Today we’re making hot dog sandwiches. No one prepared you for this and I apologize for that. But we’re doing it anyway. First let’s talk about Chicago hot dogs and then I will attempt to show you with photos and words how I used a bunch of ingredients and turned them into a tasty warm sandwich.
If you’ve never had a Chicago hot dog, here are the ingredients for a “dragged through the garden” style dog (that means all-the-way in Chicago speak):
- Vienna Beef hot dog (or another Chicago based all-beef hot dog)
- poppy seed bun
- chopped onions
- tomato slices
- neon green pickle relish
- dill pickle spear
- sport peppers
- yellow mustard
- celery salt
I enjoy Chicago hot dogs, but I’m not totally in love with all the ingredients. There are two bullet points above that I feel don’t work as well as the others but overall, the combination of flavors is clearly what has made the style so popular.
The pickle spear is great, but I prefer it on the side. After the first awkward bite or two it usually falls off and then I just eat it and enjoy in between bites of hot dog.
The tomato slices are usually awful. Even during tomato season, the hot dog stands are using cheap, bad, often-mealy tomatoes. Unless you’re making your own Chicago hot dog at home, you might as well tell them to hold the tomato or pull them off.
Celery salt is one of my favorite Chicago hot dog ingredients. This is probably the ingredient that almost redeems the often mealy tomato. If you make your own Chicago hot dog at home, remember to sprinkle the celery salt on top of the tomato slices. Thank me later, or in the comments below.
Chicago dogs I’ve made in the past
Below are a couple of Chicago style hot dogs that I have made at home in the past few years. If you live in Chicago, you can grab all these ingredients in one swipe at the store and you’ll be chowing down on dogs soon enough. If you live in other parts of the world, you might have difficulty buying two of these ingredients.
The two ingredients that you might not be able to find easily in other parts of the world outside of Chicago are sport peppers and the neon green relish.
Sport peppers are a small green pepper that is visually like a tabasco pepper. They’re pickled and jarred, and they are spicy, but not overbearing to eat. Sport peppers measure between 10,000 and 23,000 Scoville heat units which puts them about twice as hot as a jalapeno pepper. The sport pepper contributes two things to a Chicago dog, texture and spice. If you need a substitute for sport peppers, you could use pickled jalapeno slices or you could even buy pickled pepperoncini peppers and use those. Neither option is as spicy as sport peppers, but they could work in a pinch.
Neon green relish is a sweet pickle relish but it’s extra green. If you can’t find it, you could buy or make your favorite pickle relish and add a drop or two of blue food coloring, stir it all up and you’ll be in business. Or you can just ignore the color and use your favorite pickle relish.
Note: you can also get sport peppers and neon green relish online in a bundle. And if you want to have a Chicago hot dog party, you can buy kits with all the ingredients (except tomato and onion) straight from Vienna Beef.
The hot dog buns
If you’ve read my blog before, I’m sure you’ve already guessed; I make my own hot dog buns. This is basically a hamburger bun recipe converted to hot dog rolls.
I have found that if you want hot dog buns that are like what you’d buy in a store, 60-to-65-gram weight works perfectly for me with this recipe. If you have longer hot dogs, you could go up to 75-to-80-grams and make them a bit longer. I roll each dough portion into a 5 inch long log, and I like to cook them side by side with other rolls so that they are touching when they are done baking.
As you can see the dough goes from very smooth to even smoother and doubled in an hour or so. The photos below show the final hour of proofing time and another of the process from after baking (click photos for larger sizes).
Here’s my hot dog bun recipe:
Now we need to collect some hot dog ingredients for our fresh buns.
Let’s make hot dog sandwiches!
Now it’s time to make Chicago hot dog sandwiches.
The single dog first round
First, I tried single dogs split lengthwise on a single bun split all the way through. And that worked okay. The dog tried to slide out under the panini press but it still worked, and I enjoyed them. It just took a bit of effort to keep things together.
I felt like one addition was necessary since we were going to panini these hot dog sandwiches and that was cheese. Other than plain old American cheese, I think one of the most neutral tasting cheeses that you can find and eat is provolone (not sharp provolone) and that’s what I used here. I just wanted the bonding that melting cheese offers, but I didn’t want to add any additional flavors to the mix.
This worked, and you could do it with any hot dog bun and most styles of regional hot dogs. I suggest you try it.
But I felt we could do better if we baked our own custom shaped bun.
The Chicago hot dog sandwich bun
My idea was to bake the bun into something that was a bit more sandwich shaped, so I measured some hot dogs and did some simple math to come up with the idea for a flat, rectangular bun that’s around 3 to 4 inches by 5 or 6 inches.
I rolled out hot dog bun dough with a rolling pin and then shaped it as close to a rectangle as I could. I cut off the edges and then cut it into 3-inch x 5-inch rectangles with my bench scraper.
The savory tomato and onion jam
I have a hard time thinking about putting fresh winter tomatoes into a hot panini sandwich. So, I worked up a recipe and cooked up a savory tomato and crunchy onion jam. I basically cooked down some diced up Roma tomatoes with a tiny bit of sugar, salt and some other seasonings and when it got to the texture that I wanted, I added finely diced onion right at the end and turned off the heat. I wanted the onions to be there for taste and I wanted them almost uncooked so that they’d have the onion texture that you’re used to having in a Chicago hot dog experience.
This worked great and the onion texture was still there and incorporated into the onion jam.
The Chicago double hot dog sandwich
Instead of just a single dog, I decided to escalate things once again.
The double dog was the right choice here. It’s a bigger sandwich, but still easy to eat and enjoy in more of a traditional sandwich shape.
As you can see, I didn’t get the level of cheese meltage that I would like so I took photos and made another attempt.
I panini-ed the next ones a bit longer and the cheese melted a little. This really is a good sandwich if you like Chicago dogs, because there’s a whole extra buttered, crispy texture that the bun brings to the experience that just can’t be beaten.
Order of hot dog sandwich operations
Here’s a little animated gif I made of the ingredient stacking process I used for Chicago hot dog sandwiches.
The Chicago hot dog sandwich recipe
I didn’t write a recipe for making a Chicago hot dog sandwich because all you must do is buy the ingredients (make the tomato jam – or just add slices of tomato and diced onions) and then you can watch the gif above and make this thing.
If you don’t have a panini press, you can use a hot cast iron and another pot or pan that will fit inside that cast iron pan. First you should slice your hot dogs and I put them in the hot panini press to heat up. You can cook to get a full sear at this point if you want, but it does help the cheese melt if the hot dog is hot. Then you just build your sandwich and place it into the hot cast iron with a little pat of butter or teaspoon of neutral oil and use the second pot/pan to apply pressure to the top of the sandwich. After about 2 or 3 minutes, you might want to flip the sandwich just to see how brown things are getting and keep applying the second pot to the top of the sandwich to press it down.