The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 24, 2013

Cheryle Finley: Hot dog! All-American food still a favorite

JOPLIN, Mo. — By the third day of my family's Las Vegas visit to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary 12 years ago, my father had had enough of dancing shrimp and other fancy-named dishes.

He had an almost pathetic look on his face when he asked our server if he could just have a hot dog. That hot dog was a reminder of home, where he didn't have to peek from behind large shrimp bouncing around on skewers in order to see everyone at the table.

When I ordered a hot dog at Freddy's last week, I had forgotten how much I love these little encased meat products. It was served up perfectly with a little sauerkraut and a squirt of mustard on a toasted bun. A hot dog is about the only food on which I enjoy mustard as a condiment, so it makes sense to me that mustard is the favorite hot dog topping out there.

Hot dogs appeal to young and old people alike, even those with finicky palates. But almost six dozen in a short window of time? Who isn't tempted to watch Joey Chestnut down 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes during the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest? I'm not sure I could eat even one that had been drenched in water, which is what the contestants do, so, to me, this feat defies logic.

How important is it to get the right hot dog? I'm not talking about kielbasa or sausage, just a plain hot dog. It may start out plain, but it won't remain that way with names such as Chicago Dog, Kansas City Dog, Michigan Dog and New York Dog. Want to start with a quality hot dog? Reading the package can get you quality if you are willing to pay a little more. Choose all-beef franks if you prefer only beef in your dogs with no soybean protein or dry milk solid fillers. What if it's kosher? Then it's all beef and usually loaded with garlic seasoning; no pork in sight for this one. Hot dogs labeled "meat" means these dogs are usually a mixture of 40 percent pork and 60 percent beef with no fillers. You can also find hot dogs made from chicken, turkey or vegetables. Then there are those hot dogs that contain a little bit of everything, and you can probably think of some explicit animal parts that might be included. Reading the labels should point you in the right direction.

Getting a hot dog ready for a bun is usually either a matter of preference or a matter of time. Grilling outside or on a griddle on the stove will give the hot dog those marks that some people find so important. Grilling is probably the No. 1 way to cook a hot dog. A close second is roasting. Dangled over a bonfire, some prefer the hot dog to be charred almost beyond recognition, while others want just enough heat to warm it through. Sometimes it's an art to get the hot dog just right, free of accidental ash spots. Microwaves are the go-to appliance for a speedy hot dog, which only takes about 30 seconds.

Once a hot dog is heated and ready to eat, you must decide if it's going to be enjoyed with or without a bun. If you do choose a bun, will it be toasted, steamed, or used straight out of the package? A grill, a skillet on top of the stove or an oven will easily toast the bread. Just brush the bun with some melted butter, giving it just the right crunch after a few minutes of toasting. But beware: Too much heat will make the bun too dry. You want the bun to be a soft container that can be pinched together to keep all the goodness inside, especially if you are topping-happy. Wrap it in a damp paper towel and nuke it for 20 seconds to get a soft, steamed bun in the blink of an eye.

While the regular version of a hot dog -- a warmed wiener on a bun -- is by far the most popular choice, hot dogs can be encased in dough for a corn dog or wrapped in crescent rolls to create pigs in a blanket. Small cocktail wieners are chosen for a quick, tasty appetizer. And who doesn't remember beanie weenie?

Are hot dogs good for your everyday diet? No, because of the sodium and nitrates. But as an occasional ball-game treat or an on-the-run meal, a hot dog with your favorite toppings can make you smile.

While today's recipes from "The Perfect Mix" would be a good addition to a gift basket, they will also serve you well in your kitchen cabinet. I'm offering up two versions of the seasoning mix, one with salt and one without. I think you will find yourself adding these to lots of dishes. There is a hot dog recipe from "The Dinner Doctor" that guarantees a quick dinner. Use canned chili if you're in a hurry.

My favorite drizzle for blueberry muffins is any lemon-flavored glaze. Combine those two flavors to make the refreshing no-bake pie, also from "The Dinner Doctor." It's perfect for summer. Stay cool and happy eating!


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