The Buckwurst is a staple at the Wurst Tex food truck in Austin, Texas. The dog includes smoked venison and pork sausage on a sesame seed bun topped with peppers and smothered in cheddar.

Just ask Joey Chestnut: July is the perfect month for a hot dog.

The hot dog-eating superstar gorged his way into history again last week, winning his seventh consecutive Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating championship on Coney Island by scarfing down 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes — a new world record.

But it’s not just the competitive eaters who love a good dog every July. This is National Hot Dog Month, which is no surprise given that a hot dog grilled over an open flame or around the campfire is about as common as watermelon and lemonade this time of year. Not to mention, it’s baseball season and no trip to the ballpark feels complete without a footlong.

Heck, it’s estimated that Americans ate more than 155 million hot dogs over the Fourth of July weekend alone.

July is the time of year when hot dog joints around the country do big business while letting their imaginations run away with them. At New York’s Crif Dogs, for example, the Good Morning (a bacon-wrapped dog smothered with melted cheese and a fried egg) is all the rage right now. The featured item at Crazy Dog in Warrensburg, Mo., is the Pulled Pork Dog, a beef hot dog served on their signature bun with coleslaw, tomatoes, barbecue sauce, mustard, smoked pork and a pickle spear.

Yet here in St. Joseph, true dog artists have nearly run dry. Sure, you can head over to one of the Sonic locations for a beefed-up frank, but they mostly lack the kind of imagination that Salsa Dog offered when it was open. You just can’t get a Cincinnati Dog, an Alamo Dog or the very popular St. Joe Dog anymore.

Perhaps, it’s time for you to step up and express yourself on the blank canvas of a hot dog bun. If you want to realize the full potential of your dog, toy around with the following ideas on your grill or in your kitchen:

All the way from Austin

When I visited Austin, Texas, a few months back for the SXSW Music Festival, I had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted by simply hitting up various food trucks. Wurst Tex was no exception.

Wurst Tex rolled into Austin’s food scene three years ago and faced some heavy competition, but the business gained tons of buzz by adding more than just traditional wieners to its menu, offering rattlesnake and rabbit sausage, duck and bacon sausage and even elk sausage.

However, it’s the less outlandish items that have kept Wurst Tex near the top of every Austin foodie’s list.

“We were all about trying to find something unique and something that no one had seen before, but we knew it was important to have the traditional sausages and include hints of exotic,” explains Wurst Tex owner Sam Raver.

If you ever find yourself in Austin and you stop by the food truck on South Congress Avenue, you’ll see that the favorites are made of traditional meats such as pork, chicken, turkey and venison.

While a lot of people prefer to cook their hot dogs and bratwursts over an open flame, Mr. Raver says he prefers to use indirect heat to achieve a nice, even browning and a perfectly plump sausage. He says that amateur hot dog and bratwurst cooks should start with a few basics that make any dog a little tastier.

“What always makes a nice sausage, for me, is adding something that has a little kick to it, like jalapeños or maybe even a cheese,” he says.

Try your own variations on these popular wieners at Wurst Tex:

Buckwurst — Smoked venison and pork sausage with peppers and melted cheddar.

El Wursto — Chicken and turkey sausage with mild habanero, green chilies and a hint of tequila.

Pepperwurst — Pork sausage seasoned with black pepper, garlic and more pepper.

Royal dogs

Baseball fans from around the country have marveled at the renovation of Kauffman Stadium, but local fans have been far more pleased with the K’s food upgrades — most notably, the Dugout Doghouse carts, which can be found by each foul poll in the Outfield Experience. At these carts, Kansas City Royals fans can buy a hot dog and top it with traditional condiments or choose from eight tasty combinations.

“I think hot dogs have always been that staple product at the ballpark, but you always ask, ‘How can you put a new spin on it?’” said Jon Sutton, general manager of Aramark concessions at Kauffman Stadium, in a previous interview with the News-Press.

Mr. Sutton says the Royal Bacon Blue Dog has been the fan favorite over the last few years. Topped with bleu cheese crumbles, chopped bacon and red onion, this hot dog even left Aramark’s higher-ups salivating.

“The Royal Bacon Blue Dog is probably the envy of the company,” Mr. Sutton said.

However, Aramark sells more than its share of the seven other hot dog combinations. If you’re in the mood for a Major League dog in your own home, try creating your own variations on these Royal franks:

El Diablo Dog — Standard hot dog topped with chili, nacho cheese sauce, pico de gallo, jalapeños and Cholula Hot Sauce.

Kansas City Dog — Standard hot dog topped with Swiss cheese, grilled sauerkraut and Boulevard Pale Ale Mustard.

Island Dog — Standard hot dog topped with smoked ham, pineapple slices, mandarin orange sections, Hawaiian coleslaw and teriyaki sauce.

Chicago Style Dog — Standard hot dog topped with celery salt, yellow mustard, neon relish, diced onions, sport peppers, tomato wedges and pickle spears on a poppy seed bun.

Texas Dog — Standard hot dog topped with chili, shredded cheddar cheese, diced onion and Fritos corn chip bits.

A few other ideas

Perhaps you’d like to try something a little more daring the next time you cook a batch of hot dogs. Here are some gourmet hot dog concoctions that require a little more effort:

Yum Dogs

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise or aioli
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 6 good quality hot dogs of choice
  • 6 slices good quality bacon of choice
  • 6 hot dog buns or rolls, preferably ones that are large and sturdy
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Combine the mayonnaise and Sriracha and keep covered in the refrigerator until ready for use. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Score each hot dog a few times. Wrap each hot dog in a slice of bacon, starting at one end and corkscrewing it around to the other. If you find the bacon isn’t adhering, you can use a wooden toothpick to pin it to the ends of the hot dogs. Cook the dogs, rotating to cook the bacon thoroughly on all sides. Depending on the thickness of your meats, this will probably take two to four minutes on each side. Transfer the hot dogs to a newspaper- or paper towel-lined platter. If you used toothpicks, remove them. Depending on the size or density of your buns, you might need to hollow them out a little or not. Spread each bun generously with the Sriracha mayonnaise. Place the dogs on the slaw and top with scallions and peanuts.

New Jersey Italian Dogs

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 medium green peppers, sliced into strips
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, sliced into strips
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or a mixture of oregano, basil and rosemary
  • 8 beef hot dogs, preferably with natural casings
  • 4 sandwich buns
  • Mustard

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or skillet or griddle until it shimmers. Put the potatoes in the pan in one layer and fry on medium-high heat for two to three minutes without touching them. Use a metal spatula to scrape the potatoes off the bottom of the skillet, flipping them. Sprinkle salt over the potatoes, and cook for another two to three minutes without touching them. Remove the potatoes, which should be partially browned, to a bowl and set aside. Turn the heat to high and add the peppers and onions. Arrange evenly in the pan and cook for two to three minutes without touching them. Sprinkle salt over them, then flip and cook for another two to three minutes untouched. There should be some browned and even blackened bits here and there. Add the Italian seasoning and the potatoes to the pan, stir to combine and cook over medium-high heat until they are soft and nicely browned, about eight to 10 minutes. Heat a grill or a frying pan to cook your hot dogs; don’t boil your dogs for this recipe. Grill or fry until they are done to your liking and set aside. Liberally smear mustard on both sides of the sandwich roll. Add two hot dogs per roll and top with as much of the potatoes, peppers and onions as will fit. Serve at once.

Hot dogs with cheddar and sauteed apples

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, halved cored and cut into scant 1/2-inch wedges
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 6 hot dogs
  • 6 long pretzel rolls or hot dog buns, split
  • 3 ounces thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the apples and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until barely softened and just beginning to brown, about five minutes. Add the brown sugar and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the cinnamon and keep warm. Heat a grill pan. Grill the hot dogs over high heat until lightly charred all over, about five minutes. On a baking sheet, set the dogs in the rolls and top with the cheddar cheese. Bake for about three minutes, just until the cheese is melted. Top with the apples and serve at once.

Shea Conner can be reached at shea.conner@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.

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