Bruce Kraig is a professor and author of Hot Dog: A Global History. Hawk Krall (@hawkkrall) is an illustrator and food writer from Philadelphia who spent three years as a hot-dog columnist for Serious Eats.
What is more American than hot dogs? Hamburgers, you say? Not if history is to be credited.
Before the cult of cheeseburgers took the nation by storm, hot dogs were the first and greatest democratic food. Around 1850, Germans came in great numbers, introducing their expert sausage-making traditions. It was an easy sell—Americans were proud carnivores from the start, and who could resist the smell of wieners and franks cooking on open grills in public places? Served from portable carts or stands, the hot dog, as it came to be known, was the first meat-based street food. By the 1880s, what were once considered German sausages had become normalized—no longer called "Weisswursts," but "red hots" or "hot dogs."
Originally served on buns with only mustard and onions, the hot dog's DNA developed thanks to the innovation of immigrant communities. Between 1890 and 1920, about a half million Greeks arrived in the United States. From Rhode Island to Oklahoma, Greek stand owners loaded up their hot dogs with sauces that they labeled chili, Laced with spices from their native cuisine such as cinnamon and nutmeg, sometimes with paprika and hot pepper.
By 1900, hot dogs were everywhere, on the streets and in American pop culture. But despite the popularity of Oscar Meyer jingles in the 1950s, hot-dog chains never experienced the same type of scale and success as burger franchises. Instead, frankfurter culture remained rooted in local companies and institutions.
Inspiring such intense local pride, we know that compiling a list of the best dogs in each state is bound to ruffle some feathers. In order to narrow our search, my colleague, Hawk Krall, and I had to set some parameters. Are we limiting the search to emulsified all-beef or beef and pork? Should we include other meats such as elk or reindeer, or sausages styles like the Polish or bratwurst? We concluded that some really great stands had varieties, so places like Biker Jim’s in Denver and Jim’s Original in Chicago must be on the list. Hot dogs are regional foods too, so we always had an eye towards those places that best represented local traditions.
But, even so, how to choose among the various styles in such diverse states as New Jersey, Connecticut, and California? With the help of some trusted sources, and hours spent on the road searching for holy-grail franks, we're ready to declare the best of the best.
Here are the best hot dogs from each of the 50 states.