Chicago Char Dogs
This past Meatwave season has been a challenging one. It took a couple months longer than I was expecting to get it off the ground thanks to poor weather, then I had been traveling so much over the summer than I always felt like I was rushing to cram in a cookout with never enough time to prepare. In one of these instances, I only gave myself two days to get everything ready—usually shopping and prep spans twice as long—and decided that a purely hot dog affair would help ease the pressure of trying to do too much it too little time. I knew I really wanted to do Chicago Dogs, which is a favorite of mine, and these turned out being the most stress-free item on the menu because I literally just bought a kit off of the Vienna Beef website, which was the best way for me to procure all the hyper-regional ingredients, ensuring these would be as legit as possible coming off a grill in North Carolina.
From start to finish, the Chicago Dog is a nine-ingredient creation, and four of those ingredients are difficult to find outside of the Chicago area, so mail ordering isn't a bad option if you want to to go for the gold in authenticity. And that all starts with the hot dog of choice, which needs to be all beef, preferably natural casing, and even more preferably, made by Vienna Beef.
Next you'll need poppy seed hot dog buns, which is not something I've found in anyplace I've lived before—although I bet you could find a way to affix poppy seeds to any grocery store bun if you were so inclined. Once you have the buns, they would normally be steamed before serving, which is one detail I let fall to the wayside, but I did serve these on a very hot and humid day, and that actually did count for something in making buns ideally warm and squishy.
Your everyday Chicago dog would also be steamed, but I put all my money on the char dog as the better option. This really just means the hot dog is grilled rather than steamed, which makes it more flavorful in the end. I have noticed that all char dogs I've gotten in the past have had the ends of each frank snipped with two perpendicular cuts, so I followed suite here before grilling them and those little cut pieces ended up spreading out and charring as beautifully as a char dog should.
Next it's all about the toppings, and good luck finding bright neon green relish and sport peppers in your local grocery if you're not in the Chicago area—although you could add some green food coloring to regular sweet pickle relish and sub in pickled serranos and get pretty damn close. Other than that, the Chicago dog is topped with a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, diced white onion, yellow mustard, and a dash of celery salt. Ignore those grilled jalapeños you see in the front of the photo—that was for another hot dog whose story has yet to be told here—but I'm pretty sure that beer you see in the background is also required.
And there you have it, the fully loaded Chicago char dog experience. It was totally on point and glorious with each bite holding that odd, yet harmonious symphony of flavors that I only usually get to experience fully while visiting the Chicago area. It's something I look forward to every time I'm in town, but also really happy to know how easy it is to get something near close to perfect at home with just a click of a button and few days wait. Although this doesn't really fall into the same recipe category as most of the recipe posts I do, my guests and I loved these so much that I couldn't not share.
Chicago Char Dogs
- Yield 8 servings
- Prep 10 Minutes
- Cook 5 Minutes
- Total 15 Minutes
- 8 all beef hot dogs, preferably Natural Casing Vienna Beef
- 8 poppy seed hot dog buns
- 2 medium dill pickles, each cut into 4 equal pieces lengthwise
- 2 roma tomatoes, washed and cut into 1/2-inch slices lengthwise
- 16-24 sport peppers
- 2/3 cup Chicago-style green sweet pickle relish
- 1/2 cup finely diced white onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)
- 1 tablespoon celery salt
- Yellow mustard
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Make two 1-inch perpendicular cuts on each end of every dog. Place hot dogs on grill and cook, turning occasionally, until heated through and ends of hot dogs begin to char, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer hot dogs to buns and top each with a pickle slice, tomato slices, 2-3 sport peppers, relish, dices onion, mustard, and a dash of celery salt. Serve immediately.