Hot Dog!

Turkey to tofu, plain to spiced, hot dogs remain a hit with baseball fans.

April 03, 2002|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff

Baseball season began in Baltimore this week without longtime stars Cal Ripken or Brady Anderson, but one fan favorite is back at Camden Yards -- the hot dog.

Hot dogs and baseball have been together for a hundred years. Over the decades, makers have created dogs in varying lengths and widths, stuffed with cheese, made with chicken, turkey and tofu, with the skin and without.

Recently, hot dogs have become spicier, says Janet Riley, spokeswoman for the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, an industry trade group in Washington, D.C. "You see a lot of kinds of deli-style dogs in the marketplaces," she said. "They have a fuller flavor."

Oscar Mayer recently introduced a new line of large, hot and spicy dogs to appeal to grown-ups. "You find a lot of people want a bigger, more flavorful hot dog," says Sarah Delea, a company spokeswoman.

Yet despite all the ways makers have tried to change them, hot dogs are pretty much the way they've always been -- a simple sausage wrapped in bread, lathered with ketchup and mustard (or perhaps sauerkraut or chili) -- the perfect food to munch on at a baseball game.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that Americans will eat more than 26 million hot dogs in major-league ballparks this year.

It is only natural. After all, hot dogs and baseball grew up together, both starting in the 19th century and emerging in the 20th century as American cultural icons. Never mind that most authorities attribute the hot dog to German immigrants living in New York City.

Although today's baseball fans have a wide range of foods to munch on, hot dogs remain enduring favorites. It's easy to see why.

A slice of pizza can be messy. Peanuts and popcorn can spill in the excitement of a home-run hit. But a hot dog, safely wrapped in its soft, white bun, can endure the enthusiasms of a come-from-behind win or the frustrations of an umpire who can't see the strike zone.

Last season, fans devoured nearly a half million hot dogs at Camden Yards -- 15,000 on opening day, according to Doug Warner, a spokesman for Aramark, which runs the food concessions at the ballpark.

This year, the park is expanding its hot-dog menu to include a vegetarian dog and a foot-long kosher dog from Hebrew National.

The toppings available range from a simple squirt of ketchup to chili, cheese, peppers, relish, onions and tomatoes. Last year, Aramark introduced "Top Your Esskay" stands in which customers could choose a variety of toppings. There was the Southwest Dog, smothered in chili, shredded cheese and jalapenos; the Baltimore Dog with flame-roasted onions and peppers and honey mustard; the Chicago Dog with peppers, relish, onion and tomato; and the New York dog with chopped onions, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and pickle relish.

"We have been doing a lot of business at the top-your-own stands," Warner says.

The "Top Your Esskay" dogs are called five-to-one dogs, meaning there are five dogs to the pound. The park also sells kid-size, eight-to-one dogs and jumbo three-to-one dogs. But, by far, the biggest seller is the Esskay, all-beef four-to-one super dog.

Ed Carey, inside sales manager at Esskay headquarters in Baltimore, has watched the public's hot-dog preferences change over the years. Until the 1950s, hot dogs were sold with natural casings. When the skinless hot dogs were introduced, the public at first resisted. But once consumers got used to the idea, they refused to go back. A few years ago, Esskay tried to reintroduce a hot dog with a natural skin, but it just didn't sell, Carey said.

With the more calorie-conscious 1990s, the public turned to low-fat hot dogs, especially chicken franks. The Hotdog and Sausage Council notes that the popularity of the low-fat dogs has been waning recently.

And despite rumors to the contrary, hot dogs actually are made of muscle meat, along with spices and fillers, such as dry milk and cereals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which defines a hot dog as a sausage, specifies that hot dogs can contain no more than 30 percent fat and 10 percent water, or a combination of 40 percent fat and water.

That is not to say that hot dogs are health food. Nutritionists criticize the high salt and fat content in most hot dogs. A regular hot dog on a white bun contains 250 calories, 14.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein and 640 milligrams of sodium. Most hot dogs also contain nitrate preservatives that have been linked to cancer.

"But if you're only eat one once in a while, it's not going to kill you," says Paula McCallum, a dietitian and nutrition consultant for the American Institute for Cancer Research.

The best way to prepare a hot dog is a matter of debate. Of course, there is grilling, but dogs can also be boiled, steamed, microwaved or fried.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council advises putting dogs in a pot of boiling water then removing the pot from the heat and letting them steam for five minutes.

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