How to Eat a Hot Dog

When I was in the Boy Scouts, one of the leaders told us boys that a hot dog had as much nutritional value as the wrapper it came in. I remember thinking that that was a pretty stupid comment, especially because he was cooking them. To me, a hot dog properly embellished with mustard, ketchup, onions, relish and whatever else was around tasted better than anything else I could think of.

Of course he may have had a point. How often have we heard that if a person likes sausage, or hot dogs, they should avoid watching them made. I, for one, have never challenged that statement. Why would I ever want to question such a good thing?

Hot dogs are typically prepared commercially by mixing all of the ingredients, (meats, spices, binders and fillers, if any) in large vats where rapidly moving blades grind and mix in the same operation. This mixture is then forced through tubes into casings for cooking. Most hot dogs sold in the US are called "skinless" as opposed to more expensive "natural casing" hot dogs.

Skinless hot dogs also must use a casing in the cooking process when manufactured. This is a long tube of thin cellulose that is completely removed between cooking and packaging. Skinless hot dogs vary in texture of the product surface but have a softer "Bite" than natural casing hot dogs. Although they are more uniform in shape and size than natural casing hot dogs, they are less expensive to produce.

The exact origin of the hot dog is difficult to assess because various stories assert the creation of the sausage, and placing the sausage on bread or bun as finger food. The city of Vienna traces the lineage of the hot dog to the Wienerwurst or Viennese sausage, the city of Frankfurt to the Frankfurter Wurst, which it claims was invented in the 1480's and given to the people on the event of imperial coronations.

The term "dog" has been used as a synonym for sausage since at least 1884, and accusations that the sausage maker used dog meat date to at least 1845. According to a popular myth the phrase "hot dog" in reference to sausage was coined by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Aloysius "TAD" Dorgan around 1900 in a cartoon recording the sale of hot dogs during a New York Giants baseball game.

It is interesting to note that the association between hot dogs and baseball begun as early as 1893 with Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant who owned not only the St. Louis Browns, but also an amusement park, beer garden and brewery near Sportsman's Park, where he sold his beer.

Around 1870, on Coney Island, a German immigrant named Charles Feltman began selling sausages in rolls. Others also have been acknowledged for supposedly having invented the hot dog. The idea of putting hot dog on a bun has been ascribed to the wife of a German named Antonoine Feuchtwanger, who sold hot dogs on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri in 1880. Because his customers kept walking off with the white gloves handed to them for eating the hot sausages, he began serving them in rolls.

So, how do you eat a hot dog? If anyone had ever asked me, I would have replied, "quickly." This seems to be the approach for the many hot dog eating contests held throughout the country each year.

According to legend, on July 4, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. After ten minutes, Neer Sehgal had eaten thirteen hot dogs and was crowned the victor. This contest has been held nearly every year since, in conjunction with Independence Day at the site.

This year, two-time and defending champion Joey (Jaws) Chestnut out ate six-time champion Takeru (Tsunami) Kobayashi by consuming 68 hot dogs in ten minutes. In 2008, the two champions were tied with 59 hot dogs after the new ten-minute time limit, but Chestnut prevailed by winning a five-dog "eat-off" held immediately after the contest.

As you may have already guessed, there is a trick in preparing for a hot dog eating contest. You start by stretching out your stomach. This is achieved by gradually eating more and more every day, eating bulky, fibrous foods like watermelon or cabbage and drinking plenty of water. The human stomach has the capacity of about 1 liter (about 1 quart), but can be distended up to four times that capacity (more than a gallon).

Then you should exercise to avoid gaining weight. Most eating champions are lean, and many contend that having fat on your stomach actually impedes its ability to expand, referring to it as the "band of fat theory". As in any sport, training is very important. After all, they are dedicated athletes.

There are also various techniques of eating that will work. They can be eaten all at once, or separated, the buns and dogs being eaten separately. Kobayashi breaks the dog in half, puts the two pieces in his mouth simultaneously, dips the bun in water and eats them next. This cuts down on chewing time.

There are also events where contestants vie to see who can consume the most of anything from french fries, and pizza to asparagus and watermelon, with an occasional pie-eating contest thrown in for good measure.

So it doesn't matter if that hot dog is covered with chili, sauerkraut, ketchup, mustard and onions, you can be sure of one thing, I will never be in any hurry to eat it. I'm the kind of guy that likes to relax and savor every bite. That's the only way to eat a hot dog.