According to a 2020 survey of American grill owners, the Fourth of July is the country’s most popular day for cookouts or backyard barbecues. Burgers, steaks, ribs, and other forms of protein will doubtless get charred for the occasion, but somehow it’s the humble hot dog that seems most emblematic of the holiday. Maybe that’s why we’re expected to consume about 150 million of them across the nation on the Fourth this year — enough to stretch between Los Angeles (the country’s hot-dog-eating capital) and Washington D.C. five times.
According to some sources, the hot dog was invented in the late 15th century in the German city of Frankfurt-am-Main — hence one of its alternate names, “frankfurter,” meaning a person or thing from Frankfurt. Others trace it back to the Austrian city of Vienna, known as Wien in German — giving us another one of the dog’s monikers, “wiener” and its diminutive, “weenie”. (Here are 20 foods you didn’t know were named after places.)
What’s certain is that by the late 19th century, the hot dog, by whatever name, was well-known in America. Today, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, we eat about 20 billion of them a year in all — about a third of those during peak hot dog season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (Before you fire up that grill, for hot dogs or anything else, take note of these tips for the perfect barbecue from the experts.)
The Council differentiates between 18 different regional hot dog styles, mostly having to do with their traditional condiments, but sometimes involving the nature of the bun and even the kind of meat most often used.
The elaborate Chicago version, for instance, adds yellow mustard, dark green relish, chopped raw onion, a pickle spear, sport peppers, tomato slices, and celery salt to an all-beef frank nestled in a poppy seed bun. (This is clearly the most popular variation nationwide, based on the frequency with which Chicago dogs show up on menus across the country.) Up in Alaska, on the other hand, the toppings are far simpler (grilled onions are popular) but the dog itself may well be made from caribou meat (usually described as “reindeer”).
24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of every state’s top hot dog joint (which may include sit-down restaurants, self-service stands, and even food trucks carts), based on reviews and ratings appearing on Yelp and on numerous other food, travel, and general interest sites. These include Food & Wine, Eater, Taste of Home, The Daily Meal, First We Feast, LoveFood, Food Network, Gayot, Travel & Leisure, Thrillist, Insider, and People.