What Really Makes Portillo's Hot Dogs So Delicious

Whether you're a meat-eater or not, hot dogs will remain an American classic 'til the end of time. Not only will you find them at just about every sporting event, concert and cookout you attend, but at hot dog carts flooding the streets of every major city. On average, The National Hot Dog and Sausage Association estimates the United States consumes a whopping 20 billion hot dogs a year, with 95% of American homes serving hot dogs for dinner. It's no wonder Portillo's hot dogs have been a massive hit with nationwide recognition for decades, and we have Dick Portillo, Founder of Portillo's, to thank for that. Portillo's hot dogs aren't just famous because this is America — they're famous because they are mouth-wateringly delicious. To put it shortly, Portillo's hot dogs make the world go round. If you've had them, you likely crave them year-round. If you haven't, you're about to find out what you're missing out on.

The nostalgia for the Windy City natives

The humbling start of Portillo's, (first known as "The Dog House"), won the loyalty of Midwesterns across the nation. The now Chicago staple started out as an old-timey red-and-white food shack purchased from the funds that were originally supposed to be for Dick Portillo and his wife's first home together (via QSR Magazine). 

After a struggling start and many years of perfecting their recipes, Portillo's created the most crave-worthy hot dogs and quickly grew into a widely-loved spot for Chicagoans. Regardless of how delicious these hot dogs really are, (and trust us ...they're irresistible), sometimes it's not just about the taste or looks of something, but the memories that keep their sense of pride alive. Chicago-natives are a passionate breed of folks and the longstanding history of the famous dogs as we know them have captured the hearts of millions since 1893. There's just something about the satisfying whiff of a freshly-made hot dog and the windiness of the city continues to blow the meaty aroma across the urban landscape.

Portillo's uses authentic Vienna-Beef hot dogs

Vienna Beef hot dogs have a rich history dating back to 1893 in Chicago. Now don't get confused with other types of hot dogs, because there is only one authentic Vienna Beef hot dog on the market — and they're respected for their high-quality ingredients and un-replicable flavor. Portillo's has proudly used Vienna Beef hot dogs since their commencement which takes the cake for some of the most flavorful hot dogs on the market. 

When it comes down to it, the true star of the show is always the hot dog, and Portillo's pays for Vienna Beef's authentic premium product so they can set themselves apart from any other hot dog stand or chain. Most people may freak out when they think of how hot dogs are made, but fear not. Vienna Beef uses fresh domestic beef and beef trimmings free of antibiotics, hormones, fillers, and artificial colors, so thankfully there's no mystery meat in that juicy dog.

Portillo's hot dogs are super affordable

Yes, we just talked about how delicious Portillo's hot dogs are merely because they use Vienna Beef products, which speaks for itself. That only further emphasizes how delicious and premium their hot dogs truly are and why they could be charging double what they do charge. Their regular Hot Dog that comes with everything on it is only $2.85, as stated on the online menu. Considering the quality of the hot dog and the long list of toppings that make it a classic Chicago-style dog (keep reading to find out what those toppings are), Portillo's could easily charge $5 per hot dog. However, they choose to keep it at a modest price-point for their loyal locals and trendy tourists. You know they always say that people from the Midwest have manners, so here is a kind thank you to Portillo's for not kicking wallets and taking names with outrageous prices.

Portillo's menu offers regular and jumbo-sized hot dogs

Hold up, did somebody say jumbo?! Yes, jumbo hot dogs. If you have the appetite of a hungry hippo and you're confident you could tackle a jumbo dog, head to Portillo's. There are no differences in the flavor between the regular and jumbo sizes. The jumbo is the same length as the regular hot dog at 6" long, but the jumbo is thicker in circumference. Thankfully, the jumbo hot dog with all the same fixings is only 40 cents more according to their online menu, so you get a big bang for your buck. 

One happy customer on Trip Advisor wrote, "THE JUMBO CHICAGO STYLE HOT DOGS SLAPPPP!!!! The cheese sauce with the fries are literally sent from Jesus himself. I will literally drive those 4 hours again just for hotdogs and cheese." Portillo's jumbo hot dogs offer a great and equally-as-delicious alternative to customers who have a bigger appetite and are looking for something more hearty.

Portillo's cooks their hotdogs using a special technique

Portillo's is very adamant about not boiling their hot dogs! Especially if you order one of their Italian Beef Kit & Hot Dog Kit Combo to cook at home. The concept is quite similar to upscale ramen restaurants. If you're familiar with going to ramen restaurants, you'll know that many of them do not allow you to take your leftover ramen home. This is because in Japanese culture, ramen is an art, and they don't want the integrity of the noodles to be compromised when they're reheated. Portillo's bathes their hot dogs in hot water (under boiling) for 20 minutes until plump and juicy. They don't want the integrity of their hot dogs to be compromised when cooking at home which is why they give you these exact at-home instruction. (also religiously followed in each of their restaurant locations). 

Per Portillo's: "Fill a 4 quart pot with one and half quarts of water (48 ounces). Bring water to a boil; turn the water down until it stops boiling, or a slight simmer. (DO NOT COOK HOT DOGS IN BOILING WATER). Place desired number of hot dogs into water and cook uncovered for 20 minutes. This is one of the critical steps to get the genuine Portillo's flavor."

Yes, the "critical" steps are a bit rigid for a hot dog, but this process plays a huge factor in how delicious Portillo's hot dogs are because it keeps their juiciness at its peak level and their texture tender.

It's all about the snap of a Portillo's hot dog

The classic and highly-desired "snap" you get from a good hot dog comes from the casing. All hot dogs are made with casings, but some of the most popular brands of hot dogs you'll find at the grocery store get their casing stripped before packaging. This gives them less resistance when biting into them, which is really just preference. 

Portillo's hot dogs are made with sheep and hog casings which get left on. This gives them their satisfying "pop" or "snap" when your teeth perforate the skin. According to the American Psychological Association, it's scientifically proven that texture is the reason we love some of our favorite foods. And while some people are very testy with hot dogs that have the casing texture and prefer the no-casing hot dogs you'll find at the store, the reason Portillo's hot dogs are so popular and loved by so many is because of that texturally-pleasing snap of the casing. 

Portillo's steams the buns

The snap of the skin from the hot dog is the perfect compliment to the pillowy and cloud-like poppy-seed bun. Poppy seeds are a classic addition you'll find on hot dog buns in Chicago as it provides an extra element of texture to the bread and an earthy and nutty aroma. Their menu states that their hot dogs are finished with a "perfectly steamed poppy seed bun which helps to achieve the perfect amount of chewiness and gumminess without it being soggy. No, we're not talking stick-to-your-teeth gummy. This is truly a delectable pairing. Steaming their buns allows the texture of the gluten to perfectly compliment the snap of the hot dog, immediately followed by the juiciness of it. The bun catches any juices that come from the hot dog and still keeps its structural integrity intact. It's hard not to fall in love with this carefully-created preparation as it satisfies all hot dog cravings you could imagine.

Portillo's is all about classic Chicago dog condiments

Portillo's is famously known for its classic Chicago dog. But how did the Chicago dog even come about? When hot dogs first made their way around Chicago in the mid-1800s, the Greeks and Italians threw things like onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers on these hot dogs which soon became known as the staple Chicago dog. 

Specifically, at Portillo's, their perfect accompaniment of condiments include: mustard, relish, celery salt, freshly-chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, a kosher pickle, and sport peppers with a steamed poppy bun) on their original Chicago dog. It's truly a perfect myriad of toppings as the juicy and savory umami-ness gives you a punch from the hot dog, pairing nicely with the freshness of the tomato slice. The onion packs a pungent, but pleasant aroma next to the pickle, which the acidity balances out the spiciness of the sport peppers. The mustard helps to tone down the sweetness of the relish while still allowing it to shine. 

The reason Portillo's Chicago dog is so delicious is that it gives you a little sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. How could one bite be any more perfect? 

The customer experience will having you say "hawt dog!"

The psychological power of Portillo's will get the very best of you every time. You may not even realize you're craving a delicious hot dog from Portillo's until you drive past one and see a crowded parking lot and massive drive-through line. You begin feeling major fomo (fear of missing out) and decide to take an unexpected stop for one quick dog, even though you just had lunch. 

When you walk into Portillo's, the hot dog aroma makes your taste buds flutter as excitement builds from the comfort-driven atmosphere. The checkered tablecloths and wooden chairs give you a small hometown feeling like your grandma just invited you back home for a special picnic. Ordering is a fun experience as you get to see what goes on in the open kitchen. It always feels better when you can see your food being made and it shows they have nothing to hide. 

Once they call your order, you stock up on your favorite condiments and head to find a spot to sit. We all know how gross environments can ruin your appetite. Thankfully, Portillo's keeps a clean and tidy restaurant, which makes enjoying your hot dog that much easier. Every part of Portillo's dining experience plays a part in positively influencing the first delicious bite of the hot dog to the last, but beware, Portillo's is almost always busy, so come prepared to wait in line. (It's worth it)!

The mouthwatering chocolate shake gives hot dog fans something to look forward to

One guilty pleasure Portillo's lovers get from their trip to the world-renowned hot dog spot is knowing they get to divulge in the infamous Chocolate Cake Shake. And it's no accident this Batman and Robin duo took the cake (pun intended). Every satisfying meal deserves the perfect sweet accompaniment, and boy oh boy did Portillo's figure it out. It's notoriously known that sweet and salty foods go perfectly together; also proven by how much people love dipping Wendy's fries into their chocolate Frosty

Portillo's knew that they had something special when they discovered how the beefy, fatty, savory flavor from the hot dog complimented the rich and chocolatey shake. The saltiness of the hot dog balances the chocolate shake from being too sweet. Yes, it's a dream-team duo that never fails to satisfy the hearts and tongues of many. If you still haven't tried them together, what are you waiting on?

You don't have to go to Chicago to try them

For those of you who have eaten at Portillo's, you know how satiated you feel after consuming one of their freshly-made, steaming, and juicy Chicago dogs. It can be pretty painful waiting and anticipating when the next time will be that your lips will meet with one yet again. And for those of you who have yet to see what all the much-deserved hype is all about and are dying to try them for yourself, but traveling is not feasible — there's good news for you! 

Portillo's offers to ship different combo packs to your doorstep with special instructions on exactly how to reheat and assemble as they would in the restaurant. They also offer a unique subscription service where they send you "Shipments of the month" for either six or 12 months. Yes, Portillo's knows their delicious hot dogs are so irresistible that they created a way to alleviate any withdrawals. While this is a dream come true, there's no doubt you'll still want to eventually experience the real-deal at one of their brick-and-mortars.