A hot dog is a specialized sausage, served on a soft roll or bun. Hot dogs are known by various names in different cultures, but many have borrowed the English term “hot dog” to refer to a sandwich made with a sausage. In general, hot dogs are slightly smaller than a conventional sausage, in addition to being less spicy. Hot dogs are also cooked before they are packaged for sale, and technically can be eaten straight out of the package, although most consumers warm them up first.
Sausage is one of the oldest animal products, and has been made for hundreds of years by grinding, spicing, and cooking meat before stuffing it into the intestinal casing of the animal that was slaughtered. The combination of sausage and bread seems to be a natural one, as the bread holds the sausage and condiments, allowing the consumer to eat it while on the run, or pick up a sausage sandwich from a roadside vendor. The modern hot dog appears to have been invented in the 17th century somewhere in Germany, when a sausage maker started to make smaller, less spicy precooked sausages.
The origins of the name “hot dog” are somewhat unclear. In the United States, the term appears to have arisen at some point in the 1890s, and various explanations circulate to explain its roots. In some parts of Germany, the sausage is known as a dachshund, or small dog, and this is the most likely origin of the slang term, although some historians attribute the name to a popular fiction that the meat for sausages came from stray dogs. Certainly sausages were served on buns well before the 1890s, along with popular condiments like pickle relish, ketchup, sauerkraut, and mustard.
Hot dogs are also referred to as frankfurters or weiners, nods to the German origins of the small sausage. Both Frankfurt and Vienna, called Wein in German, are large production cities for an assortment of sausage products. Both cities also lay claim to the original invention of the hot dog, which became popular in the United States due to the large number of German immigrants. Other types of sausages, such as polish sausage, are also eaten on soft rolls in various communities.
The ingredients for hot dogs vary, depending on the butcher and the region. Beef and pork are both popular traditional ingredients, but consumers can also find turkey dogs, hot dogs with an assortment of poultry meats, and tofu dogs. Once warmed, the hot dogs can be placed on a soft roll which is traditionally made from a milk bread dough, and toppings can be added as desired. Hot dogs are often found at beach side food stands and in street food stalls because they are easy to eat, and require minimal kitchen space to prepare.