The following story was written by Heinen’s Partner, Liz Luby of 365 Barrington.
Next time you bite into a Vienna® Beef hot dog, listen for the signature snap. It’s a sound that invites you to step back in time. To simpler days sitting at a baseball game next to your dad. To summer barbecues and autumn tailgates. To your fondest family memories and the flavors of your own childhood.
It can even take you all the way back to 1893 when two Austrian-Hungarian immigrants, Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany came to Chicago to introduce their family’s all-beef frankfurter recipe during the city’s Columbian Exposition/World’s Fair.
With more than 27 million visitors, their hot dog was a hit and the Vienna Sausage Manufacturing Company was born. They opened their first store on Chicago’s Near West Side at 1215 S. Halsted Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s historic Maxwell Street Market.
Vienna® Beef Senior Vice President of Marketing/eCommerce, Tom McGlade says there’s a reason for that “snap”. It boils down to ingredients.
“Vienna® Beef hot dogs, first and foremost, are all U.S. premium domestic beef. That’s a big differentiation because many other hot dogs are a blend of beef and pork. The color of our products is a much darker, almost a mahogany-red color, especially after you grill, steam or simmer the hot dog in water,” Tom says. “What’s nice about our product is you get a really soft texture on the inside but a snap on the outside so, when you bite into it, there’s almost a little pop and that’s because it’s so lean.”
It’s that little pop that sparked growing demand for Vienna® Beef across the city and then the suburbs of Chicago over the years. Vendors started selling Vienna® Beef products via horse-drawn carriages which were replaced with a motorized fleet in 1928.
During the Depression Era, vendors on Maxwell Street turned their produce carts into hot dog carts, adding ingredients on top of the traditional hot dog to help them sell. That ingenuity in ethnically diverse Chicago is how Tom McGlade says the Chicago Style hot dog was born.
“The Maxwell Street area was kind of an ethnic melting pot where they had Italian, German, Jewish and Greek immigrants and all of those people contributed something different to the Chicago Style hot dog. You could buy a whole meal for a nickel including the hot dog bun and all of the condiments.”
German vendors added mustard and dill pickles. Italians introduced relish and sport peppers, which combined to make a sort of Giardiniera. Greeks added tomatoes and onions. By 1957, Vienna® Beef franks “Dragged through the Garden™” could be found at hot dog stands throughout Chicagoland.
The different toppings were added over time but, today, there’s no making things up as you go. Tom says there’s a precise technique for preparing the authentic Chicago Style dog.
“The seven sacred condiments that go on a Chicago Style hot dog start with a Vienna® Beef dog nestled in a steamed poppy seed bun, giving it a warm, soft feel. We start with yellow mustard and sweet neon-green relish, and then put on chopped onions and sliced tomatoes. Then we add a dill pickle spear, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. When you steam the bun, it becomes soft but not soggy and kind of creates this whole feeling of comfort.”
As for ketchup? Tom says no way. “That’s what we call the ‘K-word’. We’re not allowed to put ketchup on a Chicago Style hot dog unless you’re still using training wheels on your bicycle. That’s because all of the condiments on a Chicago Style hot dog work together and don’t fight each other. We’ve got spicy, we’ve got mild, we’ve got crunch, we’ve got soft and all of these things are going on in the same bite. Adding ketchup on there just masks the flavors we’re trying to get out of this experience. Any true Chicagoan says ‘no’ to ketchup on a hot dog.”
Chicagoans have a lot of love for the city’s namesake hot dog and the memories that are often part of the package. The foundation of the Chicago Style hot dog, Vienna® Beef franks are served at over 1,400 locations throughout Chicagoland for a memorable taste experience unique to The Windy City.
“Every single pro sports team and venue in Chicago sells our product. Wrigley, Guaranteed Rate, Soldier Field, the United Center for the Cubs, Sox, Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks. We’re in all the zoos, airports and all of the city’s museums along with all the Chicago Park District’s lakefront concessions and Navy Pier. We also sell all the hot dogs to Portillo’s, Shake Shack, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and hot dog restaurants all over the city and suburbs. It’s amazing that a family company that started 127 years ago is now selling in all of these places.”
Vienna® Beef products are available throughout the U.S. and in 7 other countries. In addition to hot dogs and sausages, the company manufactures authentic deli meats, condiments, pickles, soups, chili and more. They make them the old-fashioned way, in small batches with quality ingredients and no compromise. But Tom says there’s another key ingredient to Vienna® Beef’s success.
“We haven’t varied from our formulation in all these years because generations of families have grown up and passed their love of the Chicago Style hot dog down to their kids. It’s part of the fabric of our lifestyle which is why, at Vienna® Beef, we have this expression that we’re not in the business of making hot dogs. We’re in the business of making memories.”
You’ll find Vienna® Beef hot dogs at Heinen’s, which began as a butcher shop in 1929, around the same time the Chicago Style hot dog came to be. Premium meat and helping families make memories are legacies we share and one of the reasons we’re proud to partner with Vienna® Beef.