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Chicago Dog Has Its Day

The Chicago Dog Has Its Day
“Chicago is famous for two things: deep-dish pizza, and that natural-casing beef hot dog with the snap,” says Billy Ladany proudly.

He would know. As head of Midwest sales for sausage company Red Hot Chicago, Ladany has made it his mission to provide a hot dog that’s worthy of being called a Chicago-style dog. Ask him what makes a Chicago dog and he’ll tell you with something approaching reverence.

“You take a pure beef frank and boil it in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes,” says Ladany. “And you nestle that in a nice poppy seed bun, with yellow mustard, some diced white onions, a squeeze of that neon green pickle relish, a couple wedges of tomato, a kosher pickle spear, two or three spicy peppers, and most importantly, a little dash of celery salt.

If that seems too much to remember, just ask for “one with everything” or “one dragged through the garden.” Just don’t ask if there’s any ketchup around.

That’s sacrilege,” says Ladany. “Some places will throw you out if you ask for ketchup.”

Ladany accepts that other cities enjoy their dogs in different ways. New Yorkers have theirs with brown mustard and onions; Seattleites like theirs with cream cheese and grilled onions; Southerners favor coleslaw and hot sauce. But to his mind, the Chicago way is best, and his company wants to convince the world of this, too, one dog at a time.

“It’s hard to sway people,” he confesses. “The Chicago dog has a different spice profile than that of, say, the New York dog, which is a lot heavier in the garlic. New Yorkers have come to love and expect that. But every year, at the big trade shows that we do, we get a few more people on board from New York or Baltimore or Philly. Little by little, we’re getting more people over to our side of the fence.

Drag it through the garden — but don’t ask for ketchup

“I represent a Chicago company,” says Ladany, “and I gotta be true to what we believe in.”

Ladany’s beliefs have deep roots. In 1893, his great-grandfather Samuel Ladany, a master sausage maker from Austria-Hungary, came to America with his business partner, Emil Reichel, to sell hot dogs at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Soon after, Samuel and Emil started the company that would eventually become Vienna Beef, a Chicago institution.

In 1986, some 90 years after Samuel set up his first hot dog cart, his grandson Scott, Billy’s father, left Vienna Beef to found a new company, Red Hot Chicago. For a time, the two companies were in fierce competition, but recently, Vienna Beef acquired Red Hot Chicago — thus bringing almost 120 years of learned sausage-making expertise back to the fold, while allowing Red Hot to continue making hot dogs its own way.

Drag it through the garden — but don’t ask for ketchup

“They’re similar,” says Ladany of the two once-competing all-beef hot dog recipes. “Basically, the main differences are the seasonings, the spices, the salt, the pepper, the amount of garlic that may be in there. Your tongue really picks up the little idiosyncracies of each hot dog.

“But the Red Hot Chicago and Vienna Beef dogs will seem a lot more similar than a Red Hot Chicago to a Nathan’s, or an Oscar Mayer,” he adds. “Those hot dogs tend to be stronger in the garlic, stronger in the smoke, and perhaps more salty.”

Whatever the particulars of the recipe, it’s resulted in a hot dog that Chicagoans are proud of. And whether you order your Chicago dog with the works or simply with mustard, Billy Ladany approves … as long as you start with the basics.

“You want to have a Chicago-made hot dog and fresh condiments,” he says. “And a couple of napkins wouldn’t hurt.”