In a city known for hot dogs, Chicago "sausage superstore" Hot Doug's is a standard bearer. Proprietor Doug Sohn gave himself a tall order when he opened Hot Doug's in 2001: "When I decided to open, the impetus was to create a great Chicago-style dog ? I aim to be the best Chicago dog in the city." To that end, Sohn obsesses over the quality and consistency of his ingredients, giving equal concern to both the sausage and its many toppings. The Chicago dog, Sohn believes, is like a map of Chicago itself. He sees the city's immigrant history in the components: German-style sausage, Mexican peppers, Eastern European pickles, and Italian tomatoes. According to Sohn, the Chicago dog is "one of the great sandwiches" and, like any dish a restaurant serves, deserves to be "done properly and with respect." On his menu, the Chicago dog is simply named The Dog.
Sohn's passion for the dish shows in The Dog, which has helped land him a book deal as well as a place on the Eater Chicago 38. Eater Chicago editor Daniel Gerzina explains Hot Doug's importance to Chicago:
"Doug Sohn is almost single-handedly responsible for simultaneously returning glory to the Chicago-style hot dog and placing gourmet sausages squarely on Chicago's culinary landscape. Prior to Hot Doug's, the city was predominantly filled with hole-in-the-wall hot dog stands serving subpar-quality dogs in the cheapest manner possible. Hot Doug's under-the-radar birth and subsequent meteoric rise caused other hot dog joints to severely set up their game and spawned new businesses trying to emulate his success. Yet to this day, despite a location nearly off the grid, no one in town, and quite possibly the country, does it better than Hot Doug's."
Below, the elements of a Hot Doug's Chicago-style hot dog:
1. The Bun
Like a traditional Chicago dog, Hot Doug's Chicago dog is served on a poppyseed bun. Sohn gets his bun from S. Rosen's, a Chicago-area bread producer that has been making breads since the early 1900s. (Their poppy seed bun has long been a favorite choice for Chicago-style dogs.) Sohn has buns delivered daily, ensuring he's always serving the freshest bun possible. As is typical with Chicago-style dogs, the bun is steamed prior to serving. Steaming is not just about common practice; it's about balance. Sohn finds the bun adds a necessary additional hot component, and he "like[s] the mouthfeel" of the softened bun.
2. The Sausage
As is the Chicago tradition, Sohn uses a beef frank for his Chicago dog. Sohn describes Chicago as a "beef eating town," so its namesake dog is appropriately made with a beef frank. Sohn chose the Chicago-based Vienna Beef Company's brisket sausages because of "their consistency, quality, and flavor" and because it's run by a Chicago family. (He calls the Vienna Beef natural casing frank "truly the great Chicago hot dog.") Many customers have a particular way they like their dog, and Sohn lets customers choose whether they want the sausage steamed, fried, grilled, or fried and grilled. His personal preference is to grill the sausage because he likes the char and the crunch. When grilling, Sohn brings the sausage to room temperature before placing it on the gas-powered char grill, which he says adds a little bit of barbecue flavor to the sausage. Sohn says choosing a cooking method is "such a subjective thing and it's an argument starter."
3. The Vegetables
As is standard, Sohn tops the dog with tomatoes and pickles. He uses Roma tomatoes because he finds them to be the rights size as well as the most consistent flavor and texture wise, even in the winter. He cuts the tomatoes into "half-moons" so that with each bite diners get tomato flesh and tomato skin. Sohn uses a full-length spear of dill pickle that is nearly the length of the entire dog to ensure a bit of pickle crunch and flavor in almost every bite. After much taste-testing, Sohn went with Vienna Beef's pickles, which he finds satisfyingly briney, firm, and salty. An additional acidic, crunchy element comes from pickled sport peppers. The slim, green peppers add a spicy kick to the dog.
In a major break with tradition, Sohn tops his Chicago dog with caramelized white onions instead of raw. It's a bold move, and Sohn stands by it: "You still get a lot of crunch with the other elements. I don't really like raw onion." The diced white onions are slowly cooked in "a good amount" of butter, salt, and pepper every morning. Sohn likes the sweetness they add to the dog, as well as the fat.
4. The Condiments
When it comes to mustard, Sohn doesn't skimp. Although there are cheaper yellow mustards out there, Sohn tops the dog from end to end with "iconic" French's yellow mustard. Sohn says mustard is a perfect hot dog topping because its "sharp tanginess matches well with beefiness of the hot dog." Sohn uses a pickle relish from Vienna Beef that he chose for its sweetness and crunch and runs it along the entire length of the bun. Sohn, "a big fan of opposites," likes the sweet/salty contrast that classic relish provides. The final touch on any proper Chicago dog is celery salt, and Sohn's is no exception. Aside from saltiness, celery salt adds both balance and a punch of flavor without adding an additional sauce to the hot dog.