How to Build a Chicago-Style Hot Dog

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as in every true 80’s movie, all of the adults are morons. Edward Rooney, school principal, is a classic obtuse clown, groveling, crawling on the ground, and getting bit in the ass by a dog for our amusement. He is perpetually fooled by the charismatic hero, but has enough temerity to follow his instincts to question and pursue his foe, though the chase ends ultimately in hilarious failure. The hero’s mother and father, archetypal cartoons of the era with padded shoulders and a strong jaw respectively, are even more gullible and naïve in the presence of their offspring. They see nothing but their own shadows as they conduct serious business in the brown urban world, away all day from their manicured suburban enclave. There are lesser grown up characters equally thwarted. The mind numbing teachers who lecture soporifically, invoking the hero’s name for the roll call of eternity. The mincing maître’d at a fancy French restaurant, who is bamboozled by a phony phone call and a funny voice impression.

How to Make Chicago Style Hot Dogs

Other characters walk the line between the cynicism of youth and an adult’s demand for justice. Ferris’s older sister Janey, played with seething precision by Jennifer Gray, is rewarded with the coveted car instead of a more useful computer but is deeply unpopular, and ends up succumbing to the charms of a proper outlaw in the waiting area of a police station. Perhaps most successfully, the parking garage attendants, who serve as this story’s Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, take a vintage Ferrari, aptly described as “so choice” during a mini monologue when Ferris breaks the fourth wall in soliloquy, on a jaunty joyride, nearly dooming the hypochondriac Cameron to a fate worse than death: the wrath of his cold, soul-dead father. The audience can elect to perceive the kitsch singer Wayne Newton, playing himself, as either outside the rules of the genre or, an entertainer, complicit in the adolescent charade.

How to Make Chicago Style Hot Dogs

At the film’s end, Cameron, the protagonist’s sidekick and protégée, has undergone a necessary transformation, but otherwise the band of merry pranksters is as they were in the beginning, exuberant and winning. The moral of the story? Innocence is experience. Middle age lobotomizes. That is no country for old men. FBDO is a picaresque tale swiftly told, with wit and light and laughter. You know who I still worry about, though, all these years later? Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago. Why didn’t he show up for lunch?

This garden-topped hot dog is a thing taken very seriously in the city of Chicago. Our regional food, like sports teams and rivalries roots us in a place, and you have to honor the ingredients and method of preparation, like you do Don Mattingly or the name of another, more contemporary player. Since I’m not getting to Chicago any time soon I had to take the hot dog into my own hands. (Don’t even.) A few things became clear during my extensive research process.

How to Make Chicago Style Hot Dogs

The hot dogs have to be all beef with a casing. They ought to be steamed. Nathan’s seems to be an acceptable substitute for Vienna Beef, the Chicago original. The usual condiments, mustard and relish are in there; the mustard should be of the bright yellow variety, French’s or some sort, and the relish sweet. In Chi-Town (I bet they love that there), the pickle relish is neon green but I think any jarred kind, as long as it’s sweet, stands up. There’s no ketchup, but instead fresh tomato. I took it upon myself to use a kind of small tomato because at this time of year large-format tomatoes are too mealy.

I found a good, refrigerated pickle and sliced it into quarters myself. The pickle should have the same snap as the dog. The indigenous sport peppers can be swapped out for pepperoncini, if that’s what you have. Celery salt is compulsory, so pick some up. You can always add it to tuna salad and bloody marys. And if you can’t find a poppy seed hot dog bun, make your own by brushing the buns with butter, sprinkling on the intoxicating seeds and baking, briefly.

Did I forget anything? I’m sure someone will let me know. Without further ado, my Second City Dog. The Windy Dog? The “You’re Getting a Hot Dog and You’re Getting A Hot Dog Oprah Dog?”

How to Make Chicago Style Hot Dogs


How to Build a Chicago-Style Hot Dog

  • Yield: 4 Hot Dogs 1x


  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 hot dog buns
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 4 all-beef, skin-on hot dogs
  • 4 dill pickle spears
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • Yellow mustard, to taste
  • 1/2 cup white onion, diced
  • 4 pickled sport peppers
  • Sprinkle of celery salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Brush the hot side of the hot dog buns with melted butter, then sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake 5 minutes.
  2. Steam hot dogs, about 5 minutes. Slap then in the buns. Then dress with remaining ingredients.
  3. Serve with a regional beverage and the small batch potato chips you can’t get anywhere else.

How to Make Chicago Style Hot Dogs

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. This has to be the best blog post of all time. Chicago will always have a piece of my heart. Every time I’m there I have to get a hot dog or twelve, some authentic Chicago deep dish pizza, some Chinese food and a fantastic Italian sandwich. It’s probably I don’t get to visit my home state often.

  2. What a great commentary on FBDO. I have not been able to watch it since I became an adult. I grew up in South Bend, Indiana, about 2 hours east of Chicago, and got to spend some time in the windy city. South Bend also has a lot of ethnic diversity, and celebrates Dyngus day, which is the day after Easter, each year with sausages. I have no further explanation of what Dyngus day is, and have never found anyone else who knew either!

  3. My first job at the age of 14, in 1961, was at a Chicago Hot Dog Stand (trailer). Bright yellow mustard, you have the wrong mustard in your photo. Your tomato is also wrong. Cut a medium tomato through the stem to the bottom, turn sideways and slice, so you have half moons, and tuck in between the dog and the bun.

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