August 2012

AUGUST 2012: LINE IN THE SAND

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

FRANK DUNNE JR.

I never knew there was such a thing as National Sandwich Month, but a few minutes of web surfing turned up enough references to convince me that it is indeed a recognized holimonth. By the way, I also learned that John Montagu, the Fourth Earle of Sandwich, invented the sandwich in 1762. Did you know that? They say he liked to eat on the run, but carrying around a pile of meat is really sloppy. So he stuck it between two slices of bread and voila! Portable meat. Who knew that fast food predates the Declaration of Independence? No word as to whether Montagu was also the original owner of the Earle of Sandwich Pub in Coligny Plaza.

But I’m getting off topic. Miss C. and I figured it would be fun to commemorate National Sandwich Month, so we’re going to argue the relative merits of hamburgers and hot dogs. I was hoping for a different direction, because I really wanted to share a story with you about Philly cheesesteaks, one that involves an “extra cheese with” and a former girlfriend sporting a Pat’s King of Steaks T-shirt and little else. But when I presented Courtney with the question “Pat’s or Geno’s?” she had no idea what I was talking about, and she’s from New Jersey for crying out loud! Anyway, since an informed conversation about cheesesteaks would be impossible under those circumstances, we’re going with the burger vs. dog thing. My choice is the burger. I say that with deference to my friends Carey, Nicole and Shelby at Street Meet where I’ve gobbled down plenty of Fusion Dogs over the years (they’re spectacular); but in this case the numbers don’t lie. The burger wins in almost every possible way you could put the two head-to-head.

First of all, empires have been built around the burger and fries. McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s come to mind, and their products wouldn’t even make anybody’s Top 10 Burgers list. The hotdog can make no such claim. I’m not saying that the hotdog hasn’t earned some degree of reverence in our culture, but it’s just not as deeply entrenched in the American psyche as the hamburger.

I’ll score one for the hotdog on the portability and convenience factor. At the ballpark, you just stand up, hold up two fingers, pass your money down the line, and the guy throws you two hot dogs. I could see that becoming problematic with a cheeseburger, at least with one worth eating. On the golf course, the dog is a perfect grab-and-go at the turn. Just gobble it down and tee up at Number 10. However, that very aspect is also where the hotdog falls down in the face of the hamburger, because a good hamburger is a real meal that you experience with a range of emotions.
When a good burger is placed before you, you don’t just grab it and gobble it down.

You spend a moment admiring it, contemplating its simple beauty. You take in the aroma, and your mouth waters at the sight of the dripping juices. Then the moment of truth: You don’t just pick it up; you embrace it, raise it to your lips and take the first bite. It melts in your mouth, and the world stops as you work your way to the end. If you’re lucky, it’s one of those ones that fall apart like at 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, but you don’t mind. You’re eating a burger and all is right with the world.
Try that with a hotdog.

COURTNEY HAMPSON

I’m warning you now that this may offend some folks, namely vegetarians, and perhaps the local Hamburger Club. If it does offend you, I won’t be apologizing. I mean, really, what is the point of stating your opinion if you have to apologize for it later?

I learned about seven years ago, once I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, that everything I knew to be true about barbecuing was indeed false. My 30 years of barbecue experience was a misnomer. We Yankees would barbecue (verb) to celebrate the important benchmarks of summer: Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day—and any day in between when there was cause for celebration and hotdogs and hamburgers were on sale at the Stop & Shop. Barbecue was the process by which we cooked on a grill.

Turns out, however, that “barbecue” is a noun. It refers to the end product of slow-roasting pork, not beef or shrimp or tofu or anything else, (an exception is made for chicken in the South) over hardwood coals. And it is spelled exactly as above, not BBQ, barbeque, Bar-B-Que or any of the dozens of others colloquialisms that have sprung up in various parts of the country over the years. Most people don’t make the distinction, but barbecue in the South, like football (and—genuflect—Tim Tebow), is a religion. All this is according to an old Southern gentleman, my former boss, who quickly showed me the wrongs of my Jersey ways.

My Midwestern born and bred hubby (real quick, while I have your attention, I don’t see how Ohio is the Midwest, but we can debate that topic in a future month), uses the term “cookout” or “grill out” to refer to BBQ-ing. Jersey Tomato. Jersey Tomahto. Sounds like we are both wrong!

So, as my season of barbecuing a.k.a. grilling hits its high point, I thought it only appropriate to debate the merits of the hotdog. Frank, as usual, took the easy side, arguing for the hamburger, which in terms of ingredients can be a much more palatable sell.

But, never one to shy away from controversy, I shall tout the temptations of the hotdog, and negate the fallacies of the frank (how’s that for a double meaning, my friends). I mean, after all, on July Fourth, our country celebrates our independence with fireworks and the National Hotdog Eating Competition. What more proof do you need that the encased meat concoction is the country’s favorite?

Hot dogs at first glance are pretty gross. But, in the instance of processed pork err, beef, err parts of something that had four legs, it is all about the accessories. It’s all about how you put it together.

First, cook it on a charcoal grill. Buy the good charcoal. It comes with flavor all its own and may negate any unsavory pork parts. Next, burn that sucker to a crisp. It ain’t done until the exterior is black and blistered. Then, roast the bun to toasty perfection. More charcoal flavor.

Pick your topping. There’s no compromising here. You’re either a mustard guy or a ketchup guy. Don’t be both. Pick one and stick to your guns. If you are a mustard guy/gal, which I hope you are (ketchup is just as gross as well, naked hotdogs), go spicy. Kick it up a notch with the horseradish mustard. Go big, or go home. Atop your mustard, you must layer your relish. If you happen to know local chef Trey Dutton, beg him for a taste of his grandmother’s cement pickle relish. It will change your life—and your hotdog, for that matter.

Finally, chase it with a beer, assuming you are over 21. (See the July column for this war of words.)

Frank and I are such trendsetters I couldn’t believe that this debate has occurred before. In fact, this time last year Food Network debated the pros and cons of the burger and the dog. Some of the perks of the hotdog include the fact that the calories aren’t out of control; a regular sized (1.6-ounce) hotdog with ketchup or mustard and a bun only has a few hundred calories. On the flip side, you can quickly pile on the calories with big burger patties, mountains of cheese, bacon, mayo and other condiments and massive buns. Important to note: ground beef and other ground up proteins are also at higher risk for food bugs like E. coli. Eew.

To be fair, the hotdog is typically highly processed, and most brands contain nitrites (yum!). However there are a number of healthy hotdog options. For example, you can actually buy nitrate-free or reduced fat dogs. If you have a hankering for a dog duo, skip the second bun and save yourself some calories. And, despite the olfactory offensiveness, sauerkraut is a low calorie topping for hotdogs that can help fill you up.

If all of the above doesn’t convince you, go to Fenway Park. Even without toppings, somehow a Fenway Frank is the best tasting hotdog you’ll ever consume. Maybe it’s the beer; maybe it’s the buzz of Yawkey Way; maybe it’s the Yankee fans cursing you out; maybe it’s because there is no vendor in the stands trying to sell you a burger, but a frank at the ballgame is always going to hit the spot. It’s America’s pastime.
Be American. Eat a hot dog.

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