The 4th of July and hot dogs are inextricably linked in Americana. That’s okay with me because I have always liked them. Sure, I know that hot dogs are polarizing and some people will turn up their noses at the mere thought of eating a hot dog. Hot Dog Snobs are quick to point out that the simple hot dog might be made of all sorts of inexplicable things, but I don’t care. I’m a fan.
Going to Costco without getting a hot dog seems wrong. Baseball games and campfires wouldn’t be the same without them.
When I was a kid, it seems that we ate a lot of them. The usual manner of preparation was to drop them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, and then you’re good to go. (I won’t address condiments here, because that could be a minefield for those sad, sorry people who don’t like mustard.)
My favorite hot dogs were the ones that Mom used to make. Sometimes she would make “Fancy Hot Dogs.” (They weren’t really that fancy, like a bacon-wrapped J-Dawg – but they were fancier than the standard boiling technique.)
She would split the hot dogs down the middle, put a little vegetable oil in the pan and fry them to a golden, crispy brown. Like this:
You might be saying, “That’s not fancy – that’s just a fried hot dog.” True, but when I was a little kid, it was fine dining.
Once when I was a very little kid, my mom was not home and I decided I wanted a hot dog. The fancy way. So I got two hot dogs from the fridge, took a knife and carefully split them down the middle in two.
Next, I poured a little bit of vegetable oil in the pan and turned on the stove. Mind you, I was very little, but feeling very big. This was probably my first attempt at cooking anything – remember this was long before the days of microwave ovens.
I turned up the heat and put the two hot dogs in the pan. So far, so good.
Then things started going wrong. The hot dogs started sticking to the pan, and the pan started smoking and everything started turning black. I could barely scrape the hot dogs off the pan to turn them over. I did, but they weren’t looking so good.
Smoke filled the room as I transferred the hot dogs to my paper plate. I stirred together the perfect orange mixture of ketchup and mustard next to them. I cut a slice of hot dog, dipped it, and ate it.
It was nasty. But, undaunted, I pressed forward and ate both of them – I wasn’t about to admit failure on my first-ever cooking attempt.
I was disappointed that I had failed at something that seemed so easy in theory. The hot dogs were nasty, the kitchen was smoky, and the pan was black.
My mom came home shortly after. Her first comment was “Who burned something?”
I admitted that I had tried to cook some hot dogs the fancy way. She came into the kitchen, turned on a vent, opened a window and examined the pan and the oil.
It was then that she gently explained to me the difference between vegetable oil and Karo Syrup.
(Feel free to add your own spirit take on this story. I’m sure there’s a message in their somewhere, but I’m on vacation.)