I suppose there are people who could eat whatever else they want while going through a year of downing as many cheesesteaks as I have since last summer. But I’m not one of them. I’ve hardly touched certain other foods I would normally eat at least occasionally in an effort to partially offset whatever damage I may be doing with the steak sandwiches.
For one thing, I’ve had very few burgers, and I had been a pretty big burger guy for at least 20 years; almost certainly eating a lot more of those than cheesesteaks during that period. I also can’t remember the last time I had a regular steak; the kind that you eat with a fork and knife. And there aren’t many things I like more than a quality dry-aged ribeye or strip steak.
One other item I’ve just about completely cut out is hot dogs. I am pretty sure I haven’t had one this year; at least up until tonight, when I had two.
Like most Americans who came of age before health-conscious eating went mainstream, I ate my fair share of franks while growing up. Two of them was my standard when attending a Phillies game at the Vet with my parents.
But I didn’t really learn the ins and outs of hot dogs and what makes a good one until I was in my late 30s. I worked in the features department of a major media outlet in those days, so there was a lot of expertise on just about anything to do with culture and lifestyle all around me.
I don’t remember how the topic came up, but one of my colleagues – an arts editor who just happened to know as much about hot dogs as anyone I had ever heard discuss them – gave me a tutorial on the differences between various types of hot dogs along with recommending which style I should look for. In addition to suggesting that I stick with all-beef franks, he stressed that hot dogs with natural casings are preferable to those that come without them – or skinless.
As some of you know by now, I’m always on the look-out for the best of any type of food that I like. So following my discussion with the expert, I immediately started searching for all-beef hot dogs with natural casings. But I quickly discovered that, at least in my region, skinless hot dogs are much more common than those with natural casings in grocery stores. In fact, my experiences since then have taught me that some stores don’t stock any beef franks with natural casings. But most decent stores seem to have one or two brands on hand. Nathan’s and Boar’s Head may be the two most common of the major brands around here. Sabrett – the New York City street cart dog – is great, but hard to find with casings in my region.
Although I have not been buying hot dogs lately, I still periodically take a good look at what our local supermarket is stocking. Recently, I noticed that they had a couple new beef hot dog offerings, both with natural casings, from their in-house store – or generic – brand. One of those is a German style frank, which I’m not nuts about. Their spices and flavor profile are different from a deli-style frank, which is what I prefer. But the other one is a hardwood-smoked hot dog. I’ve never tried a smoked frank before and was intrigued enough to grab a pack during our most recent shopping trip. I opened it and tried my first two earlier this evening.
When I was a kid, I typically boiled hot dogs – at least until we bought our first microwave. But I’ve developed a preference for either grilled or pan-fried franks as I’ve gotten older. I like a bit of a char on the outer surface. As I don’t have a gas grill and didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting my charcoal grill going for only two hot dogs, I pan-fried the two I had for dinner tonight.
If you do this at home, I recommend letting the pan get very hot before throwing your hot dogs on it. I usually get a bit impatient and start to press down on the hot dogs with a spatula or some sort of cooking utensil to speed the charring process up. When working with natural casing franks, there is very little loss of juice as a result of the pressure.
I would guess it took about 10 minutes for me to get my two hot dogs to the point where I was ready to place them on a pair of waiting potato buns.
I had chopped up a slice of Vidalia onion beforehand and added that along with a favorite deli-style mustard on one and ketchup on the other. A few of you may be shaking your heads in disgust over the mention of putting ketchup on a hot dog. In some regions – the major hot dog hub of Chicago for one – it’s considered a sign of bad taste. But I’m not from one of those regions and like it, so I’ll just have to live with any scorn that may be coming my way.
In many parts of the U.S., it’s also standard for hot dogs to come topped with chili or some sort of meat-based sauce that is highly seasoned along with mustard and chopped onions. But again, that’s not the case in the Philly region, where I’m from. Onions and mustard or ketchup are usually enough for me.
On the side with my franks, I finished off some leftover corn pudding that was made using a recipe from the legendary Blue Willow Inn of Social Circle, Georgia. It’s a dish I usually make for Thanksgiving, but my mother made it for her July 4th gathering last weekend, which doubled as an early birthday celebration for me. I really can’t get enough of it. It’s basically custard with corn and creamed corn added. What more could a person ask for?
I was extremely impressed with the smoked hot dogs. The first bite I took was revelatory. The smoke really adds an extra and very appealing layer of flavor to the frank. And – as is generally the case – there is an added textural dimension from the natural casings, which have a bit of a ‘snap’ when you bite into them.
I’ll be buying these again.