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The Best Hot Dogs in America: A Regional Guide

BY: Editors | May 18, 2017

Hot dogs: along with home runs, bald eagles, and presidents' heads carved into mountains, they're about as American as it gets. So it's no surprise, then, that in the U.S. there are as many different types of hot dogs as there are ways of life. With this in mind, we've gathered the best hot dogs from across the country to show you how much this classically American dish can vary.

To help you determine which versions are the best hot dogs for your particular tastes, we've scored each one on a scale of 1 to 5 in several crucial categories: messiness, portability, customizability, and a "veggie rating" based on how many servings of healthy greens you can squeeze onto them (we won't say "based on how healthy they are").

Northeast: The New York City–Style Dog

New York's known for its street-vendor hot-dog carts for a reason: these things are everywhere. You can get your dog done pretty much any way you want at one, but a true NYC hot dog piles spicy-brown mustard and sauerkraut (which is either steamed or sautéed in a tomato-paste purée) atop a frank.

  • Messiness: 2—With only mustard and sauerkraut, these little guys should keep you pretty well protected from topping spills and napkin hoarding.

  • Portability: 5—Life in NYC moves at lightning-fast pace, and it's no coincidence these grab-and-go dogs flourished there.

  • Veggie rating: 2—There's some cabbage up there, so that's something?

  • Customization factor: 3—While most cart vendors will let you pick and choose what you want on your dog, sticking to the mustard-kraut combo is the way to get a real New York–style hot dog.

Mid-Atlantic: The Half-Smoke

You can find these in a couple spots along the Atlantic coast, but Washington, D.C., is where the half-smoke calls home and reigns supreme. But what is a half-smoke, exactly? More of a sausage than a typical hot dog, the half-smoke consists of a pork or beef link—which, despite the name, is not always smoked. This link is placed in a soft, white-bread bun, slathered with a heap of chili, and topped with diced onions and sometimes yellow mustard.

  • Messiness: 5—There's a lot of chili on these things; you'll need extra napkins.

  • Portability: 2—It's best to block out 15 minutes, find a seat, and stay stationary with one of these. You'll probably want to find time for a nap afterward, too.

  • Veggie rating: 1—Considering the pile of chili and the rich, sausage-like frank, it's easy to forget there's anything besides meat on these.

  • Customization factor: 1—Beyond getting a pork or beef link, there's not a whole lot of wiggle room when it comes to changing up a half-smoke.

South: The Slaw Dog

While it's particularly popular in West Virginia (it's even called the West Virginia dog by many), the slaw dog can be found throughout the American southeast. Its wide geographic breadth means variations abound—chili and mustard are favorite additions—but a slaw dog isn't a slaw dog without coleslaw. Even that, though, can take on virtually endless tweaks depending on where you grab one: some spots dress theirs with vinegary, crunchy slaw, others opt for a creamier version, and some places even go for a barbecue slaw.

  • Messiness: 3—There's coleslaw involved, so don't expect a tidy eating experience. That said, the slaw dog is relatively manageable compared to others.

  • Portability: 2—Since coleslaw is a minimum requirement here and one sometimes joined by chili, you're probably best enjoying one of these while sitting.

  • Veggie rating: 2—The slaw ensures you can at least make out semblances of vegetables on this hot dog. That said, it's mostly a meat-lover's dish.

  • Customization factor: 4—Since the slaw dog is commonly found across a huge swath of the country, it's easy to find different takes and toppings on it.

Midwest: The Chicago-Style Dog

Just about everyone has at least heard of a Chicago dog, and most are aware of the cardinal sin when eating one: do not—under any circumstances—put ketchup on one. But if you asked someone to tell you what's on a Chicago-style hot dog, there's a good chance they'd miss an ingredient or two. Atop the beef frank sits a litany of hot dog toppings: tomato slices, chopped onion, neon-green relish, yellow mustard, pickle spears, sport peppers, and celery salt. All that sits precariously inside a steamed poppyseed bun.

  • Messiness: 4—The Chicago dog's sheer volume of toppings creates a precarious eating situation—and lots of crevices for mustard to hide.

  • Portability: 3—Yes, there's a ton of stuff on these, but the fact that none of it comes in a semi-liquid form, like the half-smoke's chili, makes it a touch more on-the-go friendly.

  • Veggie rating: 5—Look at all that produce! Eating one of these means you've hit your daily recommended servings of vegetables, right?

  • Customization factor: 1—We've covered the ketchup thing, but many hot-dog places in Chicago will also frown on any requests to take out specific toppings.

Northwest: The Seattle Dog

Seattle might not jump out to you as the type of place that would be crazy enough about hot dogs to have their own variety, but Seattleites can boast just that. A Seattle dog consists of either a standard hot dog or some sort of sausage—usually kielbasa—that's split open, grilled, and filled with the dog's defining condiment: cream cheese. You'll also frequently find these with a staple trio of grilled onions, cabbage, and jalapeño, and many places also decorate their dogs with barbecue sauce, Sriracha, salsa, and other unusual add-ons.

  • Messiness: 3—Depending on what you get on one of these, the degree of messiness can vary pretty wildly.

  • Portability: 4—Seattle dogs are a popular tailgating snack for Mariners and Seahawks games, with crowds of fans downing them to and from the stadiums.

  • Veggie rating: 2—You'd have to get a little creative to get much in the way of veggies on one of these, but it can be done.

  • Customization factor: 5—Really, the only thing you need for a hot dog to be a Seattle hot dog is cream cheese. Beyond that, it's up to you.

Southwest: The Sonoran Dog

An import to Arizona from the Mexican state in its name, the Sonoran dog is the one on this list that looks the least like a "traditional" hot dog, mostly because of its puffy, canoe-shaped bun, called a bolillo roll. Inside the roll are a grilled, bacon-wrapped dog, plus an impressive array of toppings: you'll usually find pinto beans, chopped onion and tomato, mayo, avocado, jalapeños, mustard, salsas, and sometimes cheese.

  • Messiness: 5—With up to four or five different sauces, the Sonoran dog is notorious for being as messy as it is tasty.

  • Portability: 1—Sonoran hot dogs are usually bigger than their basic bun-and-frank counterparts. You'll probably want to grab a table and maybe a knife and fork.

  • Veggie rating: 4—Even with the basics, there's a lot here to like if meat isn't really your thing. Aside from the bacon-wrapped dog, of course.

  • Customization factor: 4—Just about every Sonoran dog will be a little different—the above toppings lineup is hardly ever consistent top-to-bottom—making it great for those who want to pick and choose what comes on theirs.