Thursday, February 3, 2011

Max's Chicago Style Hot Dog

Where can you get a Chicago style hot dog?

The obvious answer is Chicago. But if you live in Birmingham and don't want to go to Chicago for lunch there are some local places serving what they call a Chicago style hot dog. I am no expert on the subject since I have never had one served up fresh in Chicago; but I have looked into the subject a little. I was asked recently if anyone in Birmingham serves a Chicago style hot dog, this by someone who spent several years in Chicago. This question has prompted a new interest in finding out more.

There is also the local item called a "junk yard dog" which usually has a little of "everything" on it. This is different from the Chicago style hot hog but is like it in that it is loaded. But let's think about the windy city rather than the junk yard.

According to Wikipedia A Chicago-style hot dog is a steamed or water-simmered, kosher-style, all beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, originating from the city of Chicago, Illinois. The hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish (often a dyed neon-green variety, sometimes called piccalilli, a dill pickle spear, tomatoe slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be "dragged through the garden" because of the unique combination of condiments. Some variants exist, adding ingredients such as cucumber slices, but the canonical recipe does not include ketchup, and there is a widely-shared, strong opinion among many Chicagoans and aficionados that ketchup is unacceptable. A number of Chicago hot dog vendors do not even offer ketchup as a condiment. To read their whole entry go here.

This all raises numerous questions. The first that occurred to me was; "What is a sport pepper?" I read the link in Wikipedia and still don't really know. I do know that I've never seen a pepper labeled as a "sport pepper" anywhere around here. I like peppers and buy them, cook with them, eat them and have even developed my own unique pepper sauce. I have even used the dreaded habanero pepper, but never a sport pepper.

I hope to determine which of the local offerings are attempts rather than the real thing, maybe even attempts to make the customer think it's a Chicago style hot dog. This particular project will involve some time and effort but should be tasty, filling and fun.

OK here we go.I had discussed with Robert my new interest in checking out the local offerings of Chicago style hot dogs so he suggested going to Max's Deli at the colonnade to try theirs. We had visited Max's many months before during "national hot dog month" and written about that visit here. During this visit we discovered that the offer from July has become their standard menu option, order one, get two.

We arrived at a crowded Max's for a late lunch. Our order was taken by Steve, the owner of Max's. He told us that he named the deli after his father who was known as Max.

On this visit we departed from our usual order to get Chicago style hot dogs. These hot dogs are big. Steve told us he uses only Hebrew National quarter pound hot dogs which can't be bought in the grocery store. Most hot dog sellers would label this as a "jumbo"but not here; at Max's they are business as usual.

So how were the dogs? They had all the ingredients except the pepper. They even use a poppy seed bun imported directly from Chicago since they are not available in Birmingham. Steve told us how, so far, he has not bought the "sport peppers" because they can only be purchased in huge quantities. He seems to be rethinking this ingredient. Regardless, I must say we really enjoyed our hot dogs. We weren't the only ones, they were even enjoyed by some guys at a neighboring table who stopped by on the way out to tell us our dogs looked delicious and how they enjoyed watching us consume them. We had doubts about our ability to finish two of these hot dogs each... but we did it.

I have already talked with the young lady who piqued my interest in Chicago style hot dogs and asked her to join me to give her reaction to some of the local offerings. Unfortunately she wasn't with us on this trip so I might have to return to Max's with her later. I look forward to getting the reaction of someone who has had the real thing and likes them.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about Chicago style hot dogs later. Some of the other places we will visit on this quest are:

Chicago Mike's Hot Dogs
2701 18th Street South, in Homewood
Two blog entries: here and here.

Pop's Grill
1207 20th Street South, in the Five Points Area.
My previous blog entry here.


Tony's Hot Dogs
1922 Highway 31 South, Helena (Near Valleydale Road)
My previous blog entries here and here. (The second entry deals with their Chicago dog.)


  1. I have never heard of a sport pepper either...interesting. Yesterday I received my latest issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray Magazine and there is a large article about hotdogs! 3 guys went all over the US and visited 64 hotdog stands...2 were in Birmingham and one of those was a finalist for winner. I will bring it to you.
    (64 doesn't really seem like that many since there are close that many in Bham alone :)