WVHotDogs.com FAQ

1. What is a West Virginia Hot Dog?
A true West Virginia hot dog is a heavenly creation that begins with a wiener on a bun. Add mustard, a chili-like sauce and top it off with coleslaw and chopped onions and you have a symphony of taste that quite possibly is the reason that many transplanted West Virginians can never really be happy living anywhere else. Different parts of West Virginia have variations on the theme but the common elements are sweet, creamy coleslaw and chili. Anything else is just not a true West Virginia hot dog!

The chili and coleslaw have a synergistic relationship on a WVHD. While the chili adds a spicy kick the slaw balances the heat with its cool sweetness. A great WVHD has to have these two elements working together in the right combination. If chili isn't spicy enough a sweet slaw will dominate too much. A bland slaw will allow a spicy chili to rule the taste buds.

Unlike New Yorkers or Chicago hot dog lovers, the WVHD connoisseur is not overly concerned with the taste of the wiener. A good weenie will make a better dog to be sure, but even a lackluster weenie can sit on a great WVHD if the chili and slaw work together properly. Likewise with onions and mustard: Good ingredients make it better but nothing is as important to the taste of a WVHD as a good chili/slaw combination.

2. How does a WVHD differ from a "Slaw Dog"?
A "slaw dog" is a hot dog with slaw on it. It is usually sold as an option in hot dog joints where a standard hot dog includes only chili/sauce. If you have to ask for slaw on a hot dog, it's not a true WVHD.

3. What is WVHD coleslaw?
Made from cabbage, mayonnaise and other ingredients, WVHD slaw should be finely chopped, sweet and creamy. Slaw that sits well on a hot dog might not be pleasing if served as a side dish since it has such fine texture. Many people claim that they don't like slaw on a hot dog. This is most often caused by an earlier encounter with inferior slaw. Once a person has tasted good WVHD slaw on a hot dog they rarely eat a hot dog any other way.

4. What is the difference between "coleslaw" and "slaw"?
The word "coleslaw" is most likely a fracture of the Dutch word "koolsla", which means "cabbage salad". "Slaw" is simply a shorthand version of the word "coleslaw." WVHD lovers who go to other states and ask for "slaw" are usually greeted with a reply of "You mean coleslaw?"and a funny look.

5. How did slaw become a hot dog topping?
Legend has it that slaw was first served as a hot dog topping at The Stopette Drive In on Route 21 near Charleston, West Virginia. This was during the Great Depression when weenies and cabbage were two of the most plentiful and affordable food items. The Stopette sold hot dogs with slaw for only a few years before every eatery in the area copied them. Within a few years restaurants all over southern and central West Virginia were including slaw as a standard ingredient. As many West Virginians left the state looking for work in the southern United States they took their taste for slaw on hot dogs with them. "Slaw Dogs" are now found in many areas of the south where West Virginia natives settled.

6. What are the variations in slaw throughout West Virginia?
Wherever slaw is offered as a standard topping it is preferred sweet, creamy with the cabbage finely chopped. In areas such as Huntington and northern West Virginia where slaw is by request only the slaw is often drier and less sweet. In areas where slaw is an oddity it is usually coarsely chopped and tastes heavy of vinegar.

7. Do people from all parts of West Virginia eat slaw on hot dogs?
Our research is not complete, but with a few exceptions people in virtually every part of West Virginia prefer slaw on their hot dogs. The major exceptions are: The Huntington Area, Marion County and the Northern Panhandle.

Huntington hot dog joints usually offer slaw as an option (many have "Slaw Dogs" on their menus). This area is a melting pot of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia culture so it's not surprising that slaw is optional there.

Marion County's food culture is influenced heavily by its Italian heritage and the typical hot dog is served with very spicy chili. Slaw is almost never offered as an option.

The Northern Panhandle of West Virginia has a culture that is heavily influenced by Pittsburgh, PA. People and restaurants there share almost no cultural traits with the rest of the state, however you can often find HDJs with slaw on the menu in all but the most northern extremes of the Panhandle.

The Eastern Panhandle is also quite different. While it's not unheard of for slaw to be offered at HDJs, finding one is an issue because it seems that the EP has fewer HDJs per capita than the rest of the state. 

In the other areas of the state where slaw is usually served, there still are those areas where it is served standard and those where it is served as an option. Our Slaw Mapping Project illustrates the point.

8. What is WVHD chili?
WVHD chili is, technically, "chili con carne" without beans. Its primary spiciness and dominant flavor comes from the liberal use of chili powder. Ground beef gives the chili its texture. Garlic, onions and black pepper are usually included. Outside these necessary ingredients, chili is subject to be made differently at each and every hot dog joint and home kitchen. Texture is also subjective and it varies widely from near-liquid to a Sloppy Joe consistency.

9. What's the difference between "hot dog chili" and "hot dog sauce"?
In most of the state people call it "chili". In Huntington and Marion County it is most often called sauce. The difference is largely semantic although in areas where it is called sauce the substance is usually finer ground and more liquid in consistency.

10. What are the variations in chili/sauce throughout West Virginia?
As noted above, in areas where it is called sauce the substance is usually finer ground and more liquid in consistency. Other than that, a general rule of thumb is that the further south, the less spicy the chili becomes. Marion County's sauce is typically very spicy and very thinly ground.

11. What kind of onions are used on a WVHD?
The kind of onions one might find on a WVHD varies widely by time of year and location. Some restaurants prefer yellow onions for their potency, while some prefer the sweetest onion available. The availability of different species of sweet onions vary throughout the year so you might find Vidalias, Oso Sweet or other sweet onion used by the same restaurant from time to time.

Onions also vary in preparation and presentation from finely grated to coarsely chopped.

12. What kind of mustard is used on a WVHD?
Yellow. Sometimes a "Genteel Dog" that has other characteristics of a true WVHD will have some kind of brown mustard, but that is an abomination and should be avoided.

13. What about the weenie?
Unlike New Yorkers or Chicago hot dog lovers, the WVHD connoisseur is not overly concerned with the taste of the wiener. A good weenie will make a better dog to be sure, but even a lackluster weenie can sit on a great WVHD if the chili and slaw work together properly. Many hot dog joints serve only basic inexpensive weenies and do just fine on the strength of their other ingredients. However an increasing number of HDJs have opted for an upgraded weenie, often times all-beef. Usually an up charge applies for these premium weenies.

Weenies are often boiled, grilled or otherwise heated and kept warm until they are served. Bratwurst and other sausages are great but don't belong on a WVHD.

14. What kind of bun is a WVHD made on?
Most often a standard hot dog bun, steamed or heated, are used for a WVHD. Some HDJs use an New England Style split-top bun, toasted and buttered. Many WVHD fans like their hot dogs to be very soft and gooey and a steamed bun is a necessary part of such a hot dog.

15. Where can I buy a good WVHD?
More than 300 hot dog joints from all over West Virginia are reviewed on this blog.

16. Why is ketchup not listed as a topping on a WVHD?
There are many reasons why one shouldn't eat ketchup on a hot dog any hot dog.First, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council's "Hot Dog Etiquette" rules dictate that no one over 18 should never eat ketchup on a hot dog. Ketchup is destructive of all that is right and just about a properly assembled hot dog since its sweetness and acidic taste overpowers food and disguises its true flavor.

In the film Sudden Impact, San Francisco detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) launches a tirade while conversing with a cop who's munching a ketchup-topped dog at a murder scene:

"Nah, this stuff isn't getting to me — the shootings, the knifings, the beatings... old ladies being bashed in the head for their social security checks[.] [...] Nah, that doesn't bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It's watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody... I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog."

We agree with Harry.


SF said...

The link to the Yann's recipe is dead. I used the internet wayback machine to find it. I am posting the recipe from that page for posterity.

West Virginia Hotdog Chili
1/2  cup shortening
2  TBSP. onions, chopped
2  cloves garlic, chopped
5  lbs. ground beef
1  1/2 TBSP. paprika
2  1/2 TBSP. chili powder
1  1/2 TBSP. black pepper
1  TBSP. cayenne pepper (can use 1/2 TBSP. - 2 TBSP.)
2  TBSP. salt
2  1/2 TBSP. ground cumin
1  tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 - 1 cup cracker meal
Saute meat, garlic and onions till browned
Add spices, stir well
Add about a quart of water and cook over low heat for 3-4 hours
Add a little water occasionally to keep from sticking
When chili is cooked, remove from heat and add 1/2 to 1 cup of cracker meal & stir well
Another trick that you can do is place the pot in the bottom of the kitchen sink and run an electric hand mixer around briefly - this makes for a finer ground meat texture & is closer to the "real thing"
After the first batch you will learn to vary (slightly) the blend of peppers and cumin...the cinnamon is critical but your chili should never have a cinnamon taste.

This chili freezes well and you may cut the recipe in half, but NO more!

Marmetion said...

On such an important legislation as the inclusion of slaw on hotdogs, I can't belive that nowhere in this blog is the discussion, or for that matter any mention, of "Yellow Slaw". While the true origion of yellow slaw is some what in doubt, an old beer joint/resturant know as the Canary Cottage, in Marmet, has to be the place it became famous. If you have never had this delicacy, laying on top of a WVHD, the you have never had a true WVHD. But as luck would have it, and as true WVHD connoisseurs insist upon it, the yellow slaw can still be had in Marmet, made by the ancesors of the "original" makers at the Canary Cottage. If you have any doubt, journey to this small but proud town, and partake in a true WVHD.

Stanton said...

Marmetion, we have discussed yellow slaw many times on this blog; you just need to look harder. Try this link:

Marmetion said...

I stand corrected, somehow, I missed this part of your blog, I appoligize...