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The Dog Days of Summer

July 25, 2002

Like baseball games and apple pie, hot dogs are an American icon. New York street carts, 7-Elevens, baseball stadiums, backyard barbecues - these are the places we expect to find hot dogs. Yet, as consumers have become increasingly health-conscious, hot dogs have become stigmatized and their appearance limited. In the Washington metropolitan area, a place where food and nutrition go hand in hand and any fad diet gets its 15 minutes of fame, hot dogs are hard to find.

FIVE GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES, with four locations in Alexandria and Springfield, is one of the few area restaurants offering hot dogs as a regular on their menu. Five Guys cooks up 100 percent beef, kosher hot dogs. A variety of toppings, ranging from fried onions and sautéed mushrooms to the traditional ketchup and mustard, are available to flavor up your dog at no extra cost. They also offer three types of dogs, regular for $2.49, with cheese for $2.99 and cheese and bacon for $3.49. Five Guys cooks its hot dogs fresh, while you watch.

The 7-Eleven, in addition to selling everything under the sun, cooks up hot dogs daily. The well-known chain serves four versions of its popular Big Bite. The Big Bite, a 1/4 lb. Oscar Mayer hot dog, now comes in a smoky version and a spicy version of the same size, as well as a 1/3 lb. version, the Biggest Big Bite. These dogs sell well at lunch time, when people are looking to grab a quick bite. The 7-Eleven offers free toppings for its hot dogs, including chili, cheese, Vidalia onion relish, jalapenos, pickle relish and salsa. A Big Bite combo, complete with a 16 oz. Gulp and a bag of chips costs $1.99. This can be upgraded to a Bigger Bite, with a 32 oz. drink, for a mere 70 cents more.

TRADER JOE’S offers specialized versions of your favorite hot dogs. Trader Joe’s features uncured beef and uncured turkey hot dogs. These hot dogs do not contain nitrates or nitrites, some of the least desirable components of hot dogs.

According to Lisa McGary, George Mason nutritionist, these preservatives have been linked to some types of stomach cancers. The uncured beef and turkey hot dogs at Trader Joe’s do not contain these possibly harmful preservatives. Trader Joe’s also offers a beef and pork hot dog with natural casing and a reduced fat version of the kosher Hebrew National beef hot dog. For vegetarians, vegans and health-conscious consumers, Trader Joe’s carries the popular brand Smart Dogs and Jumbo Smart Dogs. Trader Joe’s has locations in Alexandria, Bailey’s Crossroads, Fairfax, Tysons and Reston.

McGary suggests limiting pork and beef hot dogs to the occasional barbecue or ball game. These dogs are high in preservatives, fat and cholesterol. Turkey dogs offer a lower fat content, as do reduced-fat and fat-free dogs, which most brands now offer. McGary recommends vegetarian hot dogs as the ultimate healthy alternative. Vegetarian hot dogs, made from soy protein and wheat gluten, offer a low-, or no-fat, cholesterol-free dog. Smart Dog, Yves, Morningstar Farms and Tofu Pups are a few of the many brands of veg dogs out there.

ACCORDING TO MCGARY, the hot dog of choice on the George Mason campus is of the all-beef variety. McGary offers up a range of reasons for this preference, from religious beliefs prohibiting the consumption of pork, to the belief that all beef is healthier than pork, to the preference for a bolder-flavored hot dog. Former New Yorker, Jeanette Paroly also prefers 100 percent beef, kosher hot dogs. “I like to get my hot dogs from a kosher deli or buy Hebrew National,” Paroly explained. Mike Scott of Fairfax Station prefers Oscar Mayer brand hot dogs. For a good hot dog, Scott recommends the Vienna Inn. The Vienna Inn is well known for its chili and cheese turkey dog. Neil Davis of Burke prefers turkey dogs to the other kinds out there. Davis originally began eating turkey and tofu dogs because he said they are healthier than other types on the market. Now, he likes the way they taste. Ball Park, another favorite is chosen for a variety of reasons. Many like the fact that “they plump when you cook ‘em.” Others enjoy the taste, which is reminiscent of the dogs you find in baseball stadiums.

Hot dogs still have their appeal, as evidenced by the number and types of hot dogs available at the local grocer. Changing consumer taste has forced the modification of the traditional hot dog but they are still here.