Some of Chicago's Best Hot Dogs Are Hiding in Home Depot

Taste legit Chicago hot dogs, from a jumbo frank to a Maxwell Street Polish, at these four destination stands.

<p>Redhot Ranch</p>

Redhot Ranch

At the little hot dog stand around the corner from my house, my order always starts with the same song and dance:

“One hot dog with everything on it, no fries.”

“One ‘dragged through the garden.’ Fries come with it. Free.”

“Don’t bother, I don’t want them.”

“Same price.”

“Charge me, that’s fine.”

“Okay, one dollar off.”

If, like me, you reside in Chicago, chances are you also have the good fortune to live around the corner from a little hot dog stand. You’ve learned to count on it for a quick lunch, a big snack, a late-night liquor sop and — during warm weather when picnic benches seem to sprout from the earth — a kind of perfect al fresco dinner. In this situation, you do want the fries and perhaps a “double dog” with two side-by-side links sharing a bun under all those garden draggings.

In Chicago that means diced onions, pickle relish dyed a shade of science-fiction green, mustard, tomato slices, snappy little sport peppers, a pickle spear, and a sprinkling of celery salt. Ketchup is famously left off, but if you think about it, all these flavors kind of add up to ketchup.

Vienna Beef — the city’s most ubiquitous brand — made its debut during the Columbian Exposition at the World’s Fair in 1893, but the iconic composition of the Chicago dog didn’t really start to coalesce until the Great Depression, when the Jewish, Italian, Greek, and Eastern European vendors around the once-bustling Maxwell Street fruit and vegetable market all contributed their preferences. The “Depression Dog,” a hearty belly filler sold from push carts for a nickel, sported mustard, onions, relish, and peppers, and it’s still a style favored by some today. The celery salt, pickle spear, and tomatoes joined the party later, after World War II when push carts gave way to the stands and small corner joints that still dot the city today.

Since moving to Chicago I’ve learned that hot dog menus, simple though they may be, are calibrated for perfect satiety. Depending on your hunger level, you may want a frank, a jumbo frank, a double dog, or a pair of dogs, often listed on the menu as such, with a side of fries and a drink. You may want a more seasoned, juicier, snappier Polish but you might not care for all the toppings, so you order a Maxwell Street Polish that arrives simply with griddled onions and mustard. Sublime.

A hot dog from any stand in Chicago will scratch the itch, but these are some to look out for:

Fatso's Last Stand

This is the best choice for char dogs — hot dogs cooked until they start to sweat and shrivel over a charcoal-fueled grill. Before going on the grill, the cooks notch the ends of the dogs with a crisscross, so the ends turn into crispy-crunchy nubbins. The first bite and the last bite are the best.

Red Hot Ranch

The freshly cut fries and the burgers have their own fan clubs, but it’s the Depression Dogs here that afford the best taste of Chicago. These natural-skin sausages are extra snappy and juicy — so good that you need the sharper pitch of the toppings. Make sure to go for the sport peppers, even if you’re not a major spice fan. Their vinegary snap is the crowning touch.

Fixin' Franks at Home Depot

<p>Fixin' Franks</p>

Fixin' Franks

Yes, yes, yes: One of Chicago’s best hot dog chains can be found in 17 branches of Home Depot. If you’ve got 10 bucks, then let these weenie wizards prepare you a gourmet Wagyu beef “steak dog” to order. I’m perfectly happy with the regular version, which I find to be the most carefully constructed in town. There is a way to fit all the garnishes into the bun and not just pile them atop. It’s like solving a tangram, and these folks are experts. These dogs are best eaten in your car in the parking lot, where you can relish the perfect chunk of pickle in every bite and not worry about an errant tomato popping out.

The Weiner's Circle

At Chicago’s most famous hot dog stand, foul-mouthed attendants have been known to spew invective at patrons waiting in line, and folks come here for the experience as much as for the hot dogs. I’ve been once and found they serve the standard Vienna Beef you get at countless hot dog stands throughout the city — never an unwelcome sight. Sadly, the woman who waited on me was perfectly nice. They may need to fire her.

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