“Parts is parts!”
Out of the many classic Barber family phrases that my dad unwittingly drilled into my head—along with “there’s always room for Jell-O,” “rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub,” and “good chowdah, Bobby!”—this triumphant pronouncement might have been the most gleefully repeated in restaurants and grocery store aisles since childhood. Whether it was an excuse to avoid suspiciously breaded chicken dinners in the college caf or a rallying cry for the sweetbreads, marrow, and hearts I started scarfing down fearlessly in recent years, “parts is parts” found itself a context for many a situation.
But knowing that parts was, in fact, parts, never truly offered much reassurance to the idea that one should be eating a hot dog. And lord knows we Americans have tried to gussy our dogs up as much as possible, loading them up with everything from chili to cheese to a veritable garden of vegetables in an effort to mask the inferiority complex we feel about eating the parts in a tube.
Poor hot dogs! They seem so underloved, especially when they’re tossed into water to boil away pathetically, without even getting the crisp exterior offered to their big brother, Mr. Sausage and Peppers, who luxuriates in the grill treatment further down the ballpark.
Yeah, you can bake it, broil it, boil it, sauté it. You can even stab one with a stick and hang it over a campfire, maybe the easiest way to eat well in the wilderness. Short of burning it to a dessicated husk, there’s really no way to kill a hot dog. (And yet there are some people in New Jersey who eat those burnt hot dogs anyway.) But there is a way to make the dog shine on its own, without too much extraneous frou-frah.
According to Marcia Kiesel at Food & Wine, who got the idea from a restaurant in Chinatown, the secret to a crazy good grilled dog is to score it with a series of small cuts: the crosshatch hot dogs in the following recipe open up like pine cones when they’re thrown onto the grill.
The crosshatch effect, combined with a ketchup-based marinade that seeps into the crevices and glazes the hot dog with sugary-spicy flavor, gives greater opportunity for the surface to come in contact with a searing-hot grill grate and leaves the hot dog with lots of little charred and crispy bits for the best blistered effect.
Frankly, I’m not entirely sure that the marinade really has the potential to soak through that well-sealed casing and make its way into the meat—it could be psychosomatic, but I give them a good overnight bath anyway. All I know is that people get more worked up about eating these hot dogs than anything I’ve seen before. My besties request them now at cookouts, for pete’s sake.
This doesn’t solve the age-old problem of why there are a different number of hot dog buns than there are hot dogs in their respective packages; the only solution to that is to make your own buns, I suppose. But that’s for another post.
Grilled Hot Dogs
Adapted from Food & Wine
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 1 dozen hot dogs
- 1/2 cup Heinz ketchup
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 splash sesame chili oil
- 1 splash worcestershire sauce
- 1 dozen hot dogs
In a casserole dish or other shallow pan, whisk together the ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, oil, and worcestershire sauce.
Score the hot dog by making three rows of angled cuts down each hot dog with a sharp paring knife—you’ll get about 7 or 8 cuts per row. Roll the hot dogs in the ketchup marinade until they’re completely coated. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.
When you’re ready, preheat a gas or charcoal grill, and toss those puppies on to grill them up right. Serve with condiments of your choice—though there’s already ketchup on the dog, I always add a little extra, along with yellow mustard and relish. They’re also excellent with a little slaw on top.