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~The History Behind New York's Dirty Water Hot Dogs~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad390c5ce200dHot dogs -- one of my favorite subjects.  I relish eating them, never tire of discussing them, and, whenever traveling, if the destination is known for a style of hot dog, it's one of the things I make a point of eating while I'm there.  The New York-style hot dog is one I've not chatted with you about yet.  That said, had I not had advance, concise, clarification of what "dirty-water-dog" means (the affectionate but unappealing nickname New Yorkers have given their dogs), cuing myself up in the line in front of the closest pushcart would not have happened.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1970a56970cA bit about dirty-water-dogs and pushcarts:  It's said that the first "dachshund sausages" (named after the little sausage-shaped Dachshund dog breed) were sold by German vendors pushing wooden carts in the Bowery of NYC, during the 1860's.  The first "hot dog" stand (a term which  started as a humorous reference to the thin, long canine) opened on Coney Island in 1871 by a German butcher. He sold 3,684, count 'em, hot dogs the first year.  By 1890, college students coined the term "dog wagon" for vendors pushing and parking their carts across campuses, stopping to sell hot dogs outside of each dormitory along the way. (Above photo of wooden hot dog pushcart courtesy of

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b1c466970dThe problem with the wooden pushcart:  Cooking hot dogs over any-type of open, portable flame was risky business.  More than a few of them burned to ashes.  The safe solution (circa the beginning of the 20th century):  Cooking, storing and transporting hot dogs in insulated containers of hot water.

Modern pushcarts (photo courtesy of, made of stainless steel with hinged water boxes for the dogs along with bins and/or shelves for condiments, still operate using the same rudimentary method.  Why? Permits.  A non-processing permit only allows a vendor to sell pre-made food -- like hot dogs and soft pretzels.  A processing permit allows cooking on a grill/flat-top griddle, which expands the menu a bit, with hot dogs being the classic, must-have favorite.

Dirty-Water-Dogs are simply water-heated wieners.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b1cc2b970dThe most famous dirty-water-dogs are found under the blue and yellow umbrellas of New York's Sabrett hot dog carts.  Sabrett is a famous brand of natural-casing beef frankfurters sold throughout the NY area.  They are indeed delicious, especially topped with with their red-hued onion sauce, sauerkraut and brown mustard, and, the water the dogs sit in isn't dirty at all. (In fact, NYC's water is so high-quality, it's coveted by pizza-dough makers all over the USA.)  It's got a foamy, grayish color due to the juices, salt, and flavorings that ooze into the steaming water from all the dogs that get added to it.

Rules mandate that the water must be kept at 140°, but know, hot dogs lose their flavor and texture if submerged for too long -- no longer than 15-20 minutes.  All you can do is trust the vendor on that one point, but, in order to participate in a traditional dirty-water-dog experience, even vendors with a grill/flat-top griddle on-board will tell you to eat your first dog drippy, right out of the water.  After that, they'll be more than happy to crisp one up on the griddle for you.

Try my recipe for The NYC Pushcart Onions & Sauerkraut Dog

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b072d8200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschuttti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)


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