When you come to Chicago, there are some tourist attractions you simply can’t miss, but there are also some foods you need to experience. Chicago has a number of specialty foods and rich cultural traditions such as Chicago deep-dish pizza, steakhouses, and Italian beef. Still, by far, the most cherished tradition is the Chicago Style Hot Dog. This culinary wonder is as much Chicago as Wrigley Field, Grant Park, and the Magnificent Mile. Visitors might wonder how a simple hotdog has garnered such attention, but then again, a Chicago dog isn’t just a simple hotdog.
The story of the Chicago-style hot dog is rooted in the history of Chicago’s 19the century German immigrants who first brought their love of encased meats to the city along with the original frankfurter, a mixture of pork, beef, and Vienna spices. The frankfurter caught on like wildfire in America as a cheap, quick, meal on the go.
Due to its prime location in the midwest, Chicago became the meat-packing capital of the world. With sausage making skills in hand, German butchers found a niche in Chicago’s meat-packing plants, and the frank quickly became one of the first industrialized foods. By the end of the 1800s, mass production of frankfurters was typical, but it wasn’t until a new wave of Jewish immigrants that the Chicago dog began to differentiate itself as an all-beef hotdog.
The new Jewish immigrants were poor and often became peddlers and street vendors to support their families. These jobs didn’t require specialized skills and often presented the lowest barrier to employment.
During this time, the meat-packing industry wasn’t exactly known for having high health standards, but the Jewish kosher tradition had a reputation for producing purer, safer foods. Thus, the all-beef frankfurter became the standard for the Chicago hot dog.
In 1893 the Columbian Exposition came to the world’s fair in Chicago. This event allowed the take-off of two enterprising Austrian-Hungarian immigrants who began peddling their hot dogs and quickly became a hit with the crowd. They made so much during the exposition that they were then able to open up their own business. They named it the Vienna Beef, and their hot dogs became the staple ingredient in Chicago dogs.
The years that followed brought more immigrants from all over the world to Chicago, including a Polish immigrant named Sam Rosen. Sam Rosen was a baker by trade and became well known as the originator of the poppy-seed bun. It was this bun and the Vienna Beef hot dogs that laid the foundation for the Chicago-style dogs. Other immigrants began adding items that suited their own tastes to their hot dogs.
The stock market crash of 1929 spurred the next incarnation of the hot dog. Hot dogs had always been considered a cheap meal, but with the Great Depression’s desperation, they became the go-to source of nutrition for many. Hot dog vendors began piling on the extras to make them more fulfilling. The addition of a wide variety of vegetables became part of the Chicago tradition. These fixings would come and go, but the ones that became an indelible part of the Chicago style dog were sport peppers, mustard, pickle, relish, onion, tomato, and celery salt – no ketchup!