This weekend is the perfect time to pause and recognize the menu détente that has been reached between burgers and their old rivals, hot dogs. No longer half of an either/or relationship like mustard and ketchup or cowboys and aliens, hot dogs have settled into a happy sidekick role on many burger-joint menus.
What makes this weekend the right time for the observation is not just that this is National Hot Dog Month. More importantly, this Sunday, July 17, is the 70th anniversary of the Carl’s Jr. brand. The burger chain began in 1941 when Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret, borrowed $311, kicked in another $15 from their pockets and bought a hot-dog cart. Dogs and tamales were a dime.
Carl’s Jr. doesn’t have a hot dog on its menu, although as recently as March 2009 it went retro and made Jumbo Chili Dogs topped with beef chili, mustard and onions a limited-time special. The price had escalated to two for $3. the Jumbo Chili Dog remains on the menu at sister burger chain Hardee’s.
But now that burger chains are looking for low-price menu alternatives other than yet another chicken sandwich, hot dogs are back in favor. This is most obvious on the menu at Sonic, which added a Foot Long ¼-Pound Coney last year, followed by four 6-inch dogs this March and a new Baja Dog last month. Sonic learned what 7-Eleven and others have known for years: Americans will buy hot dogs as meals or snacks throughout the day. We spent $1.6 billion on them at supermarkets last year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
By the way, 7-Eleven has its own dog promo going right now: Buy a quarter-pound Big Bite and get a Big Gulp mega-drink for 49¢.
Like Sonic and its coneys, Steak ‘n Shake has expanded its Steak Frank line, which now includes Carolina Slaw, Cheesy Cheddar, Chili Cheese and Guacamole varieties. It’s promoting the line with a coupon drop this week.
Other burger chains that have let hot dogs peacefully coexist on their menus include A&W, Back Yard Burgers, Checkers, Fatburger and Krystal (with its Pups line). McDonald’s Corp. founder Ray Kroc never was a hot-dog guy, but the chain reportedly tested McHot Dogs in a few Midwest markets in the ‘90s. Wendy’s, too, gave them a tryout in 1985. They failed.
Some of the new fast-casual, better-burger chains are way beyond the old antipathy to hot dogs. Five Guys Burger & Fries offers hot dogs plain or topped with bacon and/or cheese, the same options it has for burgers. Smashburger has Smashdogs that are customized to each locale, just like its burgers. The Louisiana Smashdog, for example, is topped with Cajun grilled onions, Cheddar cheese and rémoulade. The chain uses 100% Angus Beef dot dogs everywhere except Chicago, where local favorites Vienna Beef hot dogs and Johnsonville Polish sausage are featured.
There’s rémoulade on the Danish Burger at Burger 21 in Tampa, Fla., one of several of the new-breed burger concepts take their o hot dogs very seriously. The restaurant also features a Reuben Dog (a Hebrew National beef dog with sauerkraut, Cheese & Ale sauce and rémoulade once again).
And then there are the Kobe-beef hot dogs. At ESquared Hospitality’s Go Burger and BLT Burger locations, the Kobe Chili Cheese Dog with house-made chili, Cheddar and pickled jalapeños is just $9.
This Sunday also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the West Coast’s Weinerschnitzel hot dog chain. It’s offering 61¢ hot dogs in celebration. So go ahead, have a hot dog on Sunday, burger fans. It’s OK. We’re friends.