The world’s first sausage may have been made as far back as 64 A.D., when Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar’s cook, Gaius, stuffed pig intestines with ground meat in a flash of culinary inspiration. After eating the sausage, the emperor is said to have declared, “I have discovered something of great importance.” If your favorite ballpark treat is a fresh hot dog overflowing with ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut, you just might concur.
In the 15th century, the city of Frankfurt spawned the “frankfurter,” a spiced and smoked sausage with a slightly curved shape. The “wiener,” a sausage made of pork and beef, originated in Vienna, known in German as Wien, in 1805. Throughout the 19th century, the snack that would soon become the hot dog gained a following America, thanks to immigrants from Europe.
So what distinguishes a hot dog from a frankfurter or wiener? That’s where the bun comes in—and its exact origins are up for debate. Many hot dog historians credit Antonoine Feuchtwanger, a St. Louis peddler who offered his customers white gloves along with their piping hot sausages to keep them from burning their hands. The problem was that many people walked off with the gloves rather than returning them, and Feuchtwanger’s profits suffered.
Around 1883, the cash-strapped concessionaire’s wife came up with an ingenious solution: long, soft rolls that perfectly fit the sausages. Feuchtwanger dubbed the meat-bread combo “red hots.”
Others point to Charles Feltman, a German butcher who in 1867 began selling hot sausages on rolls out of the pie wagon he hauled up and down the sand dunes of Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Within a few years, he expanded his business from one lowly pushcart into a hot dog empire with an immense restaurant, a beer garden and multiple stands.
Business was booming until Nathan Handwerker, a bread slicer at Feltman’s, broke away to open his own stand in 1916. He undercut his former boss, charging half the price per dog: five cents instead of 10. Today, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs are sold in more than 20,000 food service and retail outlets across the United States. Since 1916, the original Coney Island location has held an annual hot dog eating contest on July 4; the current record stands at 68 dogs in 10 minutes.
Did You Know?
- Babe Ruth once devoured a dozen hot dogs and eight bottles of soda between games of a doubleheader.
- Americans put away 7 billion hot dogs during peak season (between Memorial Day and Labor Day).
- 10 percent of annual retail hot dog sales occur during July, also known as National Hot Dog Month.
- In 2008, Los Angeles and New York spent more on hot dogs than any other cities in the United States ($90,473,016 and $108,250,224, respectively).
- A regular hot dog has 250 calories, including the bun (but not ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut or any other common toppings).