Parts is Parts: Embracing the Hot Dog

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on June 27, 2011

This holiday weekend, let’s celebrate with that perennial favorite: marinated and cross-hatched hot dogs.


“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.

grilled hot dogs
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.

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