Today may be National Hot Dog Day, but the stars came out on Saturday for The 7th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff, a charity event in Brooklyn featuring hot dogs from both New York amateur cooks and professional chefs, the event attracted a crowd of about 600 for an afternoon of eating, drinking, and waiting in line to do more of those things. I channeled my inner Hawk Krall, prepared my stomach and set out to try some dogs.
The cookoff got going around 2 p.m. in the parking lot of the former Pfizer building, which currently serves as a manufacturing plant for small, local food businesses (McClure's, People's Pops). Hotdog tents lined the perimeter while beverage stalls and tables were scattered throughout; hungry people were everywhere. MC George Duran kept the mood light, especially when the KelSo beer became scarce and a DJ made sure everybody sang along with Gwen Stefani's immortal "Rich Girl." Sure an afternoon of early aughts pop hits would have been nice, but we were there for the food.
24 amateurs and 5 restaurants showed up at the festival, grilling until the voting ended around 5 p.m. The amateurs all used Applegate franks, while the 'pros' used housemade sausages and hotdogs. Some cooks channeled ethnic cuisines or riffed on preexisting conventions. Others, however, went completely (and deliciously) insane, creating unprecedented hot dogs that proved just how inventive one can be when given a tube steak canvas. Although the cookoff was ostensibly a competition, there wasn't much competing. Sure, cooks were excited by the possibility of victory, but ultimately they were just there to cook tasty dogs and try their peers' work.
Though at the end of the day, George Duran had to announce the victors. Here were the results:
1st Place: The Nick Mangold Over the Line Dog: This hotdog was certainly over the top. Rich, beefy chili and bacon-onion jam topped a deep fried hotdog nestled in a fresh-baked potato bun. To finish it off, cooks Joseph and Sal added three balls of deep fried cheese. Excessive? Definitely, but also delicious.
2nd Place: Anarchy Dog: This was the only hotdog I tried twice. Not sure what was so anarchical about it, but the duck chili was out of the world tasty. Several duck parts, including a hefty dose of fat, rendered down into a burger topping for the gods. My arteries have taken a major hit, but it was worth it.
3rd Place: My Belly's Mexican Dog Popper: Winning in the creativity category, Shawn and Jim's dog was placed inside a cheesy arepa along with black bean spread. The insides were incredibly hot due to insulation, but it didn't bother me much, because black beans are good on pretty much anything.
1st Place: El Meat Hook Dog: The folks from Meat Hook offered a housemade, slightly spicy pasture-raised beef and pork hot dog (with a fantastic natural casing that put the Applegate dogs' to shame). They were aiming for spice, and achieved it with roasted jalapenos and Kewpie mayo, cooled with some Mexican coleslaw.
2nd Place: Daughters Alsatian Dog: A smoked hot dog, topped with kraut, bacon and mustard. Pretty standard, but apparently the execution was outstanding.
Best in Show/Judge Picks:
1st Place: Father and Son: Ashley and Erika wanted you to love their hotdog, and what's a better way into someone's heart than Campari shots? A bone-marrow butter toasted bun received a scoop of veal ragu, fresh herb gremolata, a bit of chili, aged provolone and funyons. Oh, and there was a hotdog in their somewhere...
2nd Place: Anarchy Dog: Everybody liked the Anarchy Dog, even the esteemed judges.
3rd Place: The Detox Dog: Kombucha slaw is apparently probiotic, but it didn't taste very good paired with hot dog strips and nori. Still, chefs Eric and Alexei deserve some major bonus points for their presentation, which really looked like a mini maki roll. The flavor just wasn't there for me.
4th Place: The 99% Dog: This was the first dog I tried, and one of the most balanced, too. A grilled frank was topped with chili mac n' cheese (a favorite topping for several cooks), frito crunch and bird pepper relish (verdant and somewhat hot). I assume Basil and Kevin were shooting for a taco-like flavor, and they definitely succeeded.