Portillo's classic Chicago-style hot dog

There's a joke that I used to hear from friends when I lived in Chicago, who said, "It's not a hot dog, it's a salad!". That sums up the Chicago-style hot dog pretty well. Unlike the classic American hot dog where many people simply put ketchup and mustard on top - Chicago folks go ALL IN! While there are a nearly infinite number of variations, the core ingredients for a "Chicago-Style" hot dog are pretty easy - an all-beef frank topped with tomatoes, sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, pickle spear, pickled sport peppers, and mustard ---- NEVER --- ketchup!

That's the first thing you need to know about hot dogs in Chicago. Ketchup is absolutely forbidden. When I first moved there, I was told in no uncertain terms that ketchup is ok for kids who don't know better yet. The real reason I suspect is that the role that ketchup typically plays in the chemical balance of a classic hot dog simply isn't needed here since you have plenty of acids from the peppers and the sweet pickle relish takes care of the need for something sweet. Either way, you'll find some pretty strong opinions on who's Chicago dog is the best ... but every hot dog expert in Chicago agrees ... ketchup has no place on your hot dog.

The Chicago-Style Hot Dog is also known as the Chicago Dog and some people refer to it as a Chicago Red Hot, though that's more of a brand name like Vienna Beef.

portillos chicago style hot dog

As its name implies, the Chicago-Style Hot Dog originated from Chicago, Illinois. Before this mouth-watering masterpiece was invented, German immigrants initially introduced the mixed pork and beef frankfurter to the streets of Chicago. These German sausages had been notorious in Frankfurt, Germany since the 13th century. In the 19th century, Jewish immigrants modified the German frankfurter and made an all-beef hot dog. This new and improved hot dog was hit among Chicagoans. Eventually, Samuel Ladany and Emil Reichl, a couple of Austrian-Hungarian immigrants, introduced their own frankfurter recipe at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. This was a huge success, marking the birth of their company, Vienna Beef.

During the Great Depression, the hot dog became a cheap, on-the-go meal for people to eat. To make the sandwich more nutritious and filling, vendors began pilling on a variety of vegetable toppings. This was the birth of the Chicago-Style Hot Dog. The fast-food restaurant Fluky’s claimed to be the first to invent the Chicago-Style Hot Dog in 1929. Abe ‘Fluky’ Drexler took his father’s old vegetable cart and transformed it into a hot dog stand thus concocting what he called the ‘Depression sandwich’, which he sold for a nickel each. This became an affordable and nourishing meal for many struggling Chicagoans at the time.

Many variations of the Chicago-Style Hot Dog were created. All in all, this famous food is made of a poppy-seed bun, an all-beef frank, mustard, pickle, chopped white onion, sweet pickle relish, celery salt, tomato, and sport peppers. Of course, each restaurant has its own variation of the Chicago-Style Hot Dog. Fluky’s initially served his hot dogs with cucumber slices, which were later replaced by dill pickles. How the frankfurter is cooked can also vary among restaurants. Traditionally, it is steamed, but others prefer to grill it, which is known as a “char-dog”. Others have decided to add cheese sauce, which is known as a “cheese-dog”. Regardless of how the Chicago-Style Hot Dog is created, it always results in a hefty load of mouth-watering toppings to ingest. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize one popular condiment that did not make it to the list: ketchup. According to Chicagoans, ketchup has no place on hot dogs. In fact, some hot dog stands in Chicago do not even keep ketchup in stock.

During the 20th century, Fluky’s operated four locations throughout Chicago, which made it the biggest hot dog stand in the city. Today, the last Fluky’s is found inside of a Wal-Mart in Niles, Illinois. Chicago-Style Hot Dogs can currently be found in these locations: Boz Hot Dogs, Superdawg, Jimmy’s Red Hots, Gene’s & Jude’s, The Wiener’s Circle, Portillo’s, Downtown Dogs, Mustard’s Last Stand, Morrie O’Malley’s, and Gold Coast Dogs. If you are ever in Chicago, do not forget to try out the legendary Chicago-Style Hot Dog—just make sure to avoid asking for ketchup!