Spring Training is underway in Arizona. And baseball without hot dogs is like Thanksgiving without turkey. Not an actual crime, but close.
“It’s the official food of baseball,” says Kat Moore, who along with her husband, Brad, owns Short Leash Hot Dogs in Phoenix. “It’s even hard for us to go to a game without eating one, and we are around hot dogs every day.”
As with many food traditions, the origins of the hot-dogs-and-baseball romance remain fuzzy. One school of historians credits German baseball fans for bringing hot dogs to parks in the Midwest in the 1870s. Others cite a scorecard seller in New York City, who as the legend goes, sent employees out on a cold day to buy warm sausages on Vienna rolls.
However it happened, they were an instant hit, and hot dogs — also called frankfurters, wieners or red hots — and baseball have been loving partners ever since. Babe Ruth once ate a dozen between a doubleheader.
One thing is certain: The humble hot dog has undergone a glamorous makeover. It’s no longer relegated to a humdrum white roll with the standard mustard, ketchup, onions or relish.
The Moores — who began selling their naan-wrapped dogs from a food truck eight years ago — are among the hot-dog pioneers who have changed toppings to include mac and cheese, mango chutney, grilled pears and arugula.
No surprise, top-selling Short Leash hot dogs pay homage to baseball. The Bear (originally called The 7th Inning Stretch), won an Arizona Diamondbacks hot-dog challenge. The creation — a dog topped with peanut butter, Cracker Jack, barbecue sauce, bacon and smoked gouda — beat out two others made by celebrated Valley chefs.
Today’s hot dog varieties represent a cultural melting pot: British salt-and-vinegar chips, Mexican green-chili pork, Banh Mi (with spicy mayo, sliced cucumber, shredded carrot and fresh mint leaves) or Cuban (with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and spicy mustard).
Traced back to ancient Greece, beer houses in Germany and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, hot dogs are more than just trendy flavor bombs. They seem custom made for families.
“It’s a multi-generational meal, one that appeals to 6-year-olds to 60-year-olds,” says Brad, a banker turned hot-dog maker. Other family-friendly attributes: hot dogs cook in minutes and can easily be customized with an assortment of toppings to suit the diverse tastes in any family.
And the choices of dogs have never been better, from traditional ones made of a combination of pork and beef to Kosher beef, tofu, chicken and turkey. It’s a stretch to classify hot dogs as health food, but with the right dog and toppings, they can pass for a healthy lunch or dinner.
“Many of our regular customers are vegans and have learned that a hot dog can fit into their healthy diet,” says Kat, a former interior designer.
Good-for-you options include tofu or poultry dogs on whole-grain rolls with pickled vegetables, sliced zucchini strips, chopped tomatoes, vegetarian chili, avocados or a vinaigrette coleslaw. For a gut-friendly dog, top with probiotic-rich sauerkraut. Decadent options include cheesy casseroles and another baseball staple — the corndog. Both pair hot dogs with creamy or crunchy ingredients.
In preparing hot dogs, the only hard-and-fast rule is to distribute warm, melty garnishes next to the dog. Place cold or room-temperature toppings — such as diced onions — on top of the warm dog. Hot dogs are cured and smoked, so simply need to be warmed before serving.
Here are some easy cooking tips:
Grill: The Moores tout grilling as the best method, because it produces a taught, crisp skin. To grill, heat hot dogs on high heat on a gas or charcoal grill. Turn with tongs instead of a fork (piercing the skin allows flavorful juices to escape). Turn frequently and grill 3-4 minutes.
Fry: Pan frying also produces crispy dogs. Lightly coat a sauté pan or skillet with oil. When oil is hot, add dogs to the pan, turning frequently with a spatula or tongs. Fry for about 5 minutes.
Steaming: Fill a large saucepan with a few inches of water. Place a steamer rack on top. Bring water to a boil, place dogs on the rack and lower heat to simmer. Steam for about 6-7 minutes. For more flavor, steam with beer or broth.
Boiling: Works well when cooking for a crowd. Fill a large saucepan about half full of water. Bring to a boil, add hot dogs and boil for a minute. Turn off the turner, cover the pan and let the hot dogs simmer in hot water for 6-7 minutes.
Microwave: Works for cooking up to four hot dogs. Place them on a microwave-safe plate. Poke with a fork to prevent explosions. Cook on high heat for 1-1½ minutes. Allow to stand for a minute before serving.
Recipes from Short Leash Hot Dogs, with a mobile food truck and brick-and-mortar locations at 110 E. Roosevelt St. in Phoenix and the courtyard at Scottsdale Fashion Park. 602-795-2193 or shortleashhotdogs.com
The Bear Hotdog
(a.k.a. The 7th Inning Stretch)
- 4 large spicy hot dogs
- 4 naan (bread), each about 6 inches long
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter
- 4 tablespoons sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce
- 1½ cups shredded smoked Gouda cheese
- 6 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and then crumbled
- 1 cup caramel popcorn or Cracker Jack
Preheat grill to medium heat. Grill hot dogs, turning until heated through and skins are browning, about 4 minutes. Shortly before the hot dogs are cooked, sprinkle naan with a little water and heat on the grill for about a minute, flipping bread halfway. Warm naan folds easily. Remove naan and hot dogs from grill. Top each naan with a hot dog. Drizzle 2 tablespoons peanut butter over each hotdog, thoroughly covering each. (If necessary, soften peanut butter in the microwave beforehand.) Sprinkle bacon on each hotdog and top with shredded Gouda. Drizzle barbecue sauce on top. Sprinkle with popcorn. Makes 4 servings.
- 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
- 1½ cups yellow cornmeal
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1½ cups regular milk
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 10 hot dogs
- 10 wooden skewers or chopsticks
In a medium or large pot, add the oil. Turn heat to medium and heat oil to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, add the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt to a large bowl. Stir together. Add the beaten egg, milk, oil and honey. Stir until combined. Batter should be a little thicker than pancake batter. Wipe hotdogs dry with a paper towel to help batter stick. Insert a wooden stick into each hot dog. Pour the batter into a tall drinking glass. Holding by the skewer, take one hot dog and dunk it into the batter, coating all of the hot dog. Immediately place it into the hot oil, while still holding the stick. Turn as necessary to brown all sides. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until all sides are a deep golden brown. Remove from hot oil and place on paper towels to drain grease. Repeat with all hot dogs. Makes 10 servings.
Polka Dot Casserole
- 10 ounces uncooked penne pasta
- ¼ cup butter or margarine
- 2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1½ cups shredded cheddar
- ½ cup grated smoked Gouda
- 1 cup white Velveeta
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 4 all-beef hot dogs, sliced into small pieces
Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside. In a saucepan, melt butter or margarine over medium heat. Slowly stir in flour to make a roux. Stir constantly until mixture is slightly brown and smells nutty. Next, add milk to roux slowly, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in cheeses, and cook over low heat until cheese melts and the sauce turns slightly thick. Place pasta and sliced all-beef hot dogs into a large casserole dish, and pour sauce over pasta. Stir well. For topping, melt butter or margarine in a skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs or panko and brown. Spread over the pasta and cheese to cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.