On Hot Dogs, Ketchup, TOP CHEF & Old Fashioned Duels

All aboard.

I love love love that the ketchup container in that picture has a mustard top. I’m referring to it as “gender confused.” Because ketchup and mustard are the genders of condiments? Not a solid theory, but whatever. (Maybe they’re more like religions. Like he was raised Ketchup, but his mom is a Mustard.)

(I think Ketchup might be my religion.) (Anyway…)

A week or two ago, Mr. Tea and I Snack Trekked over to Carney’s, because they bill their hot dogs & hamburgers as “probably the best… in the world.” (Right away, the “probably” raises some suspicion– they’re dubious about their own assessment.) As the daughter of New Yorkers, I take these kinds of claims seriously. (And I do not abide by boiled hot dogs. You must grill.)

Just to set up the ambiance, Carney’s is located in what appears to be an old train car, but on the inside feels like eating in a deserted NYC subway car that happens to have tables and chairs instead of subway seats. Very, uh… pedestrian. No pun intended. (Sorta.) (And why didn’t Subway use this gimmick?!)

I didn’t really do my homework at Carney’s. I didn’t take time to notice whether the hot dogs were boiled or not, or even whether they were kosher beef. (I couldn’t really draw any conclusions based on taste.) I got the New Yorker (sauerkraut & mustard), and added relish (and ketchup… we’re getting there).

Guess what? They were not the best. They were probably better than Pink’s (but honestly… what isn’t?) But probably not better than the Boar’s Head hot dogs that my family broils (that’s BROILS, not BOILS) in the oven. (I think we buy the skinless and/or “lite” ones.)

And something smelled really weird about my Carney’s hot dog. I think it was the sauerkraut. I usually love sauerkraut (and we just buy good ol’ Claussen’s from the grocery store– nothing fancy). So that was kind of disappointing. (I added ketchup partly to counter the funk.)

I took a picture of my be-ketchup’d hot dog because I knew that it would incense my mother.

Take THAT!

For pretty much my entire life (but seemingly more often lately), she has INSISTED that ketchup has no place on a hot dog, and that ketchup on hot dogs is just something the kids are doing because we don’t know how to do anything. (Which may also be true, but hey.)

She has insisted that this must be a generational thing, a regional thing (she’s from NY/NJ, I’m from Southern California), a taste thing, etc. And I’m just like, whatever. I like ketchup. It’s the universal condiment.

I felt a little (maybe a lot) vindicated when I was watching the penultimate episode of “Top Chef All-Stars” last week, and Richard Blais got the hot dog challenge as his Quickfire. He specifically made a special ketchup to go with his hot dog creation, stating, “We all associate ketchup with hot dogs.”

Ya hear that, Mom? BURN! (Because one reality show contestant said it, it must be true. Solid logic.)

But then I was listening to Off-Ramp on KPCC, and they had a segment where Eat-LA talked about the best hot dogs in Los Angeles (click the link and you can listen to the whole thing). When they reminisced about Ball Park Franks, one of the guys said that for an authentic experience, you have to eat the frank with mustard only. They didn’t carry ketchup on the carts, he said, “for whatever reason.”

So I hit the Google to try to figure out what that “whatever reason” might be. And I found that my mom is definitely not alone is this no-ketchup-on-hot-dogs business. The Straight Dope claims that ketchup smothers the flavor– but then again, they argue that mustard can do the same. Like my mom, Amazing Ribs says that it’s okay for kids to add ketchup, but not adults.

For the umpteenth time, I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s amazing article about ketchup in America (“The Ketchup Conundrum”), and how Heinz is king. (I don’t think Carney’s ketchup is Heinz, btw. It’s a little off.) (And I’m not just saying that because it had a mustard cap.)

There definitely seems to be a Chicago/East Coast element to this argument, and that makes sense given their general food superiority (complex?). (I mean, I get where they’re coming from… California puts pineapple on pizza.) But so far I haven’t 100% cracked the mystery. The answer as to why vendors didn’t carry ketchup is probably something simple, like mustard doesn’t spoil as quickly. Or ketchup wasn’t as popular back then. Who knows.

Obviously, I’m team ketchup. Ketchup runs through my veins, and ketchup is OBVIOUSLY thicker than water. Thicker than blood, even. (Thick as thieves!)

Mr. Tea is also Team Ketchup (good man), and went so far as to threaten my mother to a (totally non-serious) duel for my (ketchup’s?) honor. Full-on dueling language was employed. Fisticuffs are up! Gloves are off!

Give me Ketchup or give me death!

That totally makes me think of this amazing Drunk History retelling of the Hamilton vs. Burr duel. (That’s a must watch. MUST.) (Very funny.)

But Mr. Tea’s also a big Clint Eastwood fan, so I’m a little bit worried about where he’ll stand after he sees this…

I think Dirty Harry just made my mom’s day. (Get it?)

Maybe it’s a generational thing, after all. Or maybe it’s just a cool factor? Like, it’s lame to add ketchup?

Well, if ketchup is wrong I don’t wanna be right!

What’s your take? Do you have any intel? (I’m looking at you, Thomas! Do your Wikipedia magic.) (Or everybody just go read that article, which does not discriminate against ketchup… Midwesterners prefer it!) (Er… great.)

(I’m also looking at you, Malcolm Gladwell! If you’re reading this…) (Probably not.) I think there must be a deeper and more specific historical reason that ketchup is so reviled in some hot dog traditions, but I hit the wall of lazy/should probably just post this already.

Until next time… (And let’s get excited not only about the “Top Chef All-Stars” finale but also about the premiere of “Top Chef Masters”!!!)


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4 thoughts on “On Hot Dogs, Ketchup, TOP CHEF & Old Fashioned Duels

  1. Who in the world DOESN’T associate ketchup with hot dogs? (Other than your mother, of course.)

    Of course, while I agree with you there… you don’t like Pink’s? Come on!

  2. Wow, I never realized until now what a big Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry fan I am. What a bright, articulate man.
    Just for the record, I LOVE ketchup. It’s one of my favorite foods and best friends. It just needs to stay far, far away from my hot dogs. And, if you must, you can pour ketchup all over your hot dogs, I won’t even try to reform you. Just don’t make me watch. Just looking at that Carney’s hot dog picture is painful.

  3. I think my eyes actually crossed when I looked at the picture of the hot dog with sauerkraut and ketchup. I am the only one in my family of 4 who does not eat ketchup on hot dogs. I was probably out when Sam and Ellie had their first hot dogs and Van was in charge of dinner that night. He is a ketchup fan. I have only myself to blame 🙂

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