As the Spirit of Spring Returns with Opening Day, Let’s Sing a Hymn to the Hot Dog

EDITOR’s NOTE—For a number of years, our online magazine has welcomed the start of baseball as a uniquely American contribution to the global religious calendar that we have covered on a weekly basis since 2007. That special focus is thanks to three writers who were born and bred in Abner Doubleday’s denomination: Rodney Curtis, Benjamin Pratt and especially journalist Martin Davis, who will publish his book 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches just before World Series season this year. Shortly after Opening Day this year (April 1, 2021), Martin emailed our offices to say: “I know our readers love regional recipes and I thought of a great connection for this year’s start-of-baseball column.” And here it is …


“A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.”
Humphrey Bogart

“I love a Hebrew National hot dog with an ice cold Corona—no lime. If the phone rings, I won’t answer until I’m done.”
Maya Angelou


A Hymn to the Hot Dog (Carolina-Style)

Contributing Columnist

What sets baseball apart from any other sport in America is the way it ties multiple generations of fans together. No other sport in the country has stayed as popular for as along. Moreover, no game has changed so little. This continuity binds fans across generations to the games.

The game my grandfather followed when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were playing is basically the same game I grew up watching with stars like Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente. It’s the same game my son watched when his heroes were Carl Ripken and Nick Markakis.

No matter who’s in the room, baseball can be discussed. There’s always a good debate to be had. Who was the better home run hitter? Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Josh Gibson or Barry Bonds? Generational divides dissolve.

Another thing that ties baseball fans to the game are the local eateries that surround the ballparks where folks wile away afternoons and evenings.

King’s Sandwich shop in Durham, North Carolina, where I grew up, sits right across the street from the Durham Athletic Park. This gem of a park was built in 1902 and served as the home of the minor league Durham Bulls from 1926 to 1994.

King’s is in the same brick building today as when it opened in 1942. My grandparents would eat there after their shifts at Irwin Mills in the 1940s and 1950s. My mom and dad would take my brother and I there in the 1960s and 70s.

There’s no indoor dining–only picnic tables. And the menu really hasn’t changed all that much. Kind of like the game played across the street.

Hot dogs were then, and remain, the staple cuisine.

Now, in North Carolina, there are only two things that everyone argues about. One is the best way to cook pork barbecue–I’m a vinegar and pepper-based sauce man, myself. The other is who makes the best hot dogs.

It’s a funny debate because the basics of the Carolina hot dog are pretty much the same no matter where in the state you travel. Order one all the way, and you’ll get a dog with mustard, chili, slaw and chopped onions.

One never hears “chili dog” in North Carolina because it’s an oxymoron. Every hot dog has chili, unless you have the audacity to order it plain.

Here’s what serves as our hot dog hymn:

Don’t even think to ask. 

Absolutely not.

Go back to Chicago.

No thank you.
So, here’s to the hot dog—
All the way!
And nothin’ else!

This uniform construction of the Carolina Dog means the differences are in the details. And that means how the chili and slaw are made.

Let’s make one thing clear right away. Hot dog chili never has beans, is not a side dish, and can no longer be bought.

In my youth, every home had cans of Texas Pete Hot Dog Chili in the cupboard. The Winston-Salem based company that made this popular condiment, however, decided to discontinue it in 2015 for reasons that has folks in the Tarheel State still asking, “Why?” Others have tried to produce it, but nothing comes close in texture and taste. On Amazon, where nearly every canned or boxed delicacy can be found these days, has a mournful page with a photo of that Pete’s can we all knew so well—next to a bright red: “Unavailable.”

You’ll have to do what King’s has always done and what true North Carolinians now do–make it.

Cole slaw is the other ingredient that must be made. Now, there are as many types of cole slaw in the world as there are graters on the shelves in kitchen stores. In North Carolina, however, the slaw used on dogs has three things in common: Finely grated cabbage, Duke’s Mayonnaise and just a touch of sugar.

Alright–enough with the history lesson. I’m hungry, and the Nat’s game is about to start. So let’s make some dogs and sit down and enjoy a great game.

(AND NOTE: There is a green “print-friendly” button at the bottom of all our stories. Want an even simpler way to print just the recipe portion of this column? Click here and you’ll find just the recipe text.)

Authentic Carolina Hot Dogs

What You Can Buy

  • 1 package hot dogs. Jesse Jones Hot Dogs are the best, and are widely available in Southern groceries, but if you can’t find them in your neck of the woods, try Hebrew National.
  • 1 package hot dog buns. Some like top sliced, while others prefer the more traditional buns.
  • 1 jar French’s Mustard
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped (Use a knife, not a food processor. Yes, you’ll cry, but great food requires a little suffering.)

What You Need to Make

Hot Dog Chili

  • 1 lb. 93 percent lean hamburger
  • 1.5 cup water
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • ½ Tbsp garlic power

Place the hamburger and the water in a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and break apart the hamburger. You want this to become as fine as you can get it. Add tomato paste, ketchup, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and let cook for 45 minutes, stirring often. Remove lid and allow moisture to reduce until chili is the right consistency. You should be able to pour it on the hotdog with a spoon.

DON’T KNOW DUKE’S MAYONNAISE? Then you’re in for a Southern treat. Clicking on this image takes you to Dukes’s Wikipedia page that tells the distinctive history. Martin Davis is not the only author who recommends Duke’s to his readers. The best-selling mystery novelist Katherine Hall Page also insists Duke’s is essential for Southern recipes she has shared in her novels. Can’t find Duke’s in your stores? Well, unlike Pete’s, Duke’s is easily available from Amazon.

Cole Slaw

  • One small head of cabbage
  • Duke’s Mayonnaise
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Finely chopped dill pickle (Optional)

With a hand-held grater, grate about a cup of cabbage. Use the finest-grade your grater offers. Add a teaspoon of Duke’s Mayonnaise and stir. It should bind the cabbage. If it doesn’t bind enough, add mayonnaise just a drop at a time, otherwise it will overpower the cabbage. Add a dash of salt and a smidge of sugar. If you like, finely dice a small dill pickle and blend it in.

Build Your Hot Dogs

Boil the hot dogs for just a minute and remove from water. Place buns wrapped in a paper towel in a microwave oven and heat for about 10 seconds. Place hot dog in bun; top with mustard, chili, slaw, and diced onion.

Wash it all down with a cold Coke of Pepsi. Or, if you really want the Carolina experience, see if you can find a Cheerwine. Generally speaking, we save the beer for the pig-pickin‘.

But that’s another story.

Bon appétit! And: Play ball!



Care to Read More?

The new book is not yet listed on Amazon for pre-sale, but if you click on this cover—you will visit Martin’s book page full of helpful information and ways to keep in touch with his ongoing stories.

WATCH FOR MARTIN DAVIS’s UPCOMING BOOK—If you enjoyed this column, you’ll definitely enjoy Martin’s upcoming book 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches, which is not yet listed for pre-sale on Amazon but will be released in September. Right now, you can visit Martin’s own website, where he has a full page describing this fun and inspiring book. While you’re there, click on the “E-Newsletter sign up” button in the upper-right corner. Martin publishes columns and sometimes podcasts about sports and values. Enjoy!

ENJOY AN EARLIER STORY HERE—If you’re reading this far into this article, you’ll also enjoy looking back to Martin Davis’s soaring 2019 ode to baseball in ReadTheSpirit, headlined, “When I hear, ‘Play ball!’ it’s like a prelude welcoming me back to the great cathedrals

BENJAMIN PRATT, author and retired pastor, has written about as many spirit-of-baseball columns as Martin Davis for our online magazine. If you want to keep reading, here is one of Benjamin’s most popular columns from our archives, headlined: Field of Dreams.

WANT A GREAT BASEBALL BOOK RIGHT NOW? Journalist, author, photographer and baseball fan Rodney Curtis spins a great yarn in Hope’s Diamond, which is available right now on Amazon.

WANT A GREAT HOT DOG BOOK, TOO? Our authors have you covered! Our Michigan State University School of Journalism author Joe Grimm actually wrote the book on Michigan’s signature hot dog—the Coney. Here’s the Amazon page for his popular Coney book. Then, in Michigan, few people have heard of Cheerwine. We drink FAYGO up here! You’ll also enjoy reading Joe’s story about how he published the FAYGO book and then presented more than 100 book talks about its launch—a record! And, yes, that column has a link to find his FAYGO book on Amazon.

FINALLY, A NOTE TO ESPECIALLY EAGLE-EYED READERS—Yes, we are aware that the photo of a Carolina hot dog featured with our story today was taken just before the final touch—the onions—were sprinkled across the hot dog. That’s what we like to think. In fact, this was the most delicious public-domain photo of a Carolina hot dog we could find to illustrate Martin’s tasty column. So, before you email us with this concern—the photo was captured just before the onions were added. And, that’s our story.

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  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    In a dog eat dog world its good to know that there is really only one real hot dog.