Chicago’s wonderful hot dogs, and a new hot dog museum

February 27, 2019 • 1:30 pm

For years I’ve been stopping by the Vienna Beef Factory Store and Cafe to get a genuine Chicago hot dog—the finest dogs in the land.  (The store is conveniently located a few blocks from where I buy my wine.) It had been a factory where the all-beef dogs were made, so the dogs were super-fresh and there was a cafeteria for the workers that was also open to visitors.

I took a visitor there yesterday—after all, no visit to Chicago is complete without a real Chicago dog (or a deep-dish pizza or rib tips or an Italian beef sandwich or a good steak). I learned then that the factory had just closed and moved to a new location in Bridgeport (a Chicago neighborhood). The cafe was still there, and they’d opened a pop-up Vienna Beef Hot Dog Museum, which will close in a month. I was able to partake of a good dog and a visit to the museum.

The “Chicago-style hot dog” has its own Wikipedia page, which notes the essentials:

Chicago-style hot dogChicago Dog, or Chicago Red Hot is an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, originating from the city of Chicago, Illinois. The hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be “dragged through the garden” due to the many toppings. The method for cooking the hot dog itself varies depending on the vendor’s preference. Most often they are steamed, water-simmered, or less often grilled over charcoal (in which case they are referred to as “char-dogs”).

The canonical recipe does not include ketchup, and there is a widely shared, strong opinion among many Chicagoans and aficionados that ketchup is unacceptable.

This is pretty true, except that the dog has to be a Vienna Beef dog, and the bun must be an S. Rosen’s poppy seed bun. Also, you can substitute grilled onions for fresh onions without de-Chicagoing the dog. The seven ingredients are essential, and you can say “with everything” rather than “drag it through the garden.” It’s also true that nobody tolerates ketchup on a dog (it’s ok with the obligatory fries), and some hot dog places in Chicago will refuse to put ketchup on a dog if you ask for it.

Here’s the dog at the cafe: It has the requisite ingredients, including chopped raw onions. Note all the vegetables, which makes it healthier (if not healthy):

These are all-beef kosher dogs and come in a natural casing: the intestine of an animal. That gives these luscious dogs a satisfying snap when you bite into them. They’re made from quality ingredients, as this video shows:

An old sign with the requisites:


The original factory on Halsted Street near the packing district. The facility opened in 1893. Below are also company’s first cash register and a delivery truck:

This truck shows the original logo (now a “V” containing a forked dog):  a star of David symbolizing the company’s foundation by Jews and the kosherness of its products (that’s why the dogs have no pork).

The company’s board of directors a while ago, and a list of their names below. It reads like a list of Jewish surnames, much like the caption of my father’s all-Jewish fraternity picture at Penn State (Jews weren’t allowed in “regular” fraternities):

A genuine gold-plated hot dog!

And some doginalia, including a post of Da Coach touting his “Monster Dog”. Vienna Beef dogs were and remain the Official Hot Dog of the Chicago Cubs and also the Chicago White Sox, though Major League Baseball has adopted a much inferior dog—Nathan’s—as the Official League Hot Dog.

We Chicagoans are proud of our dogs. And remember: NO KETCHUP!

66 thoughts on “Chicago’s wonderful hot dogs, and a new hot dog museum

    1. I’m good with the meat, but fwiw, if you have a craving try the Beyond Meat Brats. They are genuinely tasty (to my amazement) they look and cook like a real sausage and are vegan and make me think that meat alternatives might one day catch on. (Their burgers are probably the best veggie burgers I’ve had too, but that’s a pretty low bar)

      1. I’ve had the Beyond Meat brats several times… and their fake Italian sausages, too. Also their burgers.

        I find the burgers particularly convincing. As a Wisconsinite, however, I’ll never be fooled by their fake brats. Not even close to a proper Usinger’s brat. 😉

        Still, with sauerkraut…

      1. I’m a big falafel fan too but I don’t see any reason I have to give up burgers and hot dogs. One of the problems with falafel is that it hard to find good versions. Here in the Los Angeles area, it is available in many restaurants but I would find perhaps only 5% are good enough for me to be happy I ordered them.

  1. Vienna Beef also supports a series of small hamburger and hot dog shacks, located in neighborhoods around the city. They serve dogs in various guises, polish sausages, chicken sandwiches, and hamburgers. I don’t know exactly what their secret is, but they serve the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever had (and I love their polish, too). My neighborhood store was Budacki’s (which was owned by a Korean) on Damen just south of Lawrence.

    1. There’s 22.0g [per 100g] of sugar in standard tomato ketchup while mild American yellow mustard has approx 0.9g. that’s 25 to 1. Ketchup ruins the flavour balance – you may as well just have a Cola.
      Listen to Dirty Harry Tubby, he knows 🙂

          1. Taste certainly matters. I’m not sure what “balance” refers to. I suspect it is just a term used by those that have no justification for their opinion but still want to sound erudite. 😉 I find the taste of a good Chicago dog, while fine without the ketchup, tastes better with it. I suspect many agree which is why the Chicagoans try to get out ahead of the game by warning everyone away before it is even mentioned otherwise. It’s a free country. There’s probably more of us and than there are of them.

          2. I’m a foodie & balance matters to me – feck all to do with erudition! Also I wasn’t being prescriptive – people can do with their food as they please. I looked around & the mustard dog preference seems to be a national thing not just Chicago**. Obama extended the rule & said nobody over 8 should ketchup their dog 🙂

            ** Behind all this is marketing of course which is picked up by the press on a slow day. AFAIK this mustard/ketchup ‘rule’ doesn’t exist here in the UK, but mustard is definitely more balanced if one is going for the classic Chicago seven ingredients. Over here the hot dogs of my youth were frankfurters [around 70% pork] served in a bun just with fried onions, but since then we’ve had an American invasion & there’s a wide variety of ‘dog’, bun & ‘toppings’ on offer from street styles to gourmet. ‘American style’ dogs are a big hit over here & I’m sure mustard is ahead of ketchup…

            Though I have seen BOTH on the same dog in an ad AND the dressings wandered onto the bun top which is definitely a sin!

          3. Two things:

            1) You still didn’t define “balance” other than a label you use for things you like.

            2) When I said I like a Chicago Dog with some ketchup, I never said to hold any of the other ingredients. I think part of the attraction is that one gets a slightly different combination of tastes in each bite.

          4. Balance as I think of it is the relation between the accepted five tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, sour & umami. Also I think of piquance [heat], cool [as in mint not temperature], fat & texture [snap, crunch, smooth etc] as also being part of balance.

            For example if I were building a lemon cheesecake the balance is essentially sweet, sour, bitter [small amount of zest], fat & texture. In the base it’s mainly salt & texture. If I wanted to experiment I might try adding some piquance [ginger? cinnamon? chilli?].

            A chilli con carne would have an entirely different balance – lots of umami from anchovy sauce or Worcestershire sauce for a start.

          5. Interesting theory but I suspect it will only serve as a recipe generator where most of the generated results taste like crap. For example, my guess would be that anchovy and/or Worcestershire sauce don’t belong in Chile Con Carne but I would probably try them if offered. Such a recipe might work but only with chile that tastes pretty good without those ingredients. Likewise, I could add each to bad chile and not notice much improvement.

            I am reminded of a Netflix show I watched recently called “Salt Fat Acid Heat”. It consists of four episodes covering each of these four themes. Running through it is the idea that you need all four in some kind of balance to make a good meal. It was a pretty good show but I don’t believe its main premise. It served only to tie the four episodes together.

          6. Zero points for reading comprehension & I take offence to your “interesting theory” remark which is arrogance when viewed from here where I’m sitting.

            I laid out MY active way of thinking about recipes & how I register what I’m eating – a language of the experience. It works for me as an amateur & it works well – think of it as a checklist. Other more pro chefs use similar systems. It is no different than a painter thinking about applications of the colour wheel.

            Your remarks about chilli con carne suggest you don’t read me closely – I was referring ONLY to the umami aspect of the dish. Anchovy sauce works to enhance that dimension of CCC effortlessly [& of course the anchovy smell is not apparent] – it is a chef’s ‘trick’ you are unaware of – some throw in actual anchovies, others use the sauce, others use Worcestershire or soy sauce. Others use none of the above.

            Anyway that’s enough – no learning going on here in either direction.

      1. So which is more distasteful to a Chicagoan, ketchup on a hotdog or a vegetarian Smart Dog but dragged through the garden? Asking for a friend…

        Actually, I have family in the suburbs, I stayed a summer with them, and my son lived in Chicago for 1 1/2 years, and I have never earen a Chicago dog or veggie or otherwise. I did get a deep dish Chicago style pizza my first night in town though.

        1. The dogs are good, but it should be illegal to call that deep dish stuff pizza (retreats quickly to air raid shelter)

          1. Simon, you haven’t been here long enough to have an informed opinion about pizza. . .

            But if they call it something else, like “Italian cheese pie”, that’s fine with me. Who cares whether it’s classified as “pizza”.

            I’ll add here that in Britain it should be illegal to call those 1 cm thick concoctions of bread with a thin piece of ham and “sweetcorn” inside SANDWICHES1

        2. I’ve not found a soy pretend meat product I’ve enjoyed. I prefer the idea of serving it as soy rather than all the fakery. What do the soy Smart Dogs taste like? What’s the texture like? And what’s the skin made of? American ingredients lists are hard to fathom.

          1. The best of the fake meats (IMO) are not soy. Some are gluten-based and some (Beyond Meat products) are based on pea protein.

          2. Thank you. You’ve reminded me that “Beyond Meat” hit UK shops before Christmas & I should give it a go. Asda & Tesco stock the burger – I’ll give one a try.

  2. They went to all that trouble to gold plate the hotdog, and then allowed a greengrocer’s (or possibly hotdog vendor’s) apostrophe to spoil the accompanying signage.

  3. Is there some legend that people outside of Chicago like to put ketchup on hot dogs? I never lived anywhere near Chicago, and I never heard of such a thing. Perhaps it’s an original sin thing?

    1. Well, in Germany I’ve had many wursts and they always give you mustard with them. Never ketchup. A bratwurst with ketchup? Unthinkable.

      Ah, I long for someone to tell me, “The wurst is yet to come.”

      1. While I do put ketchup on my Chicago Dog, I wouldn’t put it on Bratwurst. Completely different thing! Plus the Germans have really good mustard which I love and I would not want to mess up with ketchup.

        1. Same. I like mustard on sausages.

          I’m from Palatine, and I like ketchup (Brooks Catsup, if possible) on hotdogs. I don’t like the texture of tomatoes. The goo in them is gross. Ketchup is great though.

          Ketchup, mustard and cheese are all a dog needs. Leave the other stuff for your salad.

    2. We do. But then again, our hot dogs are never as well-endowed as a Chicagoan.

      Usually it’s a plain white bun with a sausage. Ketchup and mustard as needed. You’d be lucky to find relish.


    3. I think a smear of mayo and some Melinda’s XXX Habanero Pepper Sauce is better on a dog than either mustard, ketchup or both.

  4. I think I would have trouble getting my mouth around that thing.
    Note: this does not imply anything about the size of my hands.

  5. We have a local place that makes Chicago Dogs and, as far as I can tell, they make them the official way with Vienna dogs. I get it char-broiled and I will admit that I do add a stripe of ketchup. They can sue me.

    1. I make them at home and love them. I add a stripe of tomato relish instead of Vienna relish. But in my defence, I don’t know what Vienna relish is (though I suppose I could look it up!).

        1. That sounds suspiciously close to Piccallilli which is not much like pickle relish, at least not the kind they eat in England. We always had it at home even after moving to the US. Here’s Wikipedia’s description:

          “Piccalilli is an English[1] interpretation of South Asian pickles, a relish[2][3] of chopped pickled vegetables and spices;[4] regional recipes vary considerably.”

        2. We have something called Piccalilli, but it’s bright yellow. I love it! I used to have cold roast mutton and Piccalilli sandwiches for lunch at school every day. ( We mostly don’t have school lunch programmes here in the same way you do. Most people bring their own.)

  6. Is there a better novel featuring hotdogs than John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”? Not that Ignatius sold many…

  7. The mustard would give me an unpleasant day but they look tasty, I’m in for one of those.
    I had an ever so slightly spicy weiner on a bun in Strasbourg many moons ago, which had dried onion flakes sprinkled all over it, all i can remember, yummiest thing ever!

  8. Strongly held opinions regarding condiment choices is one of my all time favorite topics. Sweet relish? No thanks! Dill relish? Yes please! Ketchup? The devil’s sauce – in a bad way. Mustard? I want seeds in it! Mayonnaise? I could take it or leave it, and Veganaise isn’t half bad.
    I like the idea of all the veggies on the dog, seems like the right way to do it.

    1. Most American mayonnaise that comes from a jar is not that good. Mayo made from scratch is wonderful. Still, I do enjoy Kewpie Mayonnaise which comes from Japan and is used on quite a few Japanese dishes. They sell so much at our local Japanese supermarket that they devote an entire aisle end-cap or two to their stock of it. It’s very good on a sandwich. It also reminds me of Heinz Salad Cream from the UK which I remember mostly from childhood.

      1. I did make mayo from scratch once (can I call it aioli then?)and it was quite the effort. Full disclosure, I did in in my large stone mortar and pestle. I’m sure there are better ways. It was delicious, but I don’t know that I would do it again.

        I’ll keep an eye out for Kewpie.

        1. Mayo is very quick and easy to make in a food processor. I’ve made it in about 5 minutes in an emergency. Cleaning the food processor takes longer. I like using different oils to make it. A good olive oil is of course nice. Walnut oil was pretty good too. Used that for a chicken salad with apple. Yum!

  9. Great post Jerry. Being the foodie that you are, I’m not surprised you appreciate the illuminating nuances of a Chicago Dog. I grew up on them. It’s all about the Vienna Beef, and the warm, soft poppy-seed bun (and everything else you mentioned).

  10. Vienna Beef is dandy, but if I’m buying off-the-shelf (as opposed to homemade, in-the-skin from the local butcher shop) my frank of choice is Hebrew National.

  11. My favorite hot dog place in the Chicago area is Gene and Jude’s Voted best dog a few times too.

    Unique in that they serve a depression style dog (fries put on top of the hot dog and wrapped all in the wrapper). And no ketchup in the place. It’s as Spartan an outfit as you could imagine. I was there one day and a woman ask if there was any ketchup and the fifty people in line booed her. She quickly said it for her son on his fries but there’s no recovery from that.

    1. Speaking of interesting signs and apostrophes, if you look at the picture of Gene and Jude’s on Wiki, you’ll note that the street sign says “Gene & Jude’s” while the sign on the building says “Gene’s & Jude’s”. I don’t know anybody who calls it by the latter.

      1. The fries are so good it doesn’t need it. The Cock Robin (defunct ice cream chain) next door sold ketchup packets for a nickel, way back when a dog was twenty cents, and they paid 1/5 cent per packet. Good business add on.

        1. I agree that some fries are so good that adding ketchup would just obscure the taste. Just saying that it should still be available to those that want it. Ketchup is free speech!

  12. Would not want to eat a hot dog with ketchup. What would be the point if that. And just a dash of mustard. That’s all.
    I have had them with cole slaw added that was good at the Varsity Grill in Gainesville, but nowhere else. They are out of business now.
    Chilies dogs from the Varsity in Atlanta are good. Chili’s, mustard. onions, ketchup.
    I would always have a hot dog when I went to see the Braves play. But that was for tradition, not because they were great. But they were good.

    1. Are both these right? 🙂

      Would not want to eat a hot dog with ketchup. What would be the point if that.


      Chilies dogs from the Varsity in Atlanta are good. Chili’s, mustard. onions, ketchup.

      1. Sorry,Michael
        Would not want to eat a hot dog without ketchup.

        That is what I intended to type. I have no idea what happened to the “out” and why I did not catch the error before I hit send or even after.

        Thanks for pointing out the error.

        I will try to do better.

        But I make no promises.

  13. I’ve never had a Chicago Hot Dog. But I don’t like vinegar so I wouldn’t like all the pickles and relish.

    An Italian hot dog, now that’s good stuff. It also has a Wikipedia page.

    When in Jersey, don’t go to a place that uses French fries instead of potatoes on an Italian dog. That’s just dumb. Preferably, the potatoes, peppers, onions and dog should all be cooked on a flat grill.

    Brown spicy mustard is of course the condiment of choice and superior to yellow mustard in all situations. In my mind, ketchup is good on nothing and only acceptable on a fast food burger.

  14. There’s something better than “hot wings” that come from Buffalo.


    Always char-grilled over real lump charcoal. The char is fantastic. They are pork and beef, from Sahlen’s.

    There is a history behind Ted’s that parallels the Jewish background of Chicago Dogs … but it’s Greek!

    Ketchup is “allowed,” but really it’s mustard and dill pickle, plus Ted’s hot sauce optional. Maybe relish and onion.Always with a chocolate milk shake.

    They have all-beef char-hots also.


  15. I suggest you try catsup instead of ketchup. I love it on my dogs. OH, it’s OK to food-shame me, but not vice-versa. I see how this works.

  16. I grew up eating ketchup on hot dogs. Still do and I’ll defend it to my dying days. A dog doesn’t taste quite right without it.

    I did love the Chicago dogs when I ate there, though.

  17. I don’t really eat sausages anymore, but were I to do so it wouldn’t be with ketchup and those other toppings do sound so much better. So we’re in agreement there!

    Also interesting to see the “food history” and region cuisines from various places.

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