By: Esther Pransky, Lubicom Staff
With Labor Day upon us, we’ll be grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for one final barbecue this season. But which one is the true American food?
The answer is neither.
It depends how you look at it.
Hot dog and hamburger historians (yes, they really exist) can trace the roots of our barbecue staples all the way to Homer’s Odyssey or first-century Rome.
But if we skip ahead a few hundred years, both foods harken back to Germany. In the late 19th century, an influx of German immigrants brought them to America.
Germans called the hot dog the “dachshund” or “little-dog” sausage, and they sold them in pushcarts. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, the invention of the bun and the name “hot dog” is credited to quite a few different intrepid sausage sellers.
Meanwhile, restaurants started serving “Hamburg-style” chopped steak. The food caught on and at least four different states claim to be the birthplace of the burger on a bun.
Both the burger and hot dog started reaching the masses at the turn of the 20th century at expositions and World Fairs. The kosher hot dog was created around that time, too.
Did you know? During World War Two, Americans started calling hamburgers “liberty steaks” to move away from the German-sounding name.
And with the rise of the fast-food industry in the 1950s, these foods began to define the American diet.
So, which is more American? Hard to say, although only the hot dog can claim to have changed the course of American history.
The Hot Dog That Changed the World
Arguably, the most famous hot dog ever was eaten by England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in upstate New York in 1939. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to warm up relations between the two nations, so he planned an informal picnic, including hot dogs, in his country home.
Sarah Roosevelt, the president’s mother, was horrified.
Queen Elizabeth ate hers with a fork and knife.
But the king downed his with a beer.
That hot dog was front-page news at The New York Times. And given that WWII began a few months later, the importance of the warmth and understanding created by that hot dog can’t be overstated.
Hacks for Your Kosher Labor Day Barbecue
Nearly 100 years later, the foods haven’t changed. On the plus side, informal hot dogs and burgers still bring friends and family together.
On the downside, cooks continue searching for the tricks to grill the perfect dog or burger –cooked all the way through, charred on the outside, but still moist on the inside.
To help you out for Labor Day, we hunted down the top hacks to take your barbecue over the top. Impress your crowd with these cool, tasty tricks:
A New Spin on Your Hot Dog
Let’s start with hot dogs. Have you ever bitten into a perfect, blackened frankfurter only to find the inside lukewarm?
Well, no more. Here’s a pro tip that’s so simple you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t do it.
- Stick a wooden skewer through your hot dog. Don’t skip this step or your hot dog will end up in unappetizing chunks.
- With a sharp knife, slice around the hot dog in a spiral motion. The skewer will prevent you from slicing through the frank.
- Pull out the skewer.
- Grill as usual and be delighted with the well-done inside. Plus, you’ll have convenient valleys for your favorite condiments.
- Accept the lavish praise from your guests.
A Better Burger
Hamburgers are harder to master. You need to balance the real safety concern of undercooked meat with everyone’s clamor for a juicy burger. And what’s up with the soggy bun?
Here are some tips and tricks to solve all your burger dilemmas:
- Try indenting the top of the raw hamburger patty. As the burger cooks, the juices will pool in the burger and be reabsorbed, keeping your burger moist.
- Use ice. It sounds crazy, but it works. Form the patty around a small piece of ice. During grilling, the ice cube will melt, sending moisture through the burger.
- Let the burger rest after you cook it. The juices will settle and be less likely to squirt out at first bite, ruining your bun.
- Choose a heavier roll for your bun, instead of the fluffy, commercial variety. Alternatively, toast the bun. The stiffer bread won’t disintegrate on contact with the meat.
There you have it! Blackened grill marks, juicy meat, crisp bun, and maybe a salad or summer cocktail, too. What more could you ask for this Labor Day?
Add a Dash of History I loved finding out the history of hot dogs and hamburgers along with getting ideas on how to cook them. Esther Pransky’s lively writing was fun to read.
We are so happy to hear that you enjoyed this!