Named for the city where this iconic dish was created, the Chicago Hot Dog is a crunchy, juicy mouthful of an all-beef hot dog.
It’s “dragged through the garden,” which means it’s dressed with yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish, fresh tomatoes and onions, a dill pickle spear, spicey, pickled chilies called sport peppers, and a sprinkling of celery salt. It’s a meal and almost a salad all in one soft hot dog bun (preferably with poppy seeds).
You don’t have to make a trip to Chicago to enjoy their famous hot dogs; you can make them at home! It won’t be the same, but sometimes close enough is good enough! Especially when you’re craving a hot dog with a little more heft than a squiggle of mustard or—hater’s gonna hate—ketchup.
These hot dogs offer a little sweetness from the relish, a salty crunch from the pickle, tang from both the mustard and the sport peppers, and freshness from the tomatoes and onions.
Whether you’re making these for a weeknight family meal or for a barbeque crowd, they cook up quickly and the prep work for the toppings is minimal. Plus, everyone has fun building their own as the hot dogs come off the grill, making it even easier on you.
The All-Beef Hot Dog is a Chicago Dog Must
The hot dog must be an all-beef with a natural casing, which gives it a nice snap when you bite into it. When in Chicago, the brand you’ll most likely be served is the famed Vienna Beef. In my local New Jersey grocery store, I buy a quality brand of all-beef hot dogs with the natural casing (most often Boar’s Head).
Boil the hot dogs to stay as authentic as possible to the hot dog shacks in Chicago. I like to grill mine (thus making it a “char dog”) because I grill a lot in the summer, and it’s the season I associate most with hot dogs.
I think the smoky flavor gained on the grill only makes it better. I don’t take it as far as blackening the skin or getting any sort of crust; you want the dog to remain relatively soft, so the snap of the casing still happens.
Chicago dogs—boiled or grilled—are good any time, so don’t let the season dictate when you serve these up.
The Best Hot Dog Bun
Traditionally the Chicago dog is served in a poppy seed bun because of an enterprising Polish baker who learned his craft in Germany before landing in Chicago in the early 1900s.
He catered to German and Polish immigrants looking for a taste of home in his rye bread, but the poppy seed buns quickly became popular. Nowadays, hot dog vendors will steam the buns to make them soft and pillowy.
What is a Sport Pepper?
Often hard to find outside of Chicago and some parts of the south, the sport pepper is the official pepper of the Chicago dog. They are a small light green pickled chili pepper with medium-hot heat (like a serrano pepper) and a tangy flavor.
Thankfully they are available online for those of us who live outside the Windy City. I prefer to chop mine up to distribute the heat better instead of biting into a whole chili.
The Sweet Pickle Relish
In Chicago you’ll find a neon green sweet pickle relish, which purists swear elevates the hot dog-eating experience. Or maybe they just like the radioactive glow. But this relish doesn’t taste any different from the other ones on the market, it’s just been altered with food dye to turn it that shocking color.
Swaps and Substitutions
A Chicago Hot Dog is pretty specific with its ingredients, but not everyone has access to these midwestern specialties. Here are a few substitutions to help you get as close do the real thing as possible.
- Swap the poppy seed hot dog buns for potato buns.
- Swap the neon green pickle relish for regular sweet pickle relish.
- Pickled jalapeño slices or pepperoncini can be swapped for the sport peppers.
- If you don’t like the idea of whole peppers, pickle spears, or tomato wedges you can always dice them up so it’s a little easier to eat.
Can’t Get Enough Hot Dogs?
- Hot Dogs with Spicy Kimchi Slaw
- Chili Dog
- New Jersey Italian Dog
- Cheesy Baked Hot Dog
- Hot Dogs with Sriracha and Asian Slaw
Chicago Hot Dogs
Traditionally the sport peppers are served whole and the tomatoes are cut into wedges or slices. Feel free to dice both for easier consumption if you prefer.
- 8 all-beef natural casing hot dogs
- 8 poppy seed hot dog buns or potato buns
- Yellow mustard for topping
- Sweet pickle relish for topping
- 2 medium tomatoes, cut into 8 wedges each
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 8 dill pickle spears
- 16 sport peppers or pepperoncini, whole or diced
- Celery salt for topping
Prepare the grill:
Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium heat, 350°F. You should be able to hold your hand over the grill for about 3 seconds before it’s too hot.
Grill the hot dogs:
Place the hot dogs on the grill. Turn them with tongs as they cook, about 8 minutes total. You want a good amount of color on them. Transfer to a platter.
Build the Chicago dogs:
Place a grilled hot dog in a bun. Top with yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish, 2 tomato wedges, onions, 1 dill pickle spear, and 2 sport peppers.
The celery salt is strong, so you only need a light sprinkle over the dog to finish it up. Assemble the remaining hot dogs. Eat immediately!