A Chicago Treasure: In Praise of the Chicago Red Hot

Jason Ticus Hot Dog


There are a million wonderful reasons to love living in Chicago, but sometimes it’s worth taking a step back to more fully appreciate the little things. Natives and visitors alike need to make some time to stop and smell the Windy City roses. And one of these roses smells particularly delicious.

There is certainly not shortage of exclusive restaurants over which a Chicago resident can gush, but fine dining isn’t unique to one specific place. The Chicago Red Hot is a local treasure that is 100% just for Chicagoans.

For those not in the know, a Red Hot is a Chicago-style hot dog. Natives understand the the purest incarnation of the delicacy is “dragged through the garden.” Picture an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun and slathered with mustard, chopped onion, neon green and super sweet pickle relish, tomato slices, pickled peppers, a dill pickle, and just a sprinkle of celery salt. The proverbial cherry on top that sets this city’s recipes apart from the rest of the country is the traditional and unrelenting refusal to drown the dog that unacceptable red goop that ruins hot dogs across the nation – ketchup. The Chicago style enjoys a long local history of nailing the perfect balance between spicy, savory, and sweet. Is your mouth watering yet?


Local legend indicates that the distinctive Chicago Red Hot recipe was born on the historic maxwell Street at the turn of the last century. The Vienna Beef frankfurter, which is the most widespread brand sold today, made its debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As for the the toppings, hot dog enthusiasts claim that Fluky’s first started selling the unique collection of condiments way back in 1929. They originally styled it the “Depression Sandwich.”  Flunky’s was a Jewish-owned establishment which might well account for the Chicago weiners being traditionally pork-free and kosher.

How You Get It

The traditional Chicago Dog is definitely “dragged through the garden.” Vienna Beef and Red Hot Chicago, two the of the most prominent hot dog manufacturers in the city, are still all about sticking to their roots. However, one of the great things about a local treat as accessible as a hot dog is that anyone can put their own twist on it. The only rule as far as the city is concerned? No ketchup!

Lots of hot dog stands reduce the recipe down to the basics – mustard, onions, relish, and peppers. For a real twist, check out culinary landmarks like Superdawg Drive-in for the addition of pickled tomatoes instead of fresh slices. Another huge favorite among locals is to opt for the cheese-dog by ordering a generous addition of cheese sauce on top.

Where To Go

Ready to hear something crazy? The Chicago metropolitan area is home to more hot dog restaurants than Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s – combined. These hot dog stands can often serve other fare, like gyros, pork chops, corn dogs, or even pizza and Italian ice. The one common denominator is the classic Chicago Red Hot dominating the menu.

You can’t go wrong. Gene & Jude’s, Mustard’s Last Stand, Portillo’s, Boz Hot Dogs (aka Bozo’s), Scooby’s Red Hots, and Gold Coast Dogs have all made a name for themselves as local favorites. Native Chicagoans even know the names of Superdawg’s two rooftop hot dog statuettes – Maurie and Flaurie, named after the husband-and-wife founders. However, one of the absolute best places to grab a hot dog in Chicago is definitely at a sports game. Long-time residents often still call the hot dogs sold at U.S. Cellular Field “Comiskey Dogs,” after the former name of the park.


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