Sandwich Monday: A Hot Dog Cookoff

There is still debate if the hot dog evolved from lesser sandwich forms, or if it’s the work of an intelligent designer, but everyone can agree it’s a marvel of simplicity. At the Gapers Block Hot Dog Cookoff earlier this Summer in Chicago, though, five chefs were challenged to reinterpret the humble tubesteak, and we were challenged to eat them all.

The chefs were told to “start with Vienna Beef hot dogs” and “use them in any way imaginable.” Those instructions, when you think about it, are frighteningly open to interpretation.

I was hoping that someone might use the weiners to build a meat log cabin in which I could settle down and raise a family, but for the most part, the chefs stuck to the traditional form. The first one I try is from Kuma’s Corner, a beloved Chicago institution known for its burgers, which are named after metal bands (Try the “Lair of the Minotaur!”). It’s got a spicy chili, broccoli slaw, and an underlying air of menace.

Next up is the entry from ManBQue, which is not the name of a cookout cannibals throw on Labor Day, but of a “grilling and lifestyle organization” in Chicago. This hot dog is wrapped in Serrano-smoked bacon, and topped with chicharrones. “That’s a lot of different meats,” I say to John, who is manning the grill.

“Yeah,” John says. “We’ve got a family reunion in there.”

As delicious and manly as these dogs are, I’m feeling a little disappointed that no one is really deconstructing the form. I came here for Damien Hirst and I’m getting Thomas Kinkade. As I’m wiping my tears with another hot dog, I come upon this, from The Haute and The Dog:

It’s a hot dog sundae! With pulled pork roasted in Dr.Pepper! It is a completely savory taste, in a completely desserty form. Finally, there is balance in a world in which a Choco Taco exists.

As I approach my final dog, I’m pretty full, but it’s like the last season of Lost. Even though you’re tired of it, you stick with it because you’ve already invested so much and you need to see how it ends, even if it ends badly with [SPOILER] unsatisfying, poorly developed pseudoscientific religious allegory. Instead, though, my finale here is a dog from Harmony Grill, which is topped with a Flamin’-Hot-Cheeto-Fried Onion, so things end pretty well.

[The verdict: as I said above, I was hoping for more creative interpretations. A tip for chefs signing up next year: It wouldn’t be hard to build a bow and arrow that shoots hot dogs into my mouth — sort of a bow and weiner. Let’s make this happen.]

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