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David Lissner
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The Chicago-style hot dog: ‘A masterpiece’

A Chicago-style hot dog (Photo by Leah A. Zeldes).

A Chicago-style hot dog (Photo by Leah A. Zeldes).

Part 1 of a series in honor of National Hot Dog Month.

“A hot dog is a masterpiece,” says Jim Photopoulos, proprietor of Photo’s Hotdogs in Mount Prospect and Palatine. “It’s a very sexy food. It’s an explosion in your mouth.”

By most accounts, Chicago’s taste for the hot dog began in 1893 when Samuel Ladany and Emil Reichl, brothers-in-law from Austria-Hungary, set up a pushcart to sell sausages outside the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The two men were Jewish, and their wieners were either kosher or kosher-style — all-beef, stuffed into natural casings. Their success at the fair led the partners to open a butcher shop, which ultimately became the Vienna Beef Co., today Chicago’s leading hot-dog-stand supplier. Today, Chicagoland boasts some 1,800 hot-dog stands, according to Bob Schwartz, vice-president of Vienna Beef, and author of “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog— more than all the McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King outlets put together. Most are run by independent entrepreneurs who own one or perhaps two stores.

“The ‘kosher-style’ description has kind of fallen by the wayside,” replaced by “Chicago-style,” says Scott Ladany, Samuel Ladany’s grandson and president of Red Hot Chicago, another local dog manufacturer.

According to Peter Sload, spokesman for Vienna Beef, his company’s basic sausage recipe has remained unchanged since the 19th century. Only the size, type of casing and heating method vary from restaurant to restaurant. Vienna’s formula, based on bull’s meat, creates a redder, denser, higher-protein dog, says Sload. “We don’t use cow meat.”

Vienna’s hot dogs are still smoked in old-fashioned smokehouses on the Bucktown factory premises. You can see them yourself — Vienna Beef offers tours of its facility every Wednesday morning.

Chicago hot dog series:

  1. The Chicago-style hot dog: ‘A masterpiece’
  2. Eat this! The Chicago hot dog, born in the Great Depression
  3. Know your wiener!
  4. Friday food porn: Seasons’ sexed-up hot dog
  5. It takes big buns to hold Chicago hot dogs
  6. Origins of neon relish and other Chicago hot dog conundrums
  7. Do only barbarians put ketchup on hot dogs?
  8. Chicago’s Schmidt the real Mr. Footlong Hot Dog Inventor
  9. Chicago’s Oscar Mayer has a way. . . .
  10. Relishing Chicago’s 10 funniest hot-dog joints