Most countries around the world set aside a special day to celebrate their national identity. Such celebrations are aimed at bringing people together to recall history and celebrate shared values. In America, that day is the 4th of July. On this day each year, the United States commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, a document declaring the American colonies’ independence from Great Britain. Annual Fourth of July celebrations began in 1776; nevertheless, those celebrations were not officially recognized. Independence Day only became a Federal Holiday in 1870, nearly a hundred years after American colonists declared independence. The holiday has become a festive day of parades, picnics, sporting events, family and community gatherings, and fireworks. Jessi Devenyns reports, “[During the week leading up to Independence Day,] grocers can expect to see an uptick [in sales of] traditional food items like popsicles, frozen burgers and baked beans as well as some not-so-typical grocery items like fishing and camping equipment, according to data from marketing firm Catalina.” The holiday has also helped make one processed food iconic: the humble hot dog. According to the Catalina study, weekly sales of hot dogs prior to Independence Day nearly doubles.
History of the hot dog
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) notes, “The origin of the word ‘hot dog’ stirs as much debate as the existence of UFOs. Conflicting stories abound and everyone wants to claim ownership of the catchy moniker of America’s favorite food.” The NHDSC cites several experts’ opinions on how the term “hot dog” originated. According to Bruce Kraig, a hot dog historian and professor emeritus at Roosevelt University in Illinois, the term “hot dog” can be traced to German immigrants who had enjoyed dachshund sausages in their homeland. When they arrived in America in the 1800s, they began producing and selling the sausages. Kraig believes the term “probably began as a joke about the Germans’ small, long, thin dogs. Ever the butt of humor and rumor, the moniker that stuck was likely a joke regarding the provenance of the tasty sausage served on a bun cut lengthwise.” Another hot dog historian, Barry Popick, reports, “The word ‘hot dog’ began appearing in college magazines in the 1890s. Students at Yale University began to refer to the wagons selling hot sausages in buns outside their dorms as ‘dog wagons’.” The first reference to “hot dogs” Popick could find was “in an article published in the October 19, 1895, issue of the Yale Record which referred to folks ‘contentedly munching on hot dogs’.” The NHDSC concludes, “While the hot dog’s precise history may never be known, perhaps it is this mystery that adds to the hot dog’s mystique and has helped the hot dog maintain its position as one of America’s favorite foods!”
The hot dog supply chain
Hot dogs are generally made from beef, pork, or chicken; and, the hot dog supply chain begins on the farms raising those animals. The meats used in hot dogs come from the same supply chain as other meat products. At that point, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council reports, “Specially selected meat trimmings of beef and/or pork — just like the meat you buy in your grocer’s case — are cut or ground into small pieces and placed in a mixer. When poultry hot dogs are made, poultry trimmings are used.” To see how a typical hot is manufactured, watch the following video.
The NHDSC states, “Hot dogs are much like cakes: different recipes create very different tastes and textures and people have strong personal preferences. Many recipes require many different ingredients, including spices, flavorings, preservatives, binders and additives that combine to give hot dogs their distinctive taste and texture. Ingredients added to meat and poultry in a hot dog recipe can add flavor, keep hot dogs moist and juicy and delay spoilage, and perhaps most importantly … provide food safety.” For a list of common hot ingredients, follow this link.
Hot dogs and Independence Day
Today, in many peoples’ minds, the link between hot dogs and Independence Day is tied closely to New York’s Coney Island. Erick Trickey (@ErickTrickey) explains, “Historians disagree on the hot dog’s origin story, but many credit Charles Feltman, a Coney Island pie-wagon vendor, with inventing the fast food, serving hot dachshund sausages in milk rolls as early as 1867.” But it is a hot dog eating contest resurrected in the 1970s that cemented the relationship between hot dogs, Coney Island, and Independence Day. Trickey explains, “This July 4, as with every July 4 going back to the 1970s, an all-American display of gluttony will feature rubber-stomached competitive eaters once again gorging themselves in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Brooklyn’s Coney Island.” He goes on to note that in the early 1900s, “Americans associated New York’s Coney Island with hot dog authenticity.” There is direct connection between Charles Feltman and Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest: Nathan Handwerker. Matt Blitz (@WhyBlitz) explains:
“Nathan Handwerker’s story began like many tales about the American dream. Working in a restaurant owned by Coney Island’s Charles Feltman, often credited as the inventor of the hot dog, he dreamed of a better life. To save money, Handwerker slept on the restaurant’s kitchen floor and ate free hot dogs. After a year, he quit working for Feltman and opened his own hot dog stand on Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island, mere blocks away from his former employer’s own hot dog establishment. With his wife Ida’s secret spice recipe, Handwerker sold his dogs for five cents, half the price of Feltman’s. But business still struggled. So, he did what any good entrepreneur would do — he pulled off a publicity stunt. It was Independence Day 1916, and Handwerker was working at his hot dog stand when he overheard a conversation nearby. ‘The story that I have heard forever is that there were four immigrants arguing over who was the most American on the Fourth of July,’ says Richard Shea, the President of Major League Eating. So, Handwerker challenged the four men to a contest. ‘Nathan said, “I’ll tell ya, whoever can eat the most of my hot dogs is the most American,” explains Shea. The men took Handwerker up on the offer. Irish immigrant James Mullen won the race by downing 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes, thus proving his patriotism. The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest was born.“
According to the NHDSC, last year consumers spent more than $3 billion on hot dogs in U.S. supermarkets. The Council adds, “The summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day continue to make up the ‘hot dog season.’ Hot dog producers estimate that an average of 38 percent or $614 million of the total number of hot dogs are sold during this time. Ten percent of annual retail hot dog sales occur during July, which is designated as National Hot Dog Month.”
Whether you are going to consume your share of hot dogs, or not, this Independence Day, all of us at Enterra Solutions® hope you celebrate safely and have an opportunity to be friends and family.
 Jessi Devenyns, “Hot dogs, charcoal and insect repellent: What grocers sell more of for July 4,” Food Dive, 3 July 2018.
 Staff, “Hot Dog History,” National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
 Staff, “A Guide to Common Ingredients in Hot Dogs,” National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
 Erick Trickey, “The Origin of the Coney Island Hot Dog Is a Uniquely American Story,” Smithsonian Magazine, 30 June 2016.
 Matt Blitz, “How a Hot Dog Eating Contest Became One of the Fourth of July’s Greatest Traditions,” Smithsonian Magazine, 3 July 2015.