What you put on your hot dog depends on where you live. That is what I learned recently when, in honor of July, National Hot Dog Month, I called hot-dog sellers around the United States. The hot dog has been charged, but never convicted, of crimes ranging from increasing the risk of cancer to causing bratty behavior in kids. Nevertheless, we continue to love the hot dog, eating an average of about 80 per person per year. And, in different regions of America, the hot dog gets special treatment.
In Baltimore, for example, the distinctive hot dog topping is a slice of beef bologna. The bologna is wrapped around a grilled, all-beef hot dog, said Seymour Attman. He is the longtime proprietor of Attman's Deli on East Lombard Street, in a deli-rich area of town known as Corned Beef Row.
Over the clatter of the lunchtime crowd, Attman told me of the typical topping of a Baltimore dog: "The mustard -- it is deli style not the salad style -- the sweet relish and the fresh onions, and the bologna."
Attman, who is 68 years old, said he thought the practice of putting bologna on hot dogs got started in the early 1940s at Nathan Ballow's delicatessen. Over the years the Ballow deli moved from North Avenue to Reisterstown Road, where it became Mandell and Ballow, and eventually went out of business, Attman recalled. But Ballow's practice of serving hot dogs with bologna stuck and spread through the city.
The practice apparently did not reach Western Maryland. In Hagerstown, I was told, folks like their hot dogs uncluttered.
"Up here people don't put much on a hot dog, maybe hot onions, because they want the flavor of the meat to come through," said Donald Hoffman. Last year Hoffman's family started making "old-fashioned" hot dogs, out of pork and beef. The dog is smoked over white hickory wood. It is the same smoking technique the family business has used for years to make its bacon, Hoffman said. The hot dog is sold by mail order and at the Roy L. Hoffman and Sons shop on Cearfoss Pike in Hagerstown.
In New York, the hot dog, like most everything else in Gotham, turns out to be complicated.
Manhattan hot-dog eaters, I was told, have to have onions. But out on Long Island the required hot-dog companion is dark mustard, with the seeds still in it, said Ron Dragoon. Dragoon is president of Ben's Kosher Deli Restaurants, which sell hot dogs at nine locations on Long Island, one in Queens and one in Brooklyn.
"In suburbs, it is mustard with a little sauerkraut," said Dragoon. Occasionally he said, a customer will "perform a sin" and ask for ketchup on his hot dog. "When that happens, we do a double take. But we give them the ketchup."
Dragoon, who is 45 years old and a native New Yorker, also noted differences in the various cooking styles used by hot-dog merchants throughout the city. Boiled and steamed hot dogs come from the propane-fired cooking devices found on the pushcarts operating on Manhattan street corners, he said. Grilled hot dogs are found in the more established delis, where the kitchens use electricity. Grilling, Dragoon said, is the best way to cook a hot dog.
On the plains of Nebraska, what folks put on their Wahoo Wieners depends on what ingredients have gone into the hot dogs. That is what Barb Coenen told me. She works for the O.K. Market, makers of Wahoo Wieners, smoked hot dogs that take their name from Wahoo, a town midway between Lincoln and rTC Omaha. Wahoo Wieners are sold via mail order around the country.
On the fine-grind Wahoo Wiener, folks are likely to deposit a mixture of ketchup, mustard, onion and pickle relish, Ms. Coenen said.
When they are eating a Wahoo Wiener made with garlic, folks put on the sauerkraut, she said.
And when they are dealing with Wahoo Wieners made with jalapeno peppers, they add melted cheese.
I ended my survey of hot-dog toppings with a phone call to California. Los Angeles hot dogs, I was told, are being made out of vegetables and are being topped with anything from creamed spinach to guacamole. But at the Hollywood Hot Dog Co. in Beverly Hills, the biggest seller turns out to be the traditional, all-beef Hebrew National dog. The topping on the traditional dog, however, sounds like something that came off of a Wolfgang Puck pizza. "It is corn relish, black bean salsa, with chopped onion and a honey-mustard," Hollywood Hot Dog's Marty Halfon told me.
The corn relish topping, Halfon explained, was designed to "put fire through your nose."
I hung up and summarized my hot-dog findings. In Baltimore, the hot dog is covered with bologna. In Hagerstown, it is a smoked dog with next to nothing on it. In New York, the dog travels with onions in Manhattan, and with seedy mustard and a sprinkling of kraut in the outer boroughs. In Wahoo, ketchup and mustard go on the mild wieners, kraut on the warmer wieners, and melted cheese on the fiery dogs.
And in Beverly Hills, the dog itself is traditional but the topping is exotic. Or, as they like to say in the city of smog and sunshine, their hot-dog topping is "healthy."