The hot dog – an iconic American food if there ever was one. Right up there with apple pie and fast food restaurants, Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs a year. Despite their undeniable popularity, it seems there is no end to the jokes targeting innocent hot dogs and what may, or may not, be hidden inside their tubular depths. And famous or not, most people have only the vaguest idea about where hot dogs got their start, or even what specifically differentiates a hot dog from other types of sausage.
The Origins of Hot Dogs
Exactly where and when hot dogs were invented are very much up for debate and, as yet, there are no clear winners. General consensus has it that all sausages and hot dog-like products originally came from Germany. In 1987, Frankfurt celebrated the 500th anniversary of the “frankfurter”, claiming ownership of this iconic term for obvious reasons. However, the residents of Vienna, Austria (known in German as “Wien”) also make a fairly reasonable claim to the evolution of sausages and frankfurters into something closer to today’s “wiener” that is used to make hot dogs.
But what really makes a hot dog a hot dog, and not just another version of a sausage with a contentious name? Well, it’s the bun, of course. So, who was the genius that first came up with the idea to put the wiener inside the bun? Once again, we have several candidates.
It is generally assumed that German immigrants brought the sausage/frankfurter/wiener to America, but which one added the bun?
One story claims that in 1880 the wife of German sausage-seller, Antonoine Feuchtwanger, suggested he split a bun to hold the sausage to save money on the gloves they had, until that point, provided to keep people from burning their hands. However, others suggest that Charles Feltman, the original Coney Island pie-wagon entrepreneur, actually began putting sausages inside a warm bun as early as 1867. One way or another, by the end of the 19th century hot dogs were all the rage in the United States, and nowhere more so than at baseball games. Being considered a traditional staple of one America’s most popular pastimes only adds the hot dog’s patriotic mystique.
Related post: Strange Baseball Traditions
How Are Hot Dogs Made?
In general terms, a quantity of meat trimmings (we’ll get back to this part shortly) are ground up, blended and mixed with any additional spices or ingredients desired by the hot dog maker. This somewhat dubious-looking mixture is then dumped into a machine that pumps it into casings which hold it all into the proper sausage shape. The casings can either be natural and edible, or made from artificial materials which are used to cook the meat and then are meant to be removed prior to eating. Regardless of which type is used, it is not a pretty process.
What Are Hot Dogs Made Of?
Finally, time to address the question you aren’t entirely sure you want the answer to. However, despite the many horror stories regarding all the disgusting things hidden inside hot dogs, experts claim this is very rarely the case.
All reputable hot dog manufacturers list the ingredients on the package, and even though some of the names may sound unappealing (i.e. mechanically separated meat, skeletal trimmings, nitrates), that doesn’t mean they are unhealthy or undesirable. Each company will also add a variety of other ingredients such as salt and spices to create their own preferred flavour and blend. The nitrates are typically used to give hot dogs their distinctive coloring, add flavor and protect against certain bacteria. Also, while hot dogs are not generally made from lean meat or considered health food, they are cheap and a decent source of protein.
Bottom line, the inner workings of a hot dog factory may not be pretty or particularly appealing but there is no reason to believe your favorite stadium special or street cart dog contains anything to worry about. What it really comes down to is how rarely any of us would really want to see the food we eat being made.
Of course, if finding out what is actually in hot dogs seems less fun than watching people eat them, check out this quiz and try to name these celebrities eating hot dogs.
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