When you're invited to a hot dog tasting with Doug Sohn of gone-but-not-forgotten Hot Doug's, you're going to say yes.
The tasting was a preview of Baconfest, next weekend's pig extravaganza featuring 170 bacon dishes from some of the city's top restaurants, so each dog featured bacon as a star ingredient. Tasting hot dogs with Sohn is like a master class in putting together sausages, so here's what I learned about dogs when I sat down to sample them with Sohn and Baconfest founder Seth Zurer.
1. Make sure to balance ingredients.
We first tried the hot dog from Zed 451, a maple bacon hot dog wrapped in bacon and served Chicago-style.
"Is that Dijon mustard?" Sohn asked.
It was—the dog had a gentle sweetness from the maple, but the Dijon helped balance it out and the ingredients were all added in the right proportions.
"I do miss hot dogs—at least having them a foot away," Sohn said. "And this is good Chicago hot dog."
2. Make the hot dog easy to eat.
Mercadito Counter served up a bacon-wrapped hot dog with pico de gallo, jalapeno relish, mayo, ketchup and mustard. All of the toppings were diced and the bacon used to wrap the hot dog was so thin it added just a faint bit of smoke. Extra bacon was crumbled on top. "I appreciate when people think about making the hot dog as easy to eat as possible," Sohn said.
3. Tiny tweaks can go a long way.
Howells & Hood served a bacon dog made in-house that came with diced Chicago-style toppings with a twist—the celery salt was mixed with tomato powder.
"This is a good idea," Sohn said, noting it was a simple thing that amped up the tomato flavor.
The fourth dog was Duck Inn's FrankenDuckie, a beef and duck fat dog. The link is the same as the outstanding duck fat dog always on offer at the restaurant, but while it's served Chicago-style there, for Baconfest it comes wrapped with bacon and topped with beer mustard, Wisconsin cheddar sauce and pepper relish. It was a monster—a couple of bites were plenty—but the sausage was exactly how sausage was supposed to be, juicy and flavorful.