Eating wieners isn't just habit; it's puppy love



The most popular toppings vary by region and local preference.
By AMY McCONNELL SCHAARSMITH
SCRIPPS HOWARD
Oh, admit it. You love hot dogs. Grilled, steamed, boiled or roasted over a campfire, frankfurters have a furtive appeal for even the snootiest gourmands.
The rest of us don't bother trying to hide our passion, slathering on the relish, sauerkraut, chili and cheese with the abandon of poolside teenagers coating themselves with suntan oil.
Americans love this classic anytime of the year. It's certainly a natural for those Memorial Day cookouts.
And believe it or not, I bring you good news about your beloved: It does not, I repeat not, contain snouts, hooves, hearts or other unsavory bits (unless you see "variety meats" among the ingredients. More about that later).
Not to say that hot dogs' nutritional status in any way approaches health food -- most have about 30 percent of their calories coming from fat, which is high, and contain preservatives such as nitrites.
But as an occasional treat at the ballpark or on a camping trip, you can stop imagining the worst and enjoy our high-fat national delicacy. You can tell those snickerers, those friends and co-workers who dare to "ew" your favorite dog, that frankly, you find them unpatriotic.
It's American
After all, where would this country and its economy be without processed meat? Cincinnati might never have been built, for one thing, and Chicago, that glorious meatpacking giant, might have remained a fur-trading outpost on the shores of Lake Michigan until it slid into irrelevance in the late 19th century.
And what on earth would we eat at baseball games, where the wiener remains top dog among food choices -- panini? That would be so wrong.
Baseball fans, in fact, will consume enough hot dogs at Major League Baseball stadiums between Opening Day in April to the final game of the World Series in October to create a line of hot dogs from Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington all the way to AT & amp;T Park in San Francisco, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. That's more than 2,800 miles of franks, folks.
And given the fact that almost all hot dogs are made from small trimmings of whole-muscle meat such as roasts -- not snouts or ears -- you don't have to fight that feeling anymore.
"If you saw a hot dog being made, it would start out with meat that looks like beef stew cubes," said Janet Riley, president of the hot-dog council and otherwise known as "The Queen of Wien."
"It's trimmings, but it's still meat like you'd put into a stew."
Bad rep in history
Hot dogs got their bad rap, she said, from the days before federal meat regulations, when they did indeed contain things like lips, snouts, hearts and other tidbits, and weren't labeled to disclose that fact.
It didn't help that they began being called hot dogs, after the tube-shaped dachshund dogs that the Germans (who brought hot-dog products from Frankfurt) and Viennese (who brought hot dogs from Vienna, or Wien) also brought with them when they immigrated in the 1800s.
The connotation, of course, was that the hot dogs were made from dogs -- and at least one silent film from the early 20th century showed dogs going into a box and hot dogs coming out, reinforcing the notion in the public's mind, Riley said.
In the rare instances in which hot dogs do contain meat by-products, manufacturers must prominently disclose on the front of the package that it contains "variety meats." The ingredient list then must say what kind of "variety meats," such as beef hearts, are included.
None of the meats is unwholesome, just not commonly eaten by Americans, Riley said.
"Hearts, for instance, are perfectly healthy, perfectly wholesome, but it's not something we commonly consume as a culture so it's not something [meatpackers] commonly add," Riley said. "If they are, it would be displayed clearly and prominently on the label."
Toppings
With that caveat in mind, all-beef franks (and, if you insist, turkey, chicken or pork mixes) are perfect, meaty vehicles for all kinds of delicious toppings.
There's the robust and sloppy mash of chili and cheese on a Cincinnati-style coney. Or the fresh tomatoes and hauntingly sweet undertones of pickle relish and celery salt on a Chicago-style dog. Or the steamed onions and pale yellow mustard of a New York City dog. Or the creamy, crunchy snap of a Southern slaw dog.
With all those options and others, there's a whole country full of hot dogs out there to eat. So light up that grill and get started on your summer puppy love.