Traditional Chicago Hotdog

Traditional Chicago Hotdog

The Chicago Hot Dog is one style that has to be experienced to really understand the numerous toppings and how they all work together. Toppings are diced onions, sweet relish, tomato wedge, dill pickle, sport peppers, yellow mustard and celery salt. This is all put on a premium all beef Vienna Beef hot dog and steamed poppy seed bun. When completed a Chicago hot dog is said to have been “dragged through the garden” due to the numerous vegetable toppings. One could argue that all the toppings makes the focus less on the beef, and as this may be true with the wonderful spicy/pickle/sweet flavor of the toppings directly competing with the beef. However when all combined with a soft steamed bun the whole experience creates a smorgasbord of wonderful flavors. It is also quite colorful, a rare thing for encased meats.

A Chicago hot dog is such a popular food in the Chicago area that there are more hot dog restaurants / stands than McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King resturants combined. There is also much debate on what is the best hot dog stand; everyone has their favorite for various reason. There are two major differences though; the first is the preference for natural casing or skinless hot dogs.  The natural sheep casing used by Vienna Beef adds a wonderful snap to the bite of the hot dog and can be easily identified due to their subtle curve. The other difference is how they are cooked; cooked in water vs charcoal grilled or “chardog”. Chardogs often have a cross cut in the ends causing the curling of the tips or butterflied and grilled.

This recipe combines the two technique to give you a juicy hot dog while getting a bit of that seared beef flavor.

It is also worth noting that in Chicago it is considered bad form to put ketchup on a Chicago hot dog. Since the Chitown hot dog police can’t be at your house to enforce this I will at least suggest you try it without the ketchup first … after all it does have tomatoes on it.


Tools Needed

  • Chef knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Skillet or shallow pot
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Butter knifes


  1. Gather and prep the ingredients. Bring a skillet/shallow pot of water to a very light simmer, about 170°F.
  2. Remove hotdogs from packaging and place in simmering water for about 20 minutes.
  3. Preheat cast iron skillet for two to three minutes over medium high heat at the end of the simmering time. Once the skillet starts to smoke add hot dogs and quickly sear on each side.
  4. When you remove the hot dogs from the water turn the water burner to high and place two butter knifes, wooden dowels or anything to support the buns over the water as they steam. Make sure the water doesn’t splash onto the buns. Once a boil starts reduce heat to a low boil. Steam until they are warm and soft but not soggy, about two to three minutes.
  5. Place cooked hotdog in steamed bun directly on the plate; you don’t want to move them once put together.
  6. In a strip between the bun and the hot dog add diced onions on the left side, sweet relish to the right of the hot dog  and two sport peppers in the middle.
  7. Add a light amount of yellow mustard. Be conservative else the whole thing gets messy.
  8. Add two tomato wedges to the diced onion side and a kosher pickle spear to the sweet relish side. Although not traditional diced tomatoes are easier to eat as opposed to the wedge.
  9. Sprinkle lightly with celery salt.
  10. Enjoy … the whole thing without sitting it back down.

In the Making Photos

Some of these specific ingredients may become difficult to find outside of the Chicago area. Vienna Beef hotdogs, generally the skinless, can be found at many major grocery stores now. In a pinch you can substitute Hebrew National beef franks or even a Nathan’s Famous is a good subsitute. The key is good quality beef franks. For the relish, although sweet relish is slightly different it works well. Unfortnatly there is nothing quite like a sport pepper if you can’t find them but I have seen pickled jalapenos used outside of Chicago, it works but not quite the same. You may be able to find sport peppers of a different brand in California and Sothern USA groceries. Poppy seed hot dog buns are more difficult to find however I wouldn’t be concerned, just stick with a plain one of that is all can find. Amazon sells the Vienna Beef sport peppers and Chicago style relish, check the links under the ingredient section for a link to the page. Celery salt is sometimes harder to find as well, again check the link under the ingredients.

Notice that the water is not boiling. Cooking the hot dogs in boiling water would ruin them. The idea is to gently warm them.

The famous two knife steaming method. Genius right?

Those look like some wonderful hot dogs? We do it right in Chicago!

If two sport peppers is too much heat for your palette consider, slicing them in half lengthwise and only using one or slicing into thin rings and using a few. Thinner tomatoes and pickle spears makes the hot dog easier to eat, so remember to cut the pickles spears in half or thirds. A more deli style or lighter tasting dill pickle works best.