Monday, September 04, 2006

Building the Perfect WV Hot Dog, Test 1

Over the past several decades, Huntington has been a city in transition. The Rust Belt town of yesteryear has downsized drastically and is inching ever closer to becoming a full-fledged university town (rumor has it that there was even a couch burning last year). During this change, however, the city’s economy has been hit hard. In fact, there is but one thing that kept Huntington afloat over the past two decades: the thousands of dollars worth of hot dogs that I have purchased from local hot dog stands.

Fortunately, Huntington has seemingly turned a corner: Pullman Square has brought a sense of place back to the downtown region, Marshall’s administration seems to be focused on the academic end of things, and government officials finally seem committed to combating the supply of (if not the demand for) crack cocaine.

Anticipating an upswing in the city’s finances, I have deemed it safe to embark upon a money-saving adventure in home hot dog economics. As part of an ongoing series on the blog, I will assemble homemade WV hot dogs using ingredients available from local grocers. I will then analyze the dog and its components for quality, balance, taste, texture, etc. in order to see just how close it comes to being a great WV dog and where and if the individual ingredients merit inclusion in the ultimate home-assembled WV dawg.

For my first ‘speriment, I am basically using the stuff that I have around the house. This dog will be made from Heiner’s Sunny Buns hot dog buns, Ball Park beef franks, Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili, French’s Yellow Mustard, and Ballard’s Farms Amish Sweet Slaw. No onions or ketchup this time (more on that in a bit).

With a Heiner’s bakery located in Huntington’s Old Central City district, a week-old package of buns in a Tri-State kitchen are fresher than those in shops in other parts of the state. Additionally, Sunny Buns are Heiner’s premium product with a light touch of honey and generally cost about 20¢ more per package (money well spent to a hot dog aficionado). The bun was perfectly baked, tasty, and fresh, of course. 5 weenies.

The weenie, however, did not live up to the quality expected of a good Huntington/West Virginia dog. While I give high marks to Ball Park brand franks on the national scheme of things, they just cannot compare in freshness to the locally-made dogs of Cavalier Meats. Even after boiling them to soak out some of the preservatives before giving them a quick skillet grillin’, they were still a bit salty and lacking in a fresh beef taste. In there defense, however, they did cook up plump and were not bad for a wiener brought in from outside of the region. 2.5 weenies.

The sauce, Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili, is a commercially-available, small-batch sauce made in Webster Spring, West Virginia (arguably as West Virginia as West Virginia gets) was an excellent topping for the weenie. The sauce was sweet, with a notable taste of onion up front. The beef was not heavily seasoned, but has a nice taste in and of itself. Ketchup is one of the main ingredients and gives the sauce a nice finish. Available in the meat section of area Wal-Marts (and possibly other stores), this is by far the best ready-made hot dog sauce that I have run across. This rings especially true for fans of a less-sweet slaw (a vinegary-peppery slaw in particular would great with this sauce) or those that enjoy ketchup on a dog, but are too embarrassed to use it in polite company. I would, in the future, not shy away from the onions next time, as the onions in the sauce act to flavor the chili alone and do not act as a substitute for chopped un’juns. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to lay on the mustard with this sauce. 4.5 weenies.

Ballard’s Farms Amish Sweet Slaw, while fresh, was not the best fit for the dog. While the sweetness of the slaw did clash with the sweetness in the sauce, that was not the main issue. Nor was the well-diced and creamy texture. The problem, I believe, was in the cabbage. Maybe it was stale or maybe they used the whole cabbage, stems and all. I’m not sure. Something, however, was amiss. Next time I will stick to Ballard’s original slaw and not get so cutesy at the dairy isle. 2 weenies.

Overall, the dog made for a nice lunch for this West Virginian hot dog connoisseur. They were notably sweet and would be particularly appropriate for a fan of the sweeter sub-variation of the WV dawg, (Stanton, this means you). The sticking points were the low-quality slaw and the freezery-tasting frank from God knows where that brought the overall taste down and my misguided belief that onions wouldn’t be necessary this time around. The highlights of the dogs were the delicate ballet of sweet ‘n sour deliciousness that was danced between the sauce and the mustard and the tastiest bun this side of…well, anywhere.

Final score for test dog 1: 3.5 weenies.


Stanton said...

The sauce, Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili...

Even when it says CHILI on the package you still insist on calling it SAUCE. What is the deal with you Huntington people?

Christopher Scott Jones said...

'Cause thats what it is.

You at least have to give me credit for the obligatory mug of bacon grease on my stove.

larryosaurus said...

Boiling? Frying them in a skillet?
No wonder the weiners were sub-par.
The only way to properly cook a dog is to grill it.
Weiners. Must. Be. Grilled.

Christopher Scott Jones said...

Grilled hot dogs are kind of like birthday cake, fun to eat a few times a year, but nothing I would want regularly. I am not big on burnt or partially burnt weenies. I like boiling in order to remove impurities, salts, etc and leave a beefy taste. Open the photo and zoom in on the water in the background; I'm glad I didn't eat any of that. If I had grilled it, the weenie might have gotten a 1.5 or a 2. Just my opinion.