The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 9, 2013

Hot-diggity-dog! The origins of two grilling classics

By John Blankenship

— Hamburgers and hot dogs have become so common in our daily diet that we seldom think about how the tasty items originated.

The ideal lunch sandwich is a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and a thin slice of onion. Mustard and pickles are optional.

As for hot dogs, they are fast to fix, fun to eat, satisfying to the taste buds. Chili and onions are favored by most connoisseurs of the wiener on a bun, while some prefer slaw or relish on top. Mustard and ketchup will suffice at the ballpark or at work if chili and other accoutrements are not to be had.

How did two of my favorite foods come about?

I did some research and discovered this about the hamburger and hot dog.

Neither is American nor traditional. The hamburger originated in Hamburg, a town in northern Germany. Some experts suggest the first hamburger was steak tartar, a raw beef delicacy from Russia.

The first hamburger on a roll appeared in this country a little before World War I and took off with the success of the White Castle Chain in the 1920s.

The burger sandwich enjoyed an unrivaled popularity in Pittsburgh, Pa., where steelworkers bought them from street-side eateries located near the mills.

Steelworkers in those days had no use for knives and forks, and there was no place to sit down and dine from dinner plates anyway. A giant hamburger and a bottle of draft beer could be stuffed into their working clothes or dinner pails.

All the “trimmings” and “fixings” were slapped on the burger: slaw, French fries, pickles, mustard, tomatoes, onions — you name it.

And you can still get the same kind of burger in Pittsburgh today. The jumbo sandwiches are still featured on menus at some old Pittsburgh eateries that trace their lineage back to the 1920s and 30s.


The origin of the hot dog, meanwhile, was just as practical for hungry city folk who liked to eat on the run.

According to the Oscar Meyer Co., the nation’s leading hot dog manufacturer, the name “hot dog” and its association with baseball games took place on a cold April day in 1900.

The place was New York City’s Polo Grounds, home of the famed New York Giants. Commissioner Harry Stevens, having no luck selling ice cream and soda, sent out for a German frankfurter.

Advertising them as red hot dachshund sausages, he sold the frankfurters to fans on the street and in the stands.

One was cartoonist Ted Dorgan, who promptly sketched a dachshund in a roll and the American hot dog was born: a slender, short-order item that has appealed to all facets of American culture — young and old, rich and poor, celebrity and non-celebrity.

In the United States, there are many different kinds of hot dogs, with different combinations of chili, cheese, onions, mustard and other products. One of the most popular kinds of hot dogs is the chili dog, one of which is the Coney Island dog, a dog topped with a blend of chili, cheese, mustard and onions.

Hot dogs can be boiled, grilled or fried. The word frankfurter comes from Frankfurt, Germany. This sausage is usually served in a bun or another kind of bread.

The most common kinds of hot dogs are made from beef, sometimes mixed with pork. Chicken and vegetarian are popular as well.

To add to the taste, various toppings and sauces are often added. The most common sauces in the U.S. are ketchup, mustard and pickle relish. Onions, chopped pickles, peppers, hot sauce and cheese are also sometimes added to hot dogs. Onions cooked in tomato sauce and sauerkraut are popular toppings, as is chili.

I’ve lost track of how many hot dogs I’ve eaten over the years, but I still enjoy a good hot dog for lunch practically any day of the week.

I usually can only eat two hot dogs at one sitting, but I have left dining establishments pondering if a third dog was possible.

I have heard tell of at least one former high school football tackle from Shady Spring who reportedly could consume an even dozen of the tasty treats after a ball game.

I won’t mention his name, though.

He is a happily married man and I wouldn’t want his young wife to know the full capacity of her spouse’s stomach. She might panic and run for her life.


Top of the morning!

— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald. E-mail: