A couple of dogs on the grill at Dube Dogs N More, a food cart parked on Commercial Street in Manchester, on Monday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
Boiled, fried, corned, piled high with pickles, or simply with a squeeze of ketchup — you just can't mess up a hot dog.
It's such a simple food. Yet with the right toppings, those wieners can take a palate on a culinary journey around the world or make you long for the warm embrace of home.
"People say to me, 'This dish took me back to my grandmother's house,' and that's what hot dogs do," said John Medlin, chef and owner of Popper's Artisanal Meats in Dover. "They are very comforting; they remind us of good times."
Hot dogs are an ages old delicacy. In fact, sausage — hot dog's closest kin — is one of the oldest forms of processed food, mentioned as early as the 9th century B.C. in "Homer's Odyssey," according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Although the origins and even the name "hot dog" are hotly contested by historians, according to the council, references to dachshund sausages and ultimately hot dogs can be traced to German immigrants in the 1800s who brought not only sausages, but dachshund dogs, to America. The council notes that most Germans at the time referred to the frankfurter as a "little-dog" or "dachshund" sausage, thus linking the word "dog" to the wieners.
These days, the dog has come a long way with varieties of dogs and toppings limited only by the imagination.
Steve Bromley, the food and beverage manager at Loon Mountain, said the upcoming Hot Dog Festival Aug. 3 will feature a slew of those permutations beginning with 16 different kinds of hot dog including natural casing — the kind with the snap; all meat — which usually means pork, as well as kosher, veggie, red and corn.
"For dessert, you can actually have an ice cream hot dog," he said. "It's sponge cake shaped like a hot dog bun with ice cream in the middle."
As for the secret behind the red hot dog.
"It's just red dye," Bromley said. "But you know, they are fun hot dogs."
But what really makes a frank top dog is what's on it. Medlin at Popper's said they like to get creative. One of its most popular is called the G Dog, which is topped with chicken, bacon, smoked cheddar and a Coney sauce — made from beef heart, pork and cumin. His hot, hot dog is made with Thai chilies and cayenne and comes with a neon green relish. Another favorite dog topping with is malted aioli — which is like a garlic mayonnaise with malted vinegar — cabbage slaw and celery salt.
"I'm 45 now," he said. "And over the last 20 years or so, I've developed my own tastes and style. And you know, you get inspired by other chefs, just talking to each other."
For Trina Ahrens, who co-owns Downtown Dogs in Dover with husband Bill, one of their most popular dogs was inspired by our neighbor chefs to the south. Ahrens said their Sonoran Dog is a derivation of a style popular in Mexico, Ahrens said.
"Our Sonoran dog, we use 100 percent beef dogs with natural casings, which gives them a little bit of a snap," she said. "We use a couple of slice of bacon, refried beans, two sport peppers, chopped onion, salsa and grated cheese, and we put that into a poppy seed bun."'
To make their Dogfather, they use homemade all-beef chili, bacon, grilled onions and grated cheese.
"Put it in the steamer for a few minutes, the cheese melts all over the place and it sort of comes out really nice," she said.
But it's the Chicago Dog that is the go-to dog, Ahrens said. That one the Ahrens actually import authentic Chicago poppy seed buns for and top it with an all-beef dog, mustard, relish, sport peppers, kosher dill pickles, two tomatoes, chopped red onions and celery salt.
"It sounds really kind of goofy," Ahrens said. "But when you put it all together, well, Bill calls it a party in your mouth."