Serious Eats New York Special Report: The Great Hot Dog Cook-Off
When I bought a ticket for the 3rd annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn held this past weekend, I never thought I would end up eating hot dogs like it was my job. Well, it turned out it was my job that day: Hot Dog Destiny chose me to be a judge of this tubular meat marathon. I anxiously prepared myself for the fourteen variations by recalling all of my newly gained wisdom from writing last week's guide to America's regional hot dog styles. From tequila-spiked alligator chili to paratha-wrapped masala dogs, by the end of the day I realized I should have been channeling Kobayashi instead.
Thrown by Kara from the Ted & Amy Supper Club and Cathy of Not Eating Out in New York, about a hundred hungry people came to this year's contest, which kicked off in Kara's Fort Greene apartment and backyard. The weather was perfect for the event, which felt more like a fun party full of foodies, bloggers, and hot dog lovers of all kinds—especially with the two varieties of Kelso-donated beer flowing.
Before I was randomly chosen to be a judge, I unknowingly used up precious stomach space on the pre-cookoff snack offerings: pretzels with mustard, veggie dog sushi rolls, and baked brie dogs. When my name was called out, I let out an uncontrollable yip of glee and a mild fist pump. One fellow party-goer took one look at my 5'3" (and a half!) stature and with a warning look, reminded me that I'd have to eat all fourteen hot dogs. Clearly, this man was not aware of the superhuman eating powers of small Asian women, i.e. the Black Widow.
The first round began with the Banana Leaf Dog: a hot dog wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, then topped with cactus crema, chopped bacon, scallions, and jalapenos. Of course, you can't go wrong with bacon, which made a second appearance later in the Cheesy Grits Dog.
The cookoff was divided into three categories: veggie dog, chili dog, and none of the above. The veggie variations included the Banh Mi Dog (winner) and Estelle's Veggie Corn Dogs.
We were told that Estelle was the contestant's chicken who laid the egg that went into the batter that very morning—now that's knowing where your food comes from.
As for the chili dogs, there was the winning Oaxacan Dog, which had caramelized onions, peppers, a dark and slightly sweet chili (very tasty), queso fresco, chives, and cotija cheese, served in a corn tortilla. Also in the category was the aforementioned tequila-spiked Gator Chili Dog (right), which featured a Waygu beef dog with the chili, cheese, and Fritos.
Fritos weren't the last chip-toppings of the day: the Purple Haze had crunched up Red Hot Blues over its cabbage slaw with berries and a healthy slather of mayo. And the sweet-and-salty Colombian Dog was topped with potato chips along with homemade jam and a special pink sauce.
The Cajun Dog folks served up their secret Cajun-spiced relished franks with extra goodies to lure the judges: Mardi Gras beads and potent Hurricanes.
One contestant made Chicago-style dogs as a throwback to his hometown, while another was dedicated to a contestant's grandmother.
Named after his grandmother's initials, the O.K. Dog was the day's fan favorite. It was way better than OK with its spicy mango salsa, goat cheese, tempura flakes, and three dipping sauces to choose from.
The international flavors kept coming with Benny's Bombay Dog. Staying true to its theme, Benny used a chicken dog, topped it with yogurt and a mix of masala-spiced onions and peppers, and wrapped each one in paratha.
The cookoff saw not one, but two variations using macaroni and cheese. The Mack Daddy Dogs were each stuffed with the macaroni, wrapped in collard greens, and served with a side of cornbread and a citrus Izze soda-hefeweizen concoction as a palate cleanser.
I guess macaroni and cheese was a favorite with the judges because the Mack Daddy came in second in the crowded "none of the above" category, while the Thanksgiving Dog came in first.
Not only is Thanksgiving my favorite holiday, this hot dog was my personal favorite of the day: a black angus beef frank baked inside biscuit dough with cornbread stuffing, served on top of fantastic macaroni and cheese, and finally, laden with gravy and chopped scallions. It might have been the twelfth hot dog I tried that day, but that grease-soaked paper plate was mighty clean when I was through with it.
A big thanks to Kara and Cathy for putting this event together to benefit the Food Bank for New York City. Inspired by the many amazing entries, I'm already looking ahead to entering the cook-off next year. I'm thinking the Loaded Dog: deep-fried bacon wrapped frank, a slather of mild horseradish cream, scallions, lots of melted sharp cheddar, a sliver of Sriracha, and the kicker—potato stix. Can't wait.