There's nothing that says summertime picnic like perfectly cooked hot dogs or sausages eaten beside a pool of water. Though Wild Doggz owner Richard Stellmacher feels that hot dogs are a year-round food, most would agree hot dogs just taste different when you're at a Fourth of July picnic or camping in the woods.
Lucky for those feeling the effects of a floundering economy, hot dogs are inexpensive compared to other grilling meats like seafood and steaks. Even so, not all hot dogs are created equal. While there are the inexpensive brands — the ones that you have to eat without letting yourself wonder how it was made — there are other styles, many made in Lodi and Stockton, that pack high-quality products and better flavor.
At the grocery store alone, shoppers have their options from an assortment of types of hot dogs: There are vegetarian hot dogs, chicken sausages packed with spinach and garlic, cheesy bratwursts, Little Smokies, long Ballpark Hot Dogs, nitrate-free hot dogs and kosher hot dogs.
At Lockeford Meat and Sausage, a display case fills the storefront with a selection of breakfast sausages, bratwursts and hot dogs. The most popular is the Smoked Dakota bratwurst, which they grill and top with onions and sauerkraut at local events like the Grape Festival and Lodi Street Faire.
The Hawaiian Luau is another popular choice. Though it looks similar to the traditional Dakota, consumers buy them to grill up, slice and serve as an hors d'oeuvres because it's a little sweet and a little spicy.
Lakewood Meats and Sausage in Lodi also makes their own sausages, hot dogs and bratwursts. Owner Jim Roster says they sell a lot of pork and beef bratwursts, as well as a spicy and mild Alabama and a wine cured sausage.
When it comes to cooking the sausages, Roster says his customers keep it simple and traditional.
"They do pretty much old school stuff. Some will take brats and simmer them with beer and onions and mushrooms," he said.
The majority, though, stick the bratwursts on the grill for 10 minutes and call it good.
Hot dog hierarchy
In the category of hot dog eaters, there are two types of people: Those who will eat any type, and those who are hot dog snobs.
According to Roster, the main difference between the different grades of hot dogs are the way they are made and the ingredients. When people ask Roster what is in his hot dogs, he simply points to the ground chuck behind the counter. The hot dogs are in a natural sheep casing and the meat is ground much finer than in the sausage and bratwursts.
"A hot dog has to be made using pretty good products," Roster said. "What goes in, comes out."
At Wild Doggz, the Stellmachers proudly serve Alpine, Miller and Evergood hot dogs. They steam their hot dogs to get a supple and full sausage. Then, they place it in a soft bun that is also steamed.
"If you put a fresh hot dog on a cold bun it's kind of a bummer," he said.
He personally likes the chili dog (especially when the hot dog is chopped up into the chili), while one of the biggest sellers is the Chicago Dog that includes an all-beef hot dog, pickle, onions and tomatoes.
Or, you can keep it simple: "Typically, hot dogs belong with mustard," he said.
Jordan's deep fried hot dogs
This recipe is derived from an episode of "Deep-fried Paradise" on the Travel Channel.
The show featured "Rutt's Hutt," a restaurant in Clifton, New Jersey that specializes in deep-fried hot dogs.
Deep-fried hot dogs
(Inspired by Rutt's Hutt)
4 high-quality hot dogs (like Alpine)
Enough frying fat of your choice to cover the hot dogs (I used lard, but canola, peanut or vegetable oil would be fine)
4 buns, toasted
Your favorite hot dog condiments
Using a heavy-bottomed pot, preferably a cast-iron Dutch oven, heat your fat of choice to 325 degrees. If you have a candy thermometer, use that to test the temperature. Otherwise, look for the fat to start to smoke. When the temperature is right, drop the hot dogs into the fat slowly. The hot dogs will sink to the bottom of the pot.
At Rutt's, they pull some hot dogs when they rise to the surface and sell them to customers who like their dogs on the rare side. These are known as "In and Outers."
If you leave the hot dogs in longer, the skin will start to rip and the exterior will darken. These are known as "Rippers" at Rutt's and are the most popular. Hot dogs taken out of the oil at this point will have a crunchy exterior and a soft and chewy inside. This is what I made for the newsroom and they were a hit.
If you let the hot dog continue to cook, you will end up with what Rutt's calls a "Cremator." As the name implies, this hot dog is burnt and apparently has the taste of well done bacon.
However you cook the dogs, shake off the excess grease and give them a minute to cool before taking a bite. Serve on toasted hot dog buns topped with your favorite condiments … Even if that includes ketchup, which we all know doesn't belong on a hot dog.
In that same episode, the Travel Channel featured "Sodolak's," a restaurant in Snook, Texas. The eatery serves "chicken-fried bacon."
I have adapted this to fit my own chicken-fried steak batter and country gravy recipes.
Fat of your choice for frying (enough for the bacon to float in)
8 slices of thick-cut bacon
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon white pepper
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
Combine dry ingredients in a largebag and shake. Crack the eggs in a mixing bowl and scramble. Add the bacon, one piece at a time. Remove and let excess egg drain off. Add bacon to the bag and shake to coat. Lay bacon on a cooling rack placed on top of a cookie sheet for 10 minutes to let the flour mixture set. Repeat.
Using a heavy-bottomed pot, preferably a cast-iron Dutch oven, heat your fat of choice to 325 degrees. Add the bacon slowly, making sure not to crowd the pan. Make sure the pieces aren't touching. Work in several batches, if necessary.
Cook for several minutes, until the crust is a yellowish brown and the bacon has a stiff texture.
Since I eyeball my recipe, I am using homesicktexan.blogspot.com's recipe for country gravy. However, in Texas, it is known as cream gravy.
2 tablespoons of pan drippings, bacon grease or vegetable oil
Two tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Salt to taste
Combine fat with flour in a hot skillet, continuously stirring, cook on medium for a couple of minutes until a dark roux is formed.
Add milk slowly to skillet, and mix with roux using either a whisk or wooden spoon (be sure and press out any lumps).
Turn heat to low and continue stirring until mixture is thickened, a couple more minutes.
Add pepper and salt to taste.
If gravy is too thick for your taste, you can thin it by adding either more milk or water a tablespoon at a time.
Goes great with mashed potatoes, fried chicken, biscuits, chicken fried steak, grits, vegetables, rice or anything else you can imagine. The country gravy recipe — used for bacon dip — is fromwww.homesicktexan.blogspot.com.
Jordan Guinnis the News-Sentinel business editor.
By the numbers: Americans love their dogs
— In 2009, consumers spent more than $1.6 billion on hot dogs and sausages in United States supermarkets.
— Americans will eat enough hot dogs at major league ballparks this year to stretch between Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., the two sites of the 2008 World Series.
— Los Angeles residents consume more hot dogs than any other city, beating out New York and San Antonio/Corpus Christi, Texas.
— Chicago's O'Hare International Airport consumes six times more hot dogs, 725,000 more than Los Angeles International Airport and LaGuardia Airport combined.
— On Independence Day, Americans will enjoy 150 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. over five times.
— During Hot Dog Season, Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans typically consume 7 billion hot dogs — or 818 hot dogs consumed every second during that period.
— U.S. soldiers in military posts around the world from Fort Meyers in Arlington, Va. to Okinawa, Japan to Aqaba, Jordon consumed 2.4 million hot dogs last year.
Source: National Hot Dog & Sausage Council
Dress up your next dog with sweet or salty dips and toppings
Nacho cheese sauce
Cole slaw or cabbage
Quiz: Test your knowledge of the hot dog
Who hates ketchup, loves the dogs?
1. Which city's hot dog has the most toppings?
a. New York
c. San Francisco
2. Who said that hot dogs and champagne were among their favorite foods?
a. George Bush
b. Marlene Dietrich
c. George Foreman
d. Jane Fonda
3. What famous movie character uttered the phrase, "Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog?"
a. James Bond
b. Dirty Harry
c. The Terminator
d. Jason Bourne
4. Which of these four artists DOES NOT have a song titled "Hot Dog?"
a. Perry Como
b. Elvis Presley
c. Three Dog Night
d. Led Zeppelin
5. Name the only Major League Baseball ballpark that sells more sausages than hot dogs per season?
a. Yankee Stadium in New York
b. Wrigley Field in Chicago
c. Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
d. Miller Park in Milwaukee
1. D. The Chicago dog includes yellow mustard, dark green relish, chopped raw onion, tomato slices.
2. B. Marlene Deitrich was famous for her preferred meal of hot dogs and champagne over anything else.
3. B. Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry uttered this line in "Sudden Impact," the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series.
4. C. Although they have "dog" in their name, Three Dog Night never recorded a song titled "Hot Dog."
5. D. Out of all 30 MLB parks, Miller Park in Milwaukee is the only one in which sausages outsell hotdogs per season. Miller Park is home to the famous "Sausage Race" during each game.
Source: National Hot Dog & Sausage Council