Don’t bring wine to a hot dog party.
Don’t serve sausages on fine china.
Never let a fork or knife touch your hot dog and always, ALWAYS leave an empty plate when you’re done. To leave any bits of bun behind would be an insult to the chef, to the dog, and to the United States of America.
These rules, among many others, appear on the “hot dog etiquette” page of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council website. The Council—a no-joke, non-partisan organization established by the American Meat Institute in 1994—mainly serves as a resource for nutrition, quality, and safety information about America’s favorite tube of meat. But with etiquette standards like those listed above, the Council takes on a cultural mission as well: to maintain “the unpretentious nature of hot dogs,” a food that has come to symbolize the simplest pleasures of boardwalks, barbecues, and all-American, bun-in-the-sun summer leisure.
The simple purity of hot dogs is something we can all agree on. However, one edict on the Council’s site might make your buns quiver in fury—especially if you’re a fan of the reddest condiment. Per the Council’s orders, it is absolutely unacceptable to “Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.”
That’s right: If you’re an adult, NO KETCHUP FOR YOU. (Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable.)
It’s an age-old hot dog debate, hotly contested in the Frank Belt of downtown Chicago and other legacy beef towns. The rationale? “Ketchup smothers the flavor of the hot dog because ketchup makers add sugar to their products,” writes the Straight Dope, paraphrasing BBQ guru Mel Plotsky, former sales manager for the David Berg hot dog company in Chicago. “That takes the edge off the highly acidic tomatoes, but it takes the edge off everything else, too. Which is exactly why a lot of parents like it.”
If you have young kids in your life, you’ve probably witnessed the earliest signs of ketchup obsession firsthand. (I’ll never forget the day I saw my two-year-old nephew ignore a perfectly good plate of chicken nuggets as he forklifted gobs of raw ketchup into his mouth with his bare hands.) Ketchup is sugar paste that swallows up anything it touches, including sumptuous beef franks. Simply put: ketchup is kid’s stuff.
“We all have to grow up sometime.” says Janet Riley, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Wien” and former Council President, in a helpful etiquette video on the Council website. “Besides, legend has it that within the city limits of Chicago you can be arrested for such an offense.” (We couldn’t find any proof of this second claim, but we did uncover this head-scratching list of the most bizarre laws in every state.)
Should you be arrested for sullying a hot dog with sugar sauce? That’s up to the states. Should you be ashamed of yourself for doing so? That, friends, is between you, your conscience, and the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.