Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hot Dog!

My Mother's family is from Fairmont, West Virginia and Fairmont is known for three things: 1) Olympic Gold Medal Gymnast Mary Lou Retton was born and raised there, 2) it's the birthplace of the pepperoni roll as reported in the Wall Street Journal in 2009 and 3) they have the best hot dogs in the country.

And don't just take my word for it...the city even has a Mary Lou Retton street named after the famous gymnast. The Wall Street Journal recently described the pepperoni rolls to a national audience pronouncing them delicious and unique. But frankly I think they should be building monuments to the hot dogs. In fact, there is even a facebook page dedicated to the West Virginia Hot Dog and it has some mighty strong followers. Check it out at

The Fairmont hot dogs of my past were not gourmet hot dogs made with fancy things like kosher beef meat or toppings like kraut or cheese. No siree, these are unpretentious little morsels of good old fashioned tube steaks on a plain steamed bun and smothered in a simple meat sauce. Sometimes with chopped onions on top (always raw) or maybe a drizzle of mustard and sometimes with slaw on top - but the BEST basic dog is just sauced.

I pondered in the blog about hot dogs last July on National Hot Dog day and I haven't changed any since then. I freely admit that I've seldom met a hot dog I didn't like. Fancy, plain, beef, pork, steamed, fried, cooked over a camp fire - they're all good. Toppings should be modest and not overwhelming to the hot dog itself and maybe that's why I like Fairmont hot dogs so much.

As a kid I generally had the opportunity to spend a couple weeks (sometimes longer) visiting with relatives in Fairmont on my summer vacations. Every household I visited had their favorite hot dog dive (and believe me - they are all very much dives). Aunt Eunice and Uncle Hans liked Devil Dogs, the Collins' family prefered Woody's, my Mom liked Tony's, the Ashcraft's always hit the local Dairy Queen - every corner had a hot dog place and you'd go in and order them by the sack full. The one thing all of these had in common was the fact they they all came with some sort of tomato-based meat sauce on top. Most come in a variety of spice for heat ranging from mild to scorching hot. Eunice's Devil Dogs were always spicy hot but I think Tony's took the prize in the heat department. One spring we got a batch of "hot" from Tony's and stopped at a lovely local riverside park to eat them. The bees swarmed around us very quickly but when I offered up some of the sauce to lure the bees away they wouldn't touch it! Smart bees! Here's a photo of the park - the bees and our hot dogs are long gone! But it's still mighty pretty in the spring.

A couple of years ago my cousins and I went to Fairmont to visit the family cemetary plots and of course we stopped for hot dogs. The Devil Dog shop long ago closed up, but Tony's and Woody's are still there and going strong. Tony's wasn't open that day so we stopped in at Woody's. At a buck a piece, we each had 3 hot dogs (yes, THREE) and the cousins were so impressed, we all bought sauce to bring home and freeze.

The frozen sauce is now long gone and we haven't been back to Fairmont since then so Donna (the eldest cousin) went on a search to make her own at home (which is quite a statement because she does not like to cook - at all). I made a call to friends in Fairmont and they came up with a recipe for Woody's sauce, but the measurements were less than forthcoming and Donna claims it was OK, but not the same.

Personally, I think you have to have these hot dogs while actually sitting in one of these little hole-in-the-walls in Fairmont - it's the total experience that makes them as good as they are. In this case it could easily be more about the experience and the nostalgia than the actual food itself. BUT, not to be outwitted by a little hot dog, I've done my best to recreate a sauce here in Ohio that my friends and relatives in Fairmont would be proud of.

Certainly, if you need to figure out the best hot dog sauce you can get at home, you MUST have a tasting party. And that's what I did. I gathered several of my favorite people together, made a few differing recipes of sauce and we had a little fun finding our favorite. At the suggestion of a buddy at the office I even tried out a store-bought can of sauce (it was horrible and didn't make it to the tasting!). I've provided the recipe for the winners here so that the other family and friends who don't wish to travel 5 hours to Fairmont may have their own great hot dog experience in the comfort of their own home!

Sandy's Favorite - Sweet Sauce from Dog's n'Suds (via CD Kitchen)

Sandy was the only one that liked this sweet sauce - the rest of us thought it tasted more like a can of sloppy joe. Although she was the only one that liked it - I've included it here just because some people do like sweet!

1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
ketchup, as needed

In a salted skillet, brown ground beef with onion over medium heat, breaking up meat with a fork to crumble it fine. Drain off fat. Add remaining ingredients, except catsup. Mix well, then add enough catsup to keep mixture loose. Simmer, partially covered, 1 hour, adding catsup as needed.

With 2 1/2 votes for first place here is: CONEY ISLAND CHILI DOG SAUCE
This was pretty popular around our little table. It has some more complex seasonings that everyone liked. It was a bit too complicated for my simple tastes.

1 pound ground chuck
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 six ounce can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dried, minced onion
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (heaping)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Brown ground beef in a skillet, adding onions half way through. Add minced garlic when meat is nearly done.
Add remaining ingredients; stir well to combine. Simmer over low heat 15 minutes.

Woody's Sauce

Most everyone liked the recipe I found from Woody's (as mentioned above from Fairmont). Served tradionally with a splash of mustard, then sauce and topped with chopped raw onion, these are served by the sack full every day. I cut this recipe down for 1 pound of meat so had to guess at the amounts but assumed that the 'large' sauce meant 14-15 oz and a small ketchup was 6-8 oz. Everyone thought this was a nice, middle of the road sauce. Certainly you can add tobasco or cayenne pepper to get to the "hot" stage as offered at Woody's. Do this at your own discretion!
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup tomato sauce
3-4 Tbls. ketchup
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. pepper
Cook beef in water until done*. Add remaining ingredients to taste.
* I think the best way to cook the ground beef for all of these recipes is to spread the meat around evenly in a skillet and then cover tightly and cook over medium heat until the meat steams done. Use a big fork to move the meat around during cooking and to break it up. The texture of the sauce is as important as the flavor, so make sure you get this as broken up as possible. There should be no large chunks of meat left when done, it should be the consistency of sand.


What would a gathering be without some sort of sweet ending? I served up a special drink and a batch of blondies that were both big hits. Try either of these out when you're looking for something special.

Root Beer Milkshake
Serves 3-4

1/2 gallon premium vanilla bean ice cream
1/2 to 3/4 cup root beer vodka (straight from the freezer)
2-3 drops of root beer extract

Put ingredients into a blender and blend to smooth. Add a touch more root beer extract if this isn't strong enough flavored for you.

Crazy Blonde Brownies
courtesy of King Arthur Flour website

1/2 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup King Arthur 100% Organic White Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All- Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch, cinnamon, caramel, macadamia, or chips of your choice
1 cup diced pecans or walnuts

Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and preheat your oven to 350°F. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the brown sugar, and stir until the mixture is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, pour the butter-sugar mixture into a medium-sized bowl, and allow it to cool to lukewarm.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the vanilla extract and salt. Whisk the flours and baking powder together, then add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture, stirring to combine. Finally, fold in the chips and nuts.

Spread the mixture evenly in the pan, and bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes, until they're light brown on the edges and top. Yield: about 2 dozen 2-inch squares

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