packing metropolis of Chicago. The Chicago-style dog as we know it today, however, seems to date back to the "depression sandwiches" sold by Fluky's that consisted of a hot dog that had been "dragged through the garden" (via Thrillist). While the original "garden" may have consisted of any and all produce available from Maxwell Street vendors, over time it came to include the very specific set of ingredients we know as today's Chicago dog.

According to Hot Dog Chicago Style, any self-respecting Chicago dog requires all of the following elements: an all-beef hot dog (Vienna Beef is the brand of choice for most vendors), a steamed poppy-seed bun, yellow mustard, pickle relish (Fluky's introduced a special bright neon green version that has become standard), chopped onions, two tomato wedges, a pickle spear, two sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt.

One more fun fact about Chicago dogs: they are one of the few regional foodstuffs to have a sports team named after them. In 2018, the Chicago Dogs, whose logo features their eponymous wiener in front of a baseball (via Enjoy Illinois: Rosemont), joined the likes of the Montgomery Biscuits and the Kansas City T-Bones in the elite ranks of food-inspired baseball teams.