The Story of the Hot Dog

By Jack Southan on July 4th, 2016

How the humble Hot Dog came to dominate the American food scene as an icon of fast food has long been disputed. Many people have claimed to have invented the snack over the years, from US sports concessionaires to Polish immigrants. But it is widely considered true that this dish was brought over from Germany. The Frankfurter Würstchen has been eaten in Germany since the 13th century, apparently first made as a celebration of the coronation of Maximilian II of the Holy Roman Empire.

It didn’t reach American soil however until at least 1870 - A German immigrant, Charles Feltman, would serve up hot grilled sausages in rolls on Coney Island, and he made his fortune doing it. This was the start of a journey of a simple food which would grow to become one of the most wildly popular foods in the country.

Although there are vast numbers and variations of the Hot Dog nowadays, it is really just three types which are the foundation of them all. To celebrate the 4th July this year we have selected our absolute favorites from three locations around the country (with an honorary fourth to boot). Connecticut, Chicago and New Jersey are ground zero for the best dogs in the world, each of which are responsible in their own way for creating one of the tastiest, most iconically American dishes in the world. Happy Independence Day!


As the fast food game has been stepped up in the East Coast area, a change has occurred in the minds of the New York Hot Dog enthusiast - No longer is NYC the center of the world for this most delicious of foods, and one by one the foodie experts have moved away from the big city Dogs and moved on to more delicious pastures - Connecticut: The new player in town. Based on the classic NY design, but beefed up to become what many consider the finest gourmet Hot Dogs of the New World.

Frankie’s Hot Dogs - Waterbury, CT

This family business established in 1937 located at Waterbury is another contender for the world's best hot dog! The first place in Connecticut to serve 1 foot long hot dogs. The most popular one would have to be the chilli dog topped with Frankie's homemade hot sauce which combines and results to an unforgettable experience.

Capitol Lunch - Waterbury, CT


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Serving some of the world's best hot dogs since 1949, Capitol Lunch is a great spot to unwind in and enjoy a great tasting dog. What makes this place different from others has to be their home made sauce which makes their hot dogs amazing! The one to try is hot dog topped with chopped onions, mustard and Capitol Lunch's famous hot sauce.

Super Duper Weenie - Fairfield, CT


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Looking for Quentin Tarantino of all hot dogs? Well look no further! Established in 1976 and always keeping to tradition by preparing everything used to assemble these amazing hot dogs from scratch themselves. The dog that stands out is the California! The dogs are split and grilled on both sides and topped with chopped onions and homemade sauce which results to something really special.


Though not the king, this Illinois Hot Dog is definitely the Godfather. A full beef sausage served in a poppy seed bun, layered up with diced onions, green sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, dill pickles, tomatoes and sport peppers. It is the ultimate in condiment/topping overload, but it’s a classic for a reason. Hot Dogs may have been born in New York, and grown up in Connecticut, but this is where they blossomed into veritable legends.

Weiner Circle


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Wiener Circle is a hot dog stand in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Here, great Chicago-style all beef hot dogs, are served in steamy soft Rosen-brand poppy seed buns and are topped off with a selection flawless condiments. In true Chicago style.

Jimmy’s Red Hots


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Jimmy’s Red Hots is a Chicago hot dog institution. The stand is located on Chicago’s West side & is known around town for its finest Chicago-style hot dogs, served up with polish sausage and array of tasty tamales.


The Italian Hot Dog or Newark Style Dog as it’s also known, is a variation on the above classics which has solidified itself as a national favorite. Slightly different in style to the others in that the spicy dogs are deep fried rather than grilled and are served in quarts of ‘pizza bread’. They are topped off in this part of the country with sautéed onions, spicy peppers and chunks of crispy fried potato. It’s a different experience altogether, but the New Jersey Hot Dog (or Ripper as it’s fondly known) sits firmly on the list of most influential dogs around. This is the full-grown Dog in all its glory.

Rutt's Hut - Clifton, NJ


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Housed in a Tudor-style building with a bar, a restaurant and a fast-food area, this cash-only, no-frills institution has been serving deep-fried hot dogs since 1928. “Rippers” are beef and pork hot dogs deep-fried New Jersey-style until the skin cracks and splits while the inside remains soft and lovely. An "in and outer” resembles a traditional hot dog, while the cremator is black and crunchy all the way through. Rutt’s spicy-sweet relish is a dense yellow condiment made with onions, finely chopped carrots, cabbage and mustard, and is really special. Just ask for “Twins, All The Way,” meaning a pair of rippers with mustard and relish.

Jimmy Buff's Italian Hot Dogs - West Orange, NJ

Jimmy Buff’s is where the Italian hot dog was invented by founder James “Bluff” Racioppi. Legend has it he invented the sandwich in 1932 for friends who came over to play cards each week. An Italian hot dog, or Newark dog, is an all-beef wiener deep-fried until its outside turns crunchy. Order a double, where two dogs are tucked into half of a round loaf of chewy Italian bread. This tremendous sandwich is then topped with sautéed onions and peppers and a half-pound of crispy fried potatoes. Top it with Jimmy Buff’s spicy onion relish, if you dare. Note Throwback Thursday deals: Buy one hot dog, get a second at the price of the decade in which you were born.


This list, of course, wouldn't be complete without mentioning where they all came from:  The Grandfather of Hot Dogs, the New York Classic. Made traditionally of an all beef skinless sausage, served with yellow mustard, sauerkraut, sweet onions and a tomato based sauce. This base of flavors has been developed and grown, but the origins are still there. It has been served up on the streets of the Big Apple for over a hundred years, and a trip to the city without having one is considered utter sacrilege.

Nathan’s Famous - Coney Island, NY


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Nathan’s Famous was founded by a Polish immigrant, Nathan Handwerker, and his is truly an authentic “only in America story.” He started in 1916 with a small hot dog stand on Coney Island, New York, and sold hot dogs that were made using a secret spice recipe developed by his wife, Ida. Nathan’s 5 cent hot dogs became so famous that Al Capone, Carey Grant and the King and Queen of England have all tried them. For an authentic experience, head to Coney Island. Nathan's original boardwalk location hosts the famous annual hot dog eating contest every July 4th. The all-beef hot dogs are juicy and succulent. Heated to serve on flat-top grills, the light grilling on the outside casing adds just a slight crisp. Fans rave about the chilli and cheese dogs. Put your cardiologist on speed dial, then add an order of the bacon and cheese crinkle-cut fries, served with the signature red plastic two-pronged French fry “pitchfork.”

The evolution of the hot dog is huge. From the days of yonder year in which people would be offered a white glove to hold the sausage rather than bread, to the multifaceted, show-stopping dogs of downtown Chicago today - the journey was one of the most tasty we can think of. What started as a great idea, developed into one of the most commercially and deliciously successful foods ideas of all time. Thank you, America, you brought joy to taste buds the world over.

Thanks to our experts who have contributed to this feature:

Erica Tannen

Since 2008, Erica Tannen has been scouring Connecticut for the best food, fashion and fun for her weekly newsletter and lifestyle site, The-e-List. Read more...


Kit Graham

Kit Graham is a Chicago-based blogger, freelance writer, social media consultant and a co-founder of the Windy City Blogger Collective. She is the author of THE kittchen, where she shares recipes, restaurant reviews and travel adventures. Read more...


Ulysses De La Torre

I was born the year Charlton Heston discovered what Soylent Green was made from. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher shoved a bar of soap in my mouth after hearing me use foul language. For a few years after that, my favorite drinks were tonic water and pepto bismol, until I turned nine, when I fell in love with cheeseburgers. Read more...


Jeffrey Merrihue

Jeffrey Merrihue is the founder of ExtremeFoodies and Mofilm. Mofilm provides short-form videos to brands, ExtremeFoodies and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. He has just completed his mission to eat at every destination on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Read more...


Meet the author
Jack Southan

Jack Southan is a freelance journalist specialising in food and travel. He has worked his way around the world sampling the tastiest dishes and strongest local brews, but now lives in London and writes for magazines from the comfort of his armchair. ... More