Major League pitchers and catchers reported to camp late last month, which means spring, and baseball season, are upon us. This also means that very soon, I will begin ingesting a summer’s worth of hot dogs and other sausages covered in mustard and other savory ingredients.
I will not, however, under any circumstances, including at gunpoint, put ketchup on any of these hot dogs. Why? Because it is a horrid abomination, this practice of putting red, sugar-infused, tomato goo on delicious cylinders of spiced meat.
Let me ask you: If someone brought you a USDA Prime Graded ribeye cooked a perfect medium-rare, would you dump a quart of A.1. on it? Would you profane a brand new Ferrari with a coat of brushed-on, red house paint? Ketchup, that unholy, crimson lather, has no place amongst proper hot dog toppings such as mustard, onions, chili, sauerkraut or cheese. Save it for your French fries. Or your meatloaf. Or just give it to the family dog, if you don’t like him very much.
“Never put ketchup on a hot dog after the age of 18. You have to grow up sometime.” –Janet Riley of the National Hot Dog Council
The American hot dog is generally accepted as a descendent of the German frankfurter, which dates back to the late 15th century. By the late 1800s, hot dogs in buns were popular fare at American baseball parks, and we still enjoy them today.
And mustard is the preferred wet topping. The use of mustard seed dates back to fourth or fifth century Rome, and modern mustard has been paired with frankfurters and German wurst of all kinds for centuries. Frankfurt’s official tourism site even notes that, “Traditionally, [frankfurters] are served with bread, yellow mustard, horseradish and sometimes with potato salad.”
No ketchup in sight. The issue, for me, is the sweetness of the ketchup tends to mute the savory spice of the dog and the other toppings. It masks everything. Why ruin the flavor profile? Why hide the very thing you choose to ingest? It’s insanity to even consider it.
“My dad says the only people who put ketchup on hot dogs are mental patients, and Texans.” –Tanner Boyle in the film, “The Bad News Bears.”
My girlfriend and I debate ketchup vs. mustard all the time. She claims it is her God-given right as an American to put ketchup on her hot dog, because it’s her hot dog and no one else’s. Most other people would willfully deface a perfectly good frankfurter with the putrid, red, devil’s slime to make this same argument. I guess everyone has a right to their opinion, regardless of how utterly ridiculous it may be.
“It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog.” –Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mike Royko
But if mustard and frankfurters are a time-honored tradition, ketchup on hot dogs seems to have come along much later, likely as a result of Americans’ ever-increasing demand for sweet and/or bland foods. Sugar (OK, high fructose corn syrup) seems to be added to everything these days, feeding our addiction, while spice slowly but surely is dumbed down in mass-produced food, which may be just one of many reasons not to eat mass-produced food in the first place. Maybe even hot dogs, which negates my argument entirely.
But ketchup is originally Chinese, and it was made from fermented fish, meaning the original stuff probably tasted a lot better than the heinous, ruby rubbish from Heinz. Later, British ketchup recipes called for ingredients like mushrooms, walnuts, oysters or anchovies, but tomatoes became the choice ingredient in the 1800s, and it stuck. Well, tomatoes and gobs of sugar.
And so, all summer long, others will sit beside me at baseball games, their hot dogs slathered in cloying maroon stickum, as I shake my head in disdain, and it surely will be a shame. A shame, I tell you.
“There is no ketchup in baseball.” –Detroit Tigers hot dog vendor Charley Marcuse.
Of course, Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry summed it up best when asked by his partner detective if the years of facing the scum, crime and corruption in the city of San Francisco had finally gotten to him. Dirty Harry’s timeless, classic and on-point response?
“No, that doesn’t bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what really makes me sick to my stomach? Watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”
Thanks, Harry. Someone had to say it. Again.