A Hot Dog’s Journey to the Sun

A Hot Dog’s Journey to the Sun

We have lift-off.

While watching Joey Chestnut slobber and drool and masticate his way to another Mustard Belt in the great Coney Island Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, pounding down 63 damp and unappealing dogs, a singular question struck me.

How many grilled and lovely hot dogs will Americans gobble down on this most American of holidays? I checked with the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, and it provided the estimate of 150 million hot dogs. The Council then provided what I think is a rather pedestrian statement: “That’s enough hot dogs to make a line from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles more than five times.”

I wanted to go further. Especially as an American. I wanted to reach for space. “Ad Astra Aspera” and all that! Reach for the stars! I began to imagine a line of hot dogs going all the way to the sun! Of course, they’d have to be spaced out a little, as the sun is only 93 million miles away.

It comes to about a hot dog every half mile or so – more like 0.6 miles. Each dog might even be visible in the darkness of space – visual aids to keep a hungry and intrepid traveler going. And there would even be the added benefit of having the sun begin to cook the dogs the closer you got to it.

And imagine how roasted they would be a few million miles from the sun, before things just vaporize or start looking like 7-11 Big Bites left too long on the rollers.

My mind wandered to other Fourth foods. Potato salad takes first place in this year’s most Googled food, being the number one search in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Baked beans came in second, Googled a lot in Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington state.

Which leads us to the beauty of the hot dog. Who on earth needs to Google how to prepare a breathtakingly gorgeous, smokey and sultry hot dog? Who among us has not masterfully prepared the same countless times?

For dogs, we don’t rely on our old Aunt Tess’s secret recipe. We’re Americans! We strike out on our own in this journey!

For me, it happened as a high school sophomore. I had long admired my father’s butter burgers, cooked in copious tablespoons of butter, the edges as crispy as any smash burger, with a fresh slice of tomato on it, and if he was feeling jaunty, a Kraft American single. Tucking into one of those with an episode of “Bonanza” starting up was a singular pleasure. I discovered entrepreneurial hot dogs years later.

For my inaugural dog, I discovered no buns in the house. No problem. I buttered a frying pan, and pressed two slices of bread onto it. When they toasted, a nice, greasy sheen of yellow on one side, I placed them on the side. I sliced two hot dogs right down the middle, leaving a hinge, and pressed them down onto the pan as steam rose. I added a swirl of yellow mustard, and done! Fried bologna on steroids!

A love affair had begun. I was fourteen.

In my revery, I began to think of myself in a kind of Willy Wonkian space vessel, grabbing another dog every half mile or so and cranking up the air conditioning the closer I got to the sun.

The Fourth of July should be a time to dream.

Hope you had fun.

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Mark Andel

As a former theater critic for the North Loop News and a reviewer of local bars for Timeout Chicago, as well as an occasional beer writer for the Tribune Redeye, I love Chicago for all its quirky, out-of-the-way places, and its character — not to mention its characters. And hot dog stands. I’ve been a reporter, a dock worker, an advertising copywriter, an English teacher, and now — a hot dog blogger. Who would have figured? My partner in this endeavor is Hot-C, also a teacher — and a great wife. Get in touch: [email protected]

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