May 2006 Edition
Long Live the Dog

Hot dogs are not just for baseball games and family picnics.  A recent trend across Canada and the United States has the classic wursts appearing on menus with a lot more style and gourmet flavours than traditional ketchup.  Dressed up with chili, corn salsa, and imported mustards, these dogs are making an impact.


Le Chien Chaud Gourmet Hot Dogs in Calgary, Alberta is just one restaurant that has taken the hog dog to a new level.  With innovative creations that include everything from a Breakfast Dog topped with cheese, scrambled eggs and bacon bits, to an exotic Mediterranean Dog piled high with red pepper hummus, artichoke hearts, olives and feta cheese, consumers are sure to find something to tempt their taste buds.


“We have 12 different gourmet dogs on our menu and add a new one every month,” says the owner, Bob Steckle. “In fact, we’ve recently added a Coney Island Dog with a meat sauce based on a customer’s suggestion.”


Le Chien Chaud has been operating in the Calgary Mission District since July 2005 and sells an average of 250 hot dogs a day.  Their customers range from the ages of 2 to 93 and come from all over the city.  “It’s not just families.  We get a lot of business clients during the lunch hour,” says Steckle.  “Half of them stay and eat in the restaurant, but half take their dog to back to the office.”


Le Chien is not the only restaurant in Canada to get creative with their hot dogs.  Others, such as Shopsy’s in Toronto, have also experimented with gourmet dogs by topping them with bacon and melted cheese, and other innovations. 


But it is not just restaurants who are transforming the hot dog; manufacturers are also playing a role by diversifying the flavours and meat content.  While the classic beef hot dog is still available, chicken and tofu varieties are popular choices with health conscious consumers, and gourmet varieties made with smoked lamb and other meats are making their way onto menus.


300 Years of Popularity


It’s not every food that has a month dedicated to it, but with July being National Hot Dog month, hot dogs are one of the exceptions. Created in the 1690s by German butcher, Johann Georghehner, hot dogs (or “frankfurters” as they were called) have been around for over 300 years.  Originating in Germany, immigrants brought the frankfurter with them when they migrated to the United States in the 1860s and from there, their popularity grew to what it is today. 


Nobody is entirely certain how the hot dog got its name, but it is believed that it was popularized by sports cartoonist, Tad Dorgan.  At a Giants baseball game in 1902, vendors were selling hot “dachshund sausages.”  Dorgan shortened the name in his cartoon of the event to “hot dogs” and the rest is history.  The original cartoon is now said to be owned by the family of US founding father, Harry M. Stevens.


But Are They Good for You?


People may joke about what goes into a hot dog, but they are actually a good source of protein, iron and other vitamins.  By law, a hot dog can contain up to 3.5% of non-meat products which usually is some type of milk or soy to increase the nutritional value.  Plus, there are strict government rules on exactly what a hot dog can contain.  They can have no more than 10% water and 30% fat or a combination of 40% fat/water and they must contain at least 15% of muscle meat .


Turkey or chicken hot dogs have similar guidelines as their meaty counterparts, but must be made of meat from a single species, no turkey/chicken combinations. 


Traditionally hot dogs had a bad reputation for being high in fat and sodium, but manufacturers are now choosing leaner meats and have lower-salt versions to meet the demand of the health-conscious consumer.  


With foods trends coming and going, the hot dog has not only maintained its popularity, but has evolved into a North American standard.  Food connoisseurs may debate as to how to best prepare the hot dog and which toppings enhance or overpower the flavour, but one thing is for sure the dog is here to stay.