The hot dog is in decline in America, writes Paul Lukas at Bloomberg, and one thinks, "What isn't?" What institution, anyway. If everything were not in decline, then what would there be for journalists to write about (see Andrew Ferguson on George Packer and Haynes Johnson) and what would politicians have to campaign about?
This faith in decline is an indispensable element of the Zeitgeist and largely a bore. Some things aren't as good as they used to be and some are better. And some things haven't changed much because, well, because they can't get any better. The American hot dog belongs in this category and if our countrymen are eating fewer of them ... well, their loss.
There are foodies who have, inevitably, taken it upon themselves to improve that which cannot be improved upon. Including one "artisanal" restaurant, in Brooklyn where the hot dog is served with a sauce that is a "concoction of smoked lard whipped with butter."
This is an abomination.
The old values still abide, though, most fittingly in America's baseball stadiums where the hot dog outsells all its rivals, even though you can now buy sushi at the ball park. Somehow, in this context, a hot dog on a damp, steamed bun, and covered with watery yellow mustard seems more ... oh, authentic than slivered octopus.
If there are Americans who are eating fewer hotdogs or, even, none at all (their loss) some of us continue to eat about as many as we always have. Resistance to change, you know, being the conservative way. And we make a point of eating them on the 4th.
Grilled, of course. Very hot charcoal. So hot that you can't hold the flat of your hand six inches over the coals for more than a second or two. If that. The actual grill has been cleaned hastily with a wire brush and the hot dogs are laid on it in a way that will get the grill marks running across the short axis. You turn the hot dogs when the skin begins to blister. And repeat. Just before you take the hot dogs off the grill, you put the buns over the flame, face down, and leave them there until they are brown going on black. Remove, place the hot dog on the bun, cover with mustard. Catsup, if you must. Open something cold. Beer is the recommended beverage. Then enjoy.
Hot dogs prepared in this way go best with kids and dogs (the kind that bark and dig up the yard), fireworks, flags, and loud music. And with a few moments of reflection on just what the day means and how it got us to this place and this inestimably good life.
Death of the hot dog?