Welcome to Cooking at Home With…, an ongoing series where we go behind-the-scenes with some of our favorite personalities to see how they get busy in their own kitchens. This week, we head to the Williamsburg apartment of Dieselboy, a veteran DJ and FWF contributor, to make his trademark Destroyer Dogs.
Name: Dieselboy, a.k.a. Damian Higgins
Hometown: Assorted Small Towns Of America™
Current home: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
How do you define your profession?
I wear a few hats—DJ, producer, record label owner, graphic designer. I spend a lot of time on the road traveling and playing shows. In my spare time, I like to write about food for First We Feast.
How often do you cook at home?
Not as much as I should. I usually make breakfast every day, and then occasionally make lunch and/or dinner. Mostly this is due to the fact that NYC fucking rules when it comes to great restaurants and I am a slave to convenience.
Since you have a name for your hot dogs and there’s sodium citrate on the counter, it seems like there’s probably a story behind this dish. What’s the deal?
Today I wanted to show you what goes into making what I feel is an “ultimate version” of a hot dog. I am a lifelong hot dog fanatic. I learned to boil Oscar Meyer weiners back when I was around 7 years old and never looked back. Over the years, I have eaten at a myriad of hot dog establishments, hot dog carts, and backyard cookouts. I’ve done my due diligence.
Last summer, I was tasked with cooking a Fourth of July dish for some big-deal food folks like Kate Krader of Food & Wine, Alex Stupak and Lauren Resler of Empellón, Jim Meehan of PDT, and others. I wanted to do my typical style of taking a classic dish and putting my updated spin on it. Being that it was Independence Day, I went with hot dogs. The end result was what I dubbed my “Destroyer Dog,” and the feedback was unanimous—it killed. That began a year-long journey to convince Jim Meehan to put this hot dog on the menu at PDT. Sad to say my efforts have not achieved the desired goal. Still, I thought it would be cool to show others how to achieve hot dog nirvana.
Okay, this is no joke. Can you break down the elements of the Destroyer Dog?
First, let’s start with the actual hot dog. I like to use dogs from my local butcher, The Meat Hook. They have a nice smoky taste, substantial heft, and they’re free of filler. If I am stuck with supermarket dogs, I usually lean towards Boar’s Head deli franks or Nathan’s Dinner Franks. Though they populated my childhood, I steer clear of Oscar Meyer and Ball Park—too many extraneous ingredients. For buns, I try to find Martin’s potato hot dog buns, which are soft, chewy, and delicious. In a pinch, any supermarket white bread-bun will work. I don’t fuck with big, thick buns. They tend to get in the way and overwhelm the hot dog.
On the Destroyer Dog, the basic condiments are as follows: Coca-Cola onion jam, some sort of pickled peppers, a sharp cheddar cheese, diced super-smoky bacon, and crushed potato chips. The only thing you can’t really change is the Coca-Cola onion jam—it provides a complex sweetness that really pulls this thing together. I use it in lieu of Heinz ketchup (the one and only true ketchup, BTW). If you want to toast the buns (which I usually baste with bacon fat or butter, or a combination of both), that is on you. A toasted bun is awesome, but if it falls apart because you had to spread it open to toast it, then that’s a fail. You want the bun to hold together otherwise you are knife-and-forking it. Not ideal. The concept behind this hot dog is essentially an assault on your palate. You are getting sweetness, tang, smoke, spice, umami, salt, meatiness, and so on. You are getting crunch and chew and everything in between. It really covers all of the bases.
What is on your cooking playlist?
I tend towards mellow and eclectic. Anything from Autolux, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and Silversun Pickups to Chicago, Toro y Moi, Fink, and so on. Once dinner is wrapping up and the drinks have been flowing, I might escalate to anything from disco to Black Keys to trap. Something with a bit of fun and energy to it.
Imagine your dream dinner party. Who are the guests?
The best dinner parties are with close friends and family, or fun/creative people that can bring bad-ass conversation skills to the table. There is no dream lineup of people.
Do you have a go-to drink with your meal?
I keep it simple—wine and whiskey.
Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party. Guests are lingering. How do you get them out?
I never chase people out of my place. I love dinner parties and hosting friends, so it isn’t an uncommon occurence to have people crashing on my couch at 3am.
Next page: How to make the Destroyer Dog, including instructions for Dieselboy’s signature Coca-Cola onion jam, a.k.a. crack jam.
How to Make Destroyer Dogs
Below is an explanation of how I prepared each element of the dish for this particular evening of Destroyer Dogs. I wanted to make it fancy, hence the higher than average amount of prep work. You don’t have to do all this in order to make a tasty hot dog. I did because I’m an asshole showing off for the camera ;)
Coca-Cola Onion Jam
Take two yellow onions and give them a nice dice. Put a large non-stick skillet on the stove and throw the heat on medium/medium-high. Scatter about a teaspoon or two of sugar in the pan and let that cook until the sugar liquefies and starts to turn caramel in color. Quickly add the onions to the pan along with a tablespoon or two of butter, plus a small pinch of baking soda (this helps speed up the caramelization). Cook the onions, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes, or until they start taking on some color. At this point, turn the heat to high and add about a cup of Coca-Cola (I prefer Mexican coke with real sugar). Cook the soda down until it starts looking syrupy, then add another cup of it. Continue doing this until you cook through about 40-50 ounces of Coke and the onions are nice and dark. This might take an hour. Finally, take the pan off the stove and add salt to taste. I usually add a teaspoon of black pepper to give it a nice kick.
I use either pickled jalapenos or pickled cherry peppers. I also usually dice them fine so they are more like a relish. It’s a texture thing. For this meal, I took things a step further and diced up both jalapenos and cherry peppers the night before, then I mixed them together in a small bowl with grapeseed oil and dried oregano to make an Italian-style giardiniera.
My go-to bacon is Benton’s from Tennessee. It is an intensely hickory-smoked bacon that is absolutely amazing. I am lucky enough that my local butcher always has it in their meat case. If you aren’t as lucky, just use whatever super-smoky bacon you can get your hands on—preferably something without a lot of water injected into it. I cut up my bacon into a dice or lardons, then get it crisp in a nice hot cast-iron skillet. I save the bacon fat for either the buns or for later use. I let the bacon pieces relax on plate covered with paper towel.
You can use anything you want here. I prefer a nice sharp cheddar. Most of the time I use a Tillamook smoked black peppercorn cheddar from my local grocery store and just shred the shit out of it. For this meal, I made the trek to Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in the city and picked up their four-year cheddar. It is unbelievably delicious. I wanted to forgo using just shredded cheese this time around and instead whip up a nice cheese sauce. The problem with super-aged cheese is that it doesn’t melt right. To circumvent this problem I turned to a recipe from the Modernist Cuisine At Home cookbook. You’ll need a sensitive digital kitchen scale for this one, and a chemical not easily found in supermarkets (sodium citrate), but the actual process is super easy. Take 265 grams of water or beer or milk and put it in a pan with 11 grams of sodium citrate powder. Bring it to a simmer. Then add 285 grams of grated cheese a handful at a time and blend it into the mixture with a handheld stick blender. Continue this process until all of the cheese has been incorporated and the sauce is nice and smooth and creamy.
Potato Chips/Crunchy Texture Ingredient
This is as simple as buying potato chips or tortilla chips, crushing them in a Ziploc bag or into a bowl, and then garnishing the hot dog with them to add crunch. I usually use either Dirty brand salt and vinegar or jalapeno chips. Today, I purchased potato sticks from Utz (a Baltimore favorite) and then tossed them with some crazy hickory smoke powder I picked up a my favorite food shop in the city, Kalustyan’s. This, in effect, gave me a hickory smoked potato stick. Since I was making these hot dogs inside my crib and not out on a grill, I wanted to infuse a lot of smoke into the dish. This helped.
In the past when making this dish, I would poach my hot dogs on the stove in a beer broth, brat-style. I made the broth by sauteeing a few smashed cloves of garlic, quartered onion chunks, and a jalapeno in a stockpot, and then adding six bottles of beer, a bunch of parsley, and a couple tablespoons of butter. After bringing them to temperature I would take the hot dogs and finish them on the grill or a flat top for a few minutes to get the skin crisp—not too difficult and the process adds a level of flavor. For this evening’s special Destroyer Dog, I really tried to ramp up the drama. I had woken up the morning before with the idea in my head to prepare them sous-vide style—combine all of the flavoring ingredients in a bag with the hot dogs and then poach the bag in simmering water for an hour. So that is what I did. I placed the hot dogs in a bag with a half bottle of Red Stripe beer, a giant spoonful of duck fat, a chunk of bacon, a small bunch of thyme, a few healthy splashes of Worcestershire, a few splashes of liquid smoke, smashed garlic, and a giant spoonful of miso. I then attempted to vaccum seal the bag by lowering it into the pot and letting the water displace the air out, and then closing the Ziploc at the top. That didn’t work very well. Then I tried to suck the air out of the bag with a straw. This worked better, but the fumes I inhaled from the beer and the other ingredients fucked with me a little bit. I then realized as the bag was poaching that CO2 from the beer was releasing and creating air pockets in the bag, which meant the bag kept wanting to float up out of the pot. This prevented the hot dogs from cooking correctly. Damn this turned into a struggle! Eventually the bag developed a few awesome holes and began leaking its contents into the pot. The experiment came to a conclusion, though all was not in vain. The hot dogs had cooked long enough to take on a good amount of flavor from all the ingredients in the bag. I finished them off on a cast-iron grill pan covered in clarified butter. The next time I attempt this I am going to leave a beer out overnight to get it nice and flat. I am also going to pick up a vacuum sealer like a FoodSaver and get a proper seal on my bag. I have faith that this will allow me to achieve the tasty hot dog excitement that I seek.
Either use them straight out of the bag, or brush them with a little bacon fat or butter then toast them on a grill or on a flat top.
And there you have it! This hot dog is tasty as fuck. And that Coca Cola onion jam? Just wait and see how good it is…