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May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend Hot Dog Throwdown

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Eight dogs entered, one dog left in the Washington Post Food section's battle of the frankfurters, whose results appeared in the May 24 Food section.

Here's Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's story about the taste-off.

    Taste Test: The House Brand Wins

    Hot dog lovers tend to be loyalists, with some regions harboring more fanatics than others.

    Don't get residents of Upstate New York started.

    "I can't even discuss my favorite hot dogs with some people without getting into an argument," said Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for Wegmans, the grocery chain based in Rochester.

    Rochester likes its hot dogs short and stout. Syracuse favors long and thin.

    Then there's the battle of the "white hots" (made of pork and veal) versus "the red hots" (pork and beef, with some veal).

    German American family-run manufacturers in the Upstate New York area such as Zweigle's and Hofmann's Sausage Co. helped develop the distinct styles in America; the Hofmann family began making sausage in Syracuse in 1879.

    In the Washington area, both kinds arrived in full force with the opening of the Wegmans supermarkets in Sterling and Fairfax.

    With weekend grilling (and Memorial Day) upon us, we put the hot dogs to the test.

    They are different in texture and flavor from the all-beef variety.

    "All-beef hot dogs get their taste from spices -- especially garlic," said Rusty Flook, Hofmann's owner (and a fifth-generation Hofmann).

    Aside from the all-beef versions, upstate dogs get a flavor boost from pork, which also gives them a softer texture -- especially if some veal is added.

    For the tasting, we were joined by Don Roden, owner of the Organic Butcher in McLean; Wolfgang Buchler, owner of Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington; Marty Volk, owner of the Vienna Inn; and Gabrielle Silver, a manager at the inn.

    Charles J. Nackos, 83, of Vienna, who describes himself as the inn's oldest and most loyal customer, joined in.

    The hot dogs were grilled over a charcoal fire.

    All are available at Wegmans; where available, website addresses are listed.

    Unless noted, the hot dogs we tasted were Rochester-style.

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The results follow (click the table, booboo, unless you've got X-Man vision).

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At the top of this post is a photo of the winner, Wegmans White Bockwurst-Style Hot Dogs with Natural Casing.

Evelyn Spence wrote an evocative story about her youthful hot dog eating summer days in Western New York State; it appeared alongside Ms. Sedgwick's article, and follows.

    Red or White

    Upstate New Yorkers Tend to Relish Their Hometown Favorites

    "Red or white? Red or white?"

    That's the question my father would ask over and over at the barbecues he hosted every summer at the church in western New York where he was the pastor.

    As far back as I can remember, I would ask for white -- hot dogs, that is.

    During my childhood, Dad would invite three or four families to picnic on long wooden tables dragged up from the Sunday school basement.

    "Bring meat to grill and a dish to pass," he instructed.

    Almost everybody brought hot dogs.

    He would lift the grilled (okay, charred) offerings off the charcoal fire -- one family's contribution now indistinguishable from another's.

    Then he would walk up and down along the tables, asking each guest to choose -- a red dog or a white one.

    While the rest of the country roasted traditional red beef hot dogs, Rochester, N.Y., with a significant German community, served up a second option: white and porky.

    They were produced and marketed along the southern rim of Lake Ontario.

    They've been featured in "Real American Food," a 1986 book on regional food by Jane and Michael Stern.

    They are sold hot with mustard at the stadium of the Rochester Red Wings, a Minnesota Twins Class AAA affiliate.

    You can buy hots by the pound packed in dry ice at the Rochester airport.

    And now they're available in Northern Virginia, along the back wall of Wegmans, the grocery chain anchored in western New York.

    One octogenarian family friend says that whites taste the same as reds, but I think her taste buds have worn out. (If she were a drinking woman, she might similarly claim that white wine tastes like red.)

    Compared with reds, white hot dogs aren't smoke-flavored and aren't as sweet or spicy.

    Instead, they seem richer, deeper, closer to the earth.

    Compared with bratwurst, white hot dogs are smooth on the tongue and mild in taste.

    In the dairy section of the Fairfax Wegmans I found two brands: the house brand and Zweigle's, a Rochester family-owned company that boasts of "quality since 1880."

    Both companies market precooked white hots wrapped in "natural" sausage casing and a gentler "skinless" variety, which is the one I prefer.

    The first four ingredients for both brands are "pork, water, beef, veal."

    Wegmans whites are labeled "bockwurst style" and there's a dumpling quality to their texture.

    The Zweigle's hots, parenthetically called "cooked sausage," are firmer and have a peppery kick.

    I favor Wegmans.

    My neighbor votes for Zweigle's.

    If you want a sampler, Wegmans offers a pound package containing four reds and four (skinless) whites.

    The deli department sells something called a "snappy" that looks like a white hot dog.

    Well, they might be in the ballpark, but they don't score with my nostalgic memory.

    Maybe it's because they're made in Syracuse.

    As the cooking directions suggest, New York natives generally grill or pan-fry their hot dogs and serve them up in buns, slathered with ketchup and mustard.

    But white hots are as versatile as reds and can be baked into beans, wrapped in biscuit blankets, topped with sauerkraut, boiled in beer, even drizzled with maple syrup.

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The two websites in the Taste Test table where you can order some of these great dogs:

hofmannsausage.com and newyorkstyledeli.com.

May 28, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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