A Condiment Confession

I have a confession to make …. I put ketchup on hot dogs.

The subject of whether to put ketchup on hot dogs is one of passionate debate.

The subject of whether to put ketchup on hot dogs is one of passionate debate.

In Chicago, this confession puts me in the same category as people who root for the Packers or Cardinals, but it’s the truth. And I can’t figure out why some people think this is SOOOOOO wrong.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a Chicagoan. Though I’ve lived in the suburbs for many years, I grew up in a small town about 60 miles south of the Windy City. Maybe this has made me more independent minded. However, celebrity chef Anthony Boudain has reportedly gone apoplectic on the subject, and then there’s a video of a rant in which Clint Eastwood as his character Dirty Harry emphatically says, “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”

But I wondered, where did this opposition to such a mild-manner condiment come from and what, if anything, is it based on?

According to the etiquette guide issued by the National Hot Dog ad Sausage Council (yes, such a thing exists), no one over age 18 should put ketchup on hot dogs. Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable, though. This list, perhaps written tongue in cheek, seems to be overly restrictive. For example, it lays down the optimum number of bites you should take to consume at hot dog (five; seven if it’s a foot-long) and that the toppings should be placed on the dog and never on the bun.

Seems a little rigid for such a laid-back dish.

Other items that popped up on the web reiterated the same edict, uh, recommendation. But again I had to ask, “Why?” Other than being one of those stuffy things place under the category of “It’s just not done, my dear,” there didn’t seem to be any rationale for this irrational prejudice against the pairing of hot dogs and ketchup.

A little more digging uncovered some reasoning based more in fact than in hyperbole. In a 2011 Chicago Tribune article entitled Don’t let anyone tell you ketchup can’t go on hot dogs, Bob Schwartz, a Vienna Beef executive, theorized the no-ketchup rule came about with the rise of the Chicago-style hot dog which is topped with onions, relish, tomatoes, cucumber, sport peppers, celery salt and a dill pickle.  Tomatoes enhance the flavor of the hot dog but ketchup was a distraction. Another theory is that ketchup which is laden with sugar is overly sweet and sweet and meat do not mix.

Ah, hah! Finally a rational reason and not one laced in “you can’t do this” tradition.

But frankly, I like ketchup on hot dogs and so does the rest of my family.

Deal with it.

Cora Weisenberger has been writing about food since 1997, first for her hometown newspaper and later for national magazines. She’s a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism, and can be found rattling about her suburban Chicago kitchen preparing goodies for hubby, Greg, and sons David and Jonathan. Read all of her blogs at



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