Chicago Hot Dogs – Windy City Specialty

Recipes

The hot dog is a staple of sporting events, movies, carnivals and back yard barbecues. But in Chicago, the hot dog takes on a special identity.

Unlike some of the other recipes I have featured in this series1, the Chicago Hot Dog requires a specific list of ingredients. Beyond that, it also has a set order of combining those ingredients to qualify as a legitimate Chicago Dog.

Chicago hot dog
Photo Courtesy of Portillo’s Restaurant

Chicago Hot Dogs are made with boiled all-beef hot dogs – not grilled2.

Photo Courtesy Vienna Relish

Chicago Dogs3 also use a steamed bun. Some recipes on the internet call for a bun warmed in the oven, but purists decry this method. And most importantly, it’s not an ordinary hot dog bun, but a poppy seed bun.

Finally, a key ingredient is Piccalilli, a relish made from sweet gherkin pickles. The neon-green color is achieved by adding blue food coloring to the relish. Vienna Chicago Style Relish is a favorite brand. It’s available on the internet and I always keep some on hand.

Where to Get It

Chicago Hot Dogs are available in most casual restaurants in the Chicago area. My personal favorite source is Portillo’s. The restaurant chain started in the suburb of Villa Park, and it’s my favorite location. There are a few Portillo’s locations outside the Chicagoland area, notably in northern Indiana, Southern California and the Tampa area of Florida.

This article was written using Scrivener

Locally – in the Louisville area – my go-to place for Chicago Hot Dogs is Lonnie’s Best Taste of Chicago on St. Matthews Avenue. Lonnie and Diane Edwards are Windy City natives who relocated to the River City and brought the notable dishes with them.

Ingredients

  • 6 all-beef hot dog
  • 6 poppyseed hot dog buns
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard for each
  • 1 tablespoon Piccalilli (sweet green pickle relish) for each
  • 6 tablespoons chopped white onion
  • tomato wedges
  • 6 dill pickle spears
  • 12 sport peppers
  • Dash of celery salt for each dog

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then reduce heat to low
  2. Place hot dogs in water and cook 5 minutes or until done 
  3. Remove hot dog and set aside
  4. Place a steamer basket into the pot and steam the hot dog buns 2 minutes or until warm.
  5. Place hot dog in the steamed bun. 

Add the toppings in this order:

  1. yellow mustard
  2. sweet green pickle relish
  3. onion
  4. tomato wedges
  5. pickle spear
  6. sport peppers
  7. celery salt

Place the pickle and tomato wedges between the hot dog and the bun. Purists say they should be placed on opposite sides.

And to maintain the tradition, never ever put ketchup on a Chicago Dog. Many small restaurants that specialize in the Chicago Hot Dog don’t even have ketchup available.


This is the final installment of my Monday series on recipes of foods I have encountered in my travels. Although I am discontinuing the Monday series, I may occasionally post favorite recipes as part of the Friday Miscellaneous Feature.

Have you eaten a Chicago Hot Dog? If so, what is your impression? Tell us in the comments below.

NOTES

  1. See my articles on Boise Finger Steaks and the Louisville Hot Brown
  2. There is an acceptable version using a grilled hot dog, but all the same other ingredients. Dubbed the Char-dog, a few restaurants in the Chicagoland area specialize in them.
  3. Natives use Chicago Hot Dogs and Chicago Dogs interchangeably.
Mike Worley

Mike is retired and lives in Louisville, KY USA. He writes about lifestyle issues. He also enjoys photography and works part-time as a college volleyball official.