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Hot Dogs and Mustard

November 8, 2010

Did I mention I’ve got tooth pain too?  I’m not sure if I’m more upset about the pain itself, or that it means another trip to the dentist so that he can examine the filling.  That on top of my aching neck has really put me in a mood.

So if you are one of those people who put ketchup on hot dogs, you may want to turn around now, and come back tomorrow.

Yesterday we were talking about how people have different tastes.  Just because I love gewürztraminer with ham doesn’t mean you will too.  This fact was illustrated by the example that some people think ketchup goes better on hot dogs than mustard.  I know this to be true, because Young Master Fussy is one of them.

I am so ashamed.

My son.  MY son.  My SON, who I carefully crafted into a lover of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, abhors mustard on his hot dog, and will only eat it with ketchup.  Somehow I have failed him, and I can only hope that I can get his palate realigned before it’s too late.

All is not lost, as he’s still a kid, and kids go ga-ga for sweets.  After all, that’s what ketchup really brings to the table.  Granted, its sweetness is balanced with acidity.  Now I have no problem with ketchup as a whole.  After all, it is the great American sauce, and I couldn’t imagine French fries without it.

But hot dogs are a whole different story.

Hot dogs, while considered to be meat, are really mostly tubes filled with animal fat.  Take Sahlen’s Smokehouse hot dogs, for example.  Each one has 180 calories, 140 of which are from fat.  And that’s cool.  Fat is delicious, especially smoked fat.  Hello bacon.

While fatty foods are delicious, they benefit from something that helps cut through the heaviness they leave in your mouth.  Here’s a list in no particular order: Pickles, raw onions, coleslaw, hot peppers, and mustard.  Surely I’m leaving something out.

Hopefully you get the point.

It’s the classic combo of the iron fist in the velvet glove.  Contrasting flavors make for interesting culinary experiences, like bolito misto served with salsa verde.  Or closer to the point here, French fries with ketchup.

With French fries, ketchup’s sweetness contrasts with the saltiness of the fry, and the sauce’s velvety mouthfeel is juxtaposed with the crispness of the potato.

But it doesn’t work the same way on a hot dog.

If you disagree, try this exercise with me.  Let’s think about foodstuffs that are similar to hot dogs, and ask whether or not ketchup would be an appropriate accompaniment.

–       Corned Beef sandwich?
–       Rabbit Terrine?
–       Ham and cheese?

Now that’s not to say mustard is the only way to go on a tube steak.  Because while opposites attract, there is always the opportunity to double down on the richness, by pairing likes with likes.  The best example of this would be the bacon-wrapped hot dog that is slathered with mayonnaise.

There is a sizable gray zone with the introduction of chili.  Here in upstate New York, our mini hot dogs with chili are a regional treasure.  A dog with the works means chili, raw onions and mustard.

The chili here is not tomato-based.  But despite my strong feelings about the inappropriateness of ketchup on hot dogs, I cannot say the same for chili dogs.  Sometimes, depending on the chili, the topping can be improved with a little squeeze of ketchup.

But even so, mustard and raw onions are needed to cut through the heaviness of it all.  

Another exception is the corn dog.  When a hot dog is enrobed in sweetened corn meal and deep-fried, one has to ask, is it still a hot dog?  In this case ketchup works, by playing off the sweetness and the crispness of the coating.  The hot dog is no longer the star of the show, and is relegated to providing a textural contrast and a balancing saltiness to the golden fried exterior.

Hopefully all of this helps explain my position on the matter.  But I want to try to convince those hot-dog-with-ketchup eaters to try a dog with mustard.  So, perhaps if you fall within that group, you can try and explain why you do what you do.  If mustard makes you sick, I’m out of luck.  Otherwise, I may have a fighting chance of winning you over and redeeming my family’s name.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 12:07 pm

    I like hot dogs. I like mustard. I detest mustard on a hot dog. Ketchup only.

    Sorry, Daniel, but my taste-bud configuration is different than yours and you must accept that, painful though it may be. I personally think you’re wrong for enjoying malted milk, but I’m working that out in therapy.

  2. James permalink
    November 8, 2010 12:25 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree that boiled or griddled hot dogs require mustard but, what about charcoal grilled or deep fried hot dogs that have a crisp exterior and could be served on a toasted instead of steamed bun? There you have the crispness to match the velvety texture, the saltiness of the hot dog to balance the sweet, and the acidity to cut through the fattiness. I would also like to know your feelings on sweet pickle relish as a hot dog topping since it has slightly more acidity and flavor than ketchup as well as a more moderate amount of sweetness, depending on the brand.

  3. November 8, 2010 2:51 pm

    I’m a mustard with sauerkraut kind of gal, but let’s go back to the ketchup.

    It is a completely unnecessary condiment. It serves no purpose, except to occasionally be mixed with horseradish for cocktail sauce. Or to serve as a base with brown sugar and Worcestershire as a glaze for meatloaf. Or, maybe to be put on homefries. Or scrambled eggs in a pinch.

    Anyway, my point now thoroughly undermined, I’m a French Fries with mayo kind of gal. If I’m going to indulge, you better believe the gorgeous salty things are going to be slathered with pure fat.

    And Nomi won’t eat hot dogs with mustard either. We’ll pick the fight when she starts eating pastrami and corned beef.

  4. Vicki permalink
    November 8, 2010 4:40 pm

    Leah, I completely agree!!! Ketchup is a completely unnecessary condiment! I can’t stand it and won’t use it on anything. Fries = vinegar or mustard. Hotdog = definitely mustard. Hamburger = mustard as well, even though my whole family thinks I am nuts.
    The only time I think ketchup is edible is if you add horseradish and call it cocktail sauce.
    And, barbecue – definitely the Eastern Carolina variety – no ketchup!!!!
    That having been said, my daughter lives to slather ketchup on everything. Sometimes I can’t even watch, it’s like a bad horror flick.

  5. Ellen Whitby permalink
    November 8, 2010 4:59 pm

    I vote for either on a hotdog, though I don’t really like hotdogs all that much.

    Kudos to Master Fussy for being an individual who can make his own culinary choices despite his father’s leanings. I applaud his resolve and your willingness to accommodate it.

  6. November 8, 2010 8:24 pm

    Daniel, I think we are in the minority, at least as judged by my hoard of pre-teens each year at the Schroon Lake Kid’s Fishing Derby. We go through a few hundred weiners, and much more ketchup than mustard. I personally agree with you, but as has been suggested, there’s no accounting for taste. My sister was once asked to leave the Carnegie Deli for ordering a pastrami sandwich with mayo (in my presence). Go figure. So tough to admit to that one.

  7. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 8, 2010 9:12 pm

    I too am embarrassed by my kids’ preference for ketchup on a hot dog. I strive for Zen peace at those moments, knowing secretly that it’s wrong, so very, very wrong.

  8. Cindy permalink
    November 9, 2010 2:02 am

    Law #1 of the Universe: Children put ketchup on ANYthing and EVERYthing. As a child, I put it on hot dogs, as well as macaroni & cheese (I gag as I type that). My cousins were worse – they put it on turkey, peas… ugh. I’ve blocked out the rest.

    Law #2: Thankfully, most children grow out of the ketchup habit. I did. Young Master Fussy will too. Be patient with the Grasshopper. After all, you’ve already done a wonderful job convincing him of the wonders of Cel-Ray and balsamic vinaigrette.

    Law #3: Everyone knows that mustard goes on hot dogs, and ketchup on hamburgers. They should be labeled that way: the yellow bottle should say “HOT DOG SAUCE,” and the red one “HAMBURGER SAUCE.” It throws the universe dangerously off-balance to switch these.

  9. Kerosena permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:43 pm

    I don’t even remember ketchup being an option for hot dogs when I was little. I’ve always been a big fan of mustard, and regularly enjoyed it mixed with cottage cheese (looks like scrambled eggs), and on a hard roll with lettuce during my adolescent ‘I’m a Vegetarian Now’ phase. Oooh, and equal amounts of mustard and ketchup, slowly and gradually mixed on a plate while eating french fries at Denny’s as a teen.

    Right now, this is my main mustard:

    (The spicy brown variety. I’ve never seen the beer variety locally).

    So, even as a lifelong lover of mustard, and all things acidic and vinegar-y, even I can appreciate the occasional dab of ketchup on a dog. Never did it as a child, but have picked it up as a sometimes habit as an adult. I don’t have a really good explanation for why I started or why I like it, just that there’s enough love in my heart for lots of different types of condiments. I love mustard, but not to the exclusion of ketchup.

  10. mirdreams permalink
    November 11, 2010 9:00 pm

    Ok, I know I’m going to get beat up for this one, but as someone who is trying to eat a bit healthier, I really like Hebrew National’s 97% Fat Free hot dogs. Lacking the fat they come with a lot of spice, and I think ketchup compliments that better than mustard. Put one of these on a Martin’s Whole Wheat Potato Roll and add some Heinz and you really don’t feel like you’re eating health food, even if it does have a lot more lean protein and fiber than your average dog. Thank goodness I don’t have to watch my salt though.

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