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Mike Redmond Column

Please refer to the Mike Redmond Column main page for columns published in other issues.
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 Chili Dog Leaves Fans Barking for More

Ladies and gentlemen, I rise today to speak (well, actually, sit today to type, but you get the general idea) in praise of a culinary achievement without which life in 21st Century America would be dull indeed.

I speak of the humble chili dog.

Yes, my friends, the chili dog – a tube of processed meat, laid onto a cottony bun and slathered with a spicy stew. When the time is right and the mood strikes you, there is no finer dish.

Where to begin singing the praises of this estimable edible? Is it with the snap of a juicy frankfurter? The zing of the chili? Or is it both -- the play of the Southwestern(ish) chili spices against the smoky German(ish) sausage flavor?

Oh, the many joys of a properly made chili dog.

Now, mind you, we are talking about a properly made chili dog. Even a food so humble has to be prepared according to Hoyle (which, for you youngsters, is an antique way of saying “by the rules”).

First, the bun. It must be soft and white. No offense against whole-grain, organic hot dog buns, but those are like wrapping your hot dog in cardboard from a shoebox.

For a chili dog, you need something that’s going to give your dog a comfortable bed while serving as a sponge for the chili. We’re talking Wonder bread here. You know, something with the approximate nutritional value of a sofa pillow.

Then, the dog. Take your pick. There are a number of good ones out there. I prefer them with natural casings so they pop when you bite them, and I prefer them steamed rather than grilled, but this is the area of the chili dog where we can grant a little leeway. Just stay away from the ones that list “meat” below the halfway point on the list of ingredients.

And, finally, we come to the chili, about which we have some rather stringent requirements, the first and most important being no beans.

Second, do not confuse Coney sauce with chili. Coney sauce is a delinquent version of Sloppy Joe and not even worthy of consideration. Its sweet taste has no place on a hot dog. Why? Because it is seasoned primarily with ketchup, and ketchup does not belong on hot dogs. Only a weirdo would think so.

A chili dog does represent one of the few instances where canned chili and homemade chili are on equal footing. Wolf Brand chili makes a superb chili dog. What’s important is that the chili be seasoned properly. Which means that cinnamon-y Cincinnati-style chili (gag) is out of the running.

Some people spread mustard onto the bun before building their chili dogs. This always struck me as gilding the lily. Shredded cheese and chopped onion are a nice addition, though.

And there you have it: One of America’s greatest contributions to the food world. If only we knew the name of the person who first came up with the idea of bringing together these prosaic ingredients to create something so sublime. Add a cold root beer and you are in business.

Chili dog, I salute you.

Which is all I can do, unfortunately. My doctor says I’m not supposed to eat them anymore. Something about grease and salt being bad for you.

What a weirdo.

Probably puts ketchup on her hot dogs.




© 2011 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.