A Brief History Of The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

© jeffreyw/WikiCommons
© jeffreyw/WikiCommons
Photo of Elizabeth Newhart
30 November 2016

Chicagoans take their hometown food seriously. The many colors and textures of a Chicago-style hot dog sizzle in the summer, but ball-game-goers, North Side-dwellers, and out-of-town travelers enjoy it all year-round. Delve into the history of this food favorite here.

It may seem odd for a city to feel so strongly about something as simple as a hot dog, but know that this is no ordinary wiener. The traditional ‘Chicago-Style Hot Dog’ is constructed as follows:

  • Poppy-seed bun
  • All-beef frank
  • Yellow mustard
  • Chopped white onion
  • Tomato
  • Sweet pickle relish
  • Dill pickle spear
  • Sport peppers
  • Celery salt

It’s certainly a mouthful, both to order and scarf down. Take early note of the absence of ketchup, and keep that in mind if you’re coming into Chicago new and unaware. It isn’t a condiment that the city takes lightly, and most legitimate hot dog joints don’t even keep it in stock. But they definitely will give you a sharp wisecrack if you have the guts to ask for it. Within Chicago city limits, ketchup doesn’t belong on a hot dog, plain and simple.

Chicago-style hot dog | © Jeremy Keith/Flickr

But both the recipe of the dog and its following have come a long way since its beginning. Chicago may be known as a hardworking ‘City of Big Shoulders,’ but the Great Depression hit it just as hard as the rest of the county. And in 1929, local greengrocer Jake Drexler needed to keep his son busy and provide an extra income during tough times. Abe ‘Fluky’ Drexler transformed his father’s vegetable cart into a hot dog stand and began concocting what became known as the ‘Depression Sandwich.’ Hot dogs were more economical than red meat at the time, and Drexler topped them off with all the vegetables he could find and sold each for a nickel. The hot dog made by ‘dragging it through the garden’ was born, and the rest is history.

Fluky’s quickly became the biggest and best hot dog stand in Chicago, and once operated four bustling locations. With rises and falls in the economy over the 20th century, the stands changed hands, closed down, and reopened several times. Today, the only remaining place you can walk up and get a Fluky’s hot dog is from a stand located inside a Wal-Mart store in Niles, IL. The franchise is headquartered nearby, and the website offers online orders of the classic hot dogs as well as other food options and Fluky’s merchandise.

But though Fluky’s hot dogs have a long and respected history in Chicago, the toppings have changed slightly over time. Drexler initially served his dogs with cucumber slices, which do still have their place on a hot dog, but they were eventually replaced by dill pickles in the official recipe. And while the traditional dog is steamed, grilling a ‘char-dog’ over charcoal has found its own niche among hot-dog lovers. Many local stands and restaurants even take liberty with the recipe and offer a stripped-down version of the classic. Simply mustard, onion, relish and sport peppers lead the pack among these variations, and cheese sauce is a popular addition with several vendors.

Portillo’s Hot dogs | © odonata98/Flickr

So eat your way around the city by checking out these highly rated spots for the satisfying snap of a Chicago-style. Everyone has their favorite, but there’s almost always a new place to try.

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