The linchpin to the whole chili dog dilemma, as you can probably imagine, is the inevitable ‘soggy bun syndrome’:
The very moment the chili tops the hot dog, you are doomed. The chili soaks into the bun, destabilizing the entire chili dog as the chili drips down the ends and works its way toward the center. It all goes downhill from there, as the bun halves separate or disintegrate entirely, and the chili oozes out onto your hands, your plate (if you have a plate), and everywhere else. Several napkins later and with the assistance of a spoon, fork or the ever fashionable spork, you finish your chili dog and wallow in the shame of your tasty messy guilty pleasure, wishing you had not worn your favorite t-shirt that day. In silent contemplation, you think, “there must be a better way.”
WHEN EATING A CHILI DOG, TIME IS YOUR ENEMY.
Every second is precious when you are dealing with the [miscellaneous countdown-to-disaster metaphor] that is the chili dog. The longer you wait to eat it, the more difficult it will be to finish it without looking like your toddler nephew eating his first birthday cake. Any attempt to make a better chili dog would definitely need you to ‘fight the future‘. Lacking a working time machine or access to Alton Brown’s home computer files, I went to the kitchen to work out my strategy.
MACGYVERIZED FOOD SCIENCE:
Early on, I did some tests, adjusting the thickness of my chili. A less watery chili would probably seep slower into the bun. Using corn starch or a roux can help to thicken just about any chili, soup, or sauce, so I eventually settled on a corn starch slurry, which thickened the chili effectively. A thicker chili would only get me so far, so I concentrated my efforts on trying to protect or strengthen the structure of the weakest link – the bun. Duct Tape was clearly out of the question, so I put on my thinking tuke.
For a while, I thought this would be about as good as it was going to get until a random visit to the local Strack and Van Til grocery store allowed me to find torpedo shaped pretzel rolls! I’ve had some experience with pretzel rolls for hamburgers at some of the finer burger joints in Chicago, but had not considered the possibility of using something similar for a hot dog. It seemed excessive to me to use a pretzel roll for a standard hot dog, even a loaded Chicago style dog; but for a chili dog – it makes perfect sense! Just as a round pretzel roll soaks up the juices from a perfect medium-rare burger and stays intact, the dark, chewy exterior of a pretzel torpedo roll manages to keep the chili dog together quite nicely. A regular hot dog bun was never designed to take this kind of abuse.
Then I use top notch all-beef hot dogs, like Nathan’s or Vienna Beef.
Top the split pretzel roll with cheese and toast it until the cheese melts.
(in the photos below I used a mix of shredded queso chihuahua and sharp cheddar cheeses)
Eat your chili dog.
Keep a few napkins on standby… just in case.