A Short History Of The Hotdog

Jul 4, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Food Fun, Margaret Mendel

by Margaret Mendel

Recipe at the end of this post.

Sausage, the precursor of the hotdog, has been around for a dog’s age. Finely chopped and highly seasoned meat stored in clean animal intestines became a clever way to preserve and store meat. This food has been around so long that it was even mentioned in Homers Odyssey written in the 9th Century BC. Italy, Portugal, Greece, France, and Germany all have long-standing recipes for sausages.

So, where does the classic American hotdog fit into this picture? hotdog

In the late 1600s Johann Georghehner, a butcher living in Coburg, Germany, popularized a smaller, thinner than average sausage then he traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to promote this new product. Though these small links are associated with Frankfurt, the namesake city, the German’s continued to refer to these sausages as ‘Dachshunds’ or ‘little-dogs’ because they resembled the small, long, thin dogs popular with the upper class.

These ‘little-dog’ sausages eventually were brought to America by northern European immigrants. They were a big success. By the mid 1800s, they had become a favorite working class street food and were sold in pushcarts everywhere on the Lower East Side and the Bowery in New York City.


multi national New York hotdogs

By 1871, the hotdog, served nestled inside a bun, became a crowd pleaser for the sunbathers that flocked to Coney Island. In 1893, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago further popularized the hotdog when thousands of people attending expositions were introduced to the ‘little-dogs’.

Baseball will forever be linked with the hotdog. Sure there is caramel corn, popcorn, and peanuts, though who doesn’t think about a hotdog when contemplating what to eat at a ballpark. We have Chris Von de Ahe, a St. Louis bar proprietor and owner of the St. Louis Browns, to thank for that innovation when in 1893 he set up a hotdog stand in his baseball stadium. It didn’t take long before other baseball club owners hired vendors to sell hotdogs during their games.baseball

Ah, and there is the legend of the famous hotdog-eating duel of July 5, 1914 that further endeared this street food to the public. The incident occurred on Coney Island when the owner of the newly opened hotdog stand, Nathan’s Famous, over heard several men quarreling about which one of them was the most American. The discussion must have become pretty heated because rather than watch a brawl break out in his new establishment, Nathan suggested they have a hotdog-eating contest. The men agreed and James Mullen, an Irish immigrant, was the winner, gobbling down 13 hotdogs in 12 minutes. Nathan, thrilled with the crowd-pleasing results, announced that he would have a hotdog-eating contest every year on the 4th of July.

The hotdog has gone through many changes since it first hit the market back in the 1600s. Now there are hotdogs that plump up when you cook them. Some are called soy dogs because they are made from soybeans. There are chicken dogs, all beef dogs, kosher dogs and skinless hotdogs. They can be boiled, broiled, steamed, grilled, fried and if the label states that they are precooked, why not eat a cold one right out of the package.

Or, you could treat the hotdog like any meat and braise it as though it was a rack of ribs.


3 Tbl. unbleached flour
1 pack of your choice of hotdogs
5 plump garlic cloves (with skins on)
4 Tbl. vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ Tbl. medium chili powder (I prefer Chipotle chili powder for the smoky flavor)
½ tsp. Paprika (mild, or hot if you prefer)
1 Tbl. honey (or molasses for a stronger flavor)
4 Tbl. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup grainy mustard (or whatever you have on hand)
¼ cup whisky (or vodka, or apple juice if you prefer to keep it alcohol free)
Juice of 1 lemon

Set oven to 325 F.

Dust hotdogs with flour and set aside.

Heat large cast-iron skillet on stove until hot. Add garlic, turning several times, until cloves are soft to the touch and slightly blackened, about 15 minutes. Remove from pan. When cooled, peel, mince and set aside.

Pour 2 Tbl. of oil into the pan, add hotdogs and sear them until they are evenly browned. This will take about 5 minutes. Remove from pan.

Add remaining 2 Tbl. oil, the diced onion and cook until the onion bits are slightly browned and caramel colored. This will take about 15 minutes. Stir in reserved garlic, lemon zest, cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook for about 1 minute to release the flavors, but stir frequently to keep the mixture from burning.

Then add honey (or molasses) brown sugar, ketchup, mustard, whisky (or vodka or apple juice) lemon juice, blend thoroughly. Place the hotdogs in the hot mixture, turning them frequently to coat nicely before covering the skillet with a lid.

Place skillet in the oven and cook for 25 to 45 minutes to let the hotdogs soak up the sauce.

Remove from oven. Arrange hotdogs on a platter and either serve with a buttered and toasted hotdog bun, or a sliced soft dinner roll. These hotdogs could be served as a meat entree accompanied with potato salad and crisp greens.

Check out other food articles in our food section.

Margaret Mendel lived in San Francisco for many years but now lives in NYC. She has won several awards for her short fiction and her stories have appeared in various online and print publications. Her first mystery novel, Fish Kicker, is now available on Amazon. She loves to cook and is an avid photographer. To learn more about Margaret go to her website.


  1. How come I missed out when I was in NY ? I only saw the dog in a bun with the mustard swirl on top (just like home.) Coney Island choices look yummy!!!
    Marge, I always enjoy your historical comments.

    • Ah, Mailla we’ll do it up right (with the hotdog and other foods) the next time your in NYC!! Glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. I didn’t realize there was a long history surrounding the hot dog. I enjoyed learning about it. Thank you.

    • Food and history has always fascinated me. There is no end to what is to be learned about food. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Love it! What’s July 4 without hotdogs, Nathan’s eating contest, and a lot of noise.

    • Yep, Jeri, that’s the 4th of July. No doubt about it!!

  4. An interesting post, Margaret, even to this vegetarian. The recipe sounds great–something to try with baked beans.

    • Hi Anita, You know I almost posted a baked beans recipe but thought that it would be something best posted on a cooler autumn day. But it probably would work quite nicely on even a scorcher of a NYC or Fresno, CA day if the beans and spices were set to cook in a slow cooker.




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