The 5th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff
This is going to be an epic post, so there’s only one way I can kick this off:
Here’s how this story starts: last year, someone linked an article to our blog talking about a hot dog cookoff that had recently taken place in Brooklyn. This produced mixed feelings. First, Mike and I drooled over the fact that someone made a dog with poblano peppers and pork. Second, we were heartbroken to learn that we had recently missed the cookoff before we had any idea of its existence. Fast-forward to about 3 weeks ago when I remembered about this cookoff. I looked it up and Heavens Be Praised! it was to take place on July 31st! For some reason, Eye of The Tiger started to play in my head, and I pictured myself entering the grounds of the cookoff like when Hulk Hogan would enter the ring with I Am A Real American blasting in the background. The needle skipped off the record though when I looked further down the page and it said SOLD OUT! I wanted to cry…but NO! I soldiered forth and contacted the awesome and powerful Kara Masi, grand poobah and originator of the cookoff. After some groveling and sobbing (help me Kara Masi, you’re my only hope) she made two extra tickets available.
Here is the rundown of the event, and why it transcends the search for delicious dogs. First and foremost, it is a great fundraiser for different charities in NYC.
City Harvest is an agency in NYC that rescues excess food from all corners of the city’s food industry. They have a fleet of trucks, bicycles, and other volunteers that bring it to emergency programs around the city. According to their site, they will collect 26 million pounds of food this year. The Cookoff was able to raise $6,000 for City Harvest. You should check out their website here.
Ok, here is what the cookoff is all about…20 competitors striving to make the most delicious and unique hot dog creation (or RGD for you regular readers). The competition originally started in Ms. Masi’s backyard five years ago and continued to grow to the point where a local brewery, Kelso of Brooklyn, became the lead sponsor and location of the event. Over 300 people attended this year’s event. What made this especially exciting for me was that I had a 5 minute walk from my apartment! This year, the competition took place on the street outside of the brewery. The cookoff was separated into 2 rounds. There were 10 chefs/teams cooking during the first 2 hours, and the next 10 cooking for the final 2 hours. The chefs would then cut their dogs into thirds since there are a few hundred guests. All chefs had the option of using hot dogs donated by Hummel Bros. Quality Meats (from New Haven, Connecticut), with either an all-beef or a beef/pork blend. This was a great tasting dog with strong flavor. They also had a DJ playing great tunes and the MC was George Duran who has hosted shows on both TLC and the Food Network. I should also tell you first that you can find a lot more info at the cookoff website. And now…the dogs!
Yes, this was an entry. I think I overheard the chef say that this was a plum-flavored ice cream in a chocolate croissant bun. A good idea for a dessert dog but with a fatal flaw. Their station was right in the sun and that might have prevented the ice cream from being able to maintain its tubular shape.
The first proper HD was a great one, The Old Country Brooklyner. We met chef Eric Friedman later on and he discussed his dog construction, topped with spicy sauerkraut, thick-cut bacon, on a toasted pretzel bun. This was a great combination of ingredients and won the Working Dog award. This honor is described as being less flashy, ‘recognizable as a hot dog and tastes great.’ Eric was a really nice guy and talked with Ali and I for a while. This is his 5th year in the competition.
This is the hot dog version of John Madden’s Turducken feast. It consisted of chicken terrine in a hot dog (picture it like the Combos pretzel snack) wrapped in turkey bacon, with cornbread stuffing on a biscuit. I didn’t realize it was a stuffing and thought it was some kind of turkey sausage gravy. It tasted good though and was reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
This civilized treat is an all-beef dog wrapped in English bacon and topped with baked beans seasoned in HP sauce, red onions, and chopped fresh tomato. This was a good sloppy dog, the kind where you have to pick up the toppings off the plate with your fingers.
This was my favorite dog of the day but alas, they did not win an award. It was topped with green tomato relish, hot pepper jelly, radish & carrot pickles, smoked paprika & scallion aioli. I really liked this because sometimes the best way to bring out the flavor of a dog is with fresh, light ingredients. Cheese and bacon have a great place in the hot dog cannon, but this tasted really refreshing to me compared to the other heavy dogs of the day.
I didn’t tell Mike this, so I guess he will find out now, but since the competition was held at a brewery, it meant that there was unlimited beer all day. But I hate beer, so thank god for the sponsor P&H Soda and Syrup Inc.! The syrups are very unique and we had soda flavors like ginger, hibiscus (shown above), and tangerine. They all tasted great and I am a new fan of this local artisan soda. People lined up for 20 minutes for beer but I had ginger soda whenever I wanted.
Before getting back to the dogs, I should briefly mention the lead sponsor, Kelso of Brooklyn. First, I think at some points more people were on line for beer than dogs. They had two different types available, a pilsner and a Saison (a summer Belgian style beer with notes of citrus, strawberry, hay and clove). I have no pallete for beer and think it all tastes the same…terrible. But I was able to drink the Saison for about 4 or 5 sips before giving up…a true triumph!
According to the judges, this dog by Karol Lu and David Roderick won the Best In Show award. It’s an all-beef dog on top of spicy purple slaw and topped with deep fried pickle chips and remoulade sauce. The toppings were few but that meant flavors weren’t competing with each other. Plus, it was very easy to taste the dog; so I suppose these contributed to earning the grand prize. Very tasty!
The Luau was Ali’s favorite. This dog is wrapped in bacon, and topped with a tropical salsa of pineapple, mango, papaya, maraschino cherries, and jalapeño peppers. The buns were freshly made the night before; it was a Hawaiian type bread that is made with pineapple juice instead of water. This made it sweet and a little more dense than your typical hot dog bun.
The Swahili Dog was another very unique selection. They describe it as a Kenya dog with coconut milk infused beans paired with spicy “pickle” atop a lime “nyama choma” blackened dog wrapped in chapati. I just looked up nyama choma, and it is a Kenyan dish of roasted meat, typically beef shortribs. The ingredients were all very unique but it was the dog itself that caught my attention for two reasons. The dogs were so well-done, there was a small ring with a different texture around the outer edge. Also, each bite released a shot of zesty lime. No other dog at the competition was infused with another flavor.
After finishing this dog, we went to go get the final two of the first round, but we actually ran out of time. We did not get to try the Cubanelle, which is a spicy dog with a 5-cheese pepper sauce. Nor did we try the Ditty Mao; I don’t know what the ingredients were, but the description alludes to mint, carrots, and daikon. At this point we had 8-10 1/3 pieces of HD. At the beginning of the day, we were pretty cavalier, occasionally going for seconds and not being intimidated by the bite size pieces. But when you eat about 10 of them it adds up to a coma-inducing bowling ball in your stomach. Ali and I were slowing down, but we forged ahead into Round 2 of the competition.
I love when people substitute other foods for bread. These chefs have created a paradigm shift in how we hold our hot dogs. Who needs bread when you can just put your dog in a semi-hollowed out cucumber! This refreshing combo is topped with curry mayo, fresh herbs from the chef’s rooftop, and frizzled shallots. There was a nice contrast between cool and crunchy cucumber with the softer, grilled dog.
This is the dog that Mike and I became aware of last year, and I was excited to hear it was in the competition again. This dog had poblano peppers and a sweet corn sautee, spicy tomatillo salsa, carnitas-style braised pork and avocado crema. I think it would have been great to have an entire Mexitastic instead of just a sample piece. That way you could get hit with different flavors with each bite. I’m usually skeptical about hot dogs in tortillas but it worked with this combo. Unfortunately, at this point in the day we were starting to struggle. I could only take one bite of each of the next few dogs.
Yup, there’s a dog in there. It was a little similar to the Mexitastic in that it stuck to the Mexican theme. This bun was an arepa however, which is like a corn fritter. This was the best kind of hot dog super taco we’ve ever had. It also won the Best Toy Dog award, which is the fancy, decadent, ‘bells & whistles’ dog. Que bueno!
By the time we got to this dog, I could barely eat. I hit a wall and could only muster a small bite. This is unfortunate because Ali said it was really good. Maybe it was the cheese and bacon which made it look really heavy. Or those crunchy onions.
It was at this point in the day that me and the mrs. began the thousand-yard stare that only two people with a 0.2 blood hot dog level are capable of showing. We took several pictures of what ‘really full’ looks like. I have been banned from showing these pictures however so you just have to imagine it. We sat at the curb digesting in order to make room for a few more dogs.
Before telling you what’s in the dog, it’s very obvious that there’s a lot of pasta as a topping. I used to tease Ali and be grossed out during college when she would stare down financial limits by adding hot dogs to her spaghetti in lieu of sausages. It appears that she has had the last laugh because the dog above won the Top Dog award which is determined by the popular vote from the crowd. Luca Brasi is an all-beef dog wrapped in prosciutto di parma with bacon bits & basil pesto topped with garlic and oil spaghetti, traces of hot banana pepper, parsley, fresh grated parmesan, torn fresh mozzerella and a basil butter sauce! Wait, I’m not done…it’s also topped with Goldfish and served with an antipasto that includes an olive, fresh mozzerella and sopressata drizzled in oil. Whewooooooo! These guys put a ton of work into this dog and I have to admit that it was very tasty. Their basil pesto was friggin’ delicious and the sloppy factor was a plus for me. I like it when you can’t figure out how to pick up a dog and where to bite first.
These were the two loudest guys at the competition and clearly understood the concept of showmanship. They might have been carny barkers in a former life. The chef is also called Diamond Dave because he wrote a book and has a website all about engagement ring secrets. I asked him to describe his creation for me. He said that the dogs were marinated in Kelso beer and topped with a sweet apricot sauce, crunchy veggie sticks, and pine nuts (somewhat resembling diamonds). This was the sweetest dog of the day; I liked the apricot sauce because I have a big sweet tooth. Although they did not win an award, I think they themselves were a crowd favorite.
Another diamond guy? Yes, but for a different reason. This dog was very tasty and brought the heat. It was a beef and pork dog basted with bacon grease, with toppings of jalapeno slaw, cheese, and sweet & spicy sauces. As I write this post, this seems to be the dog I want to eat the most right now. The diamond reference is two-fold, which I will explain half-assedly. In the photo above, you can see that there is diamond scoring on the dog, a smart move in that it holds the condiments and toppings in place, a family tradition for the chefs. The other reason had to do with something about a guy that their grandfather knew named Diamond Jim. I can’t really remember the rest, and hopefully my brief explanation is actually correct.
This was our final dog of the day. We had actually taken a 30 minute break at the end of Round 2 and this team was still cooking! Something strange had happened to us, and it was as if we had somehow shifted space around in our stomachs. I grabbed El Guapo with gusto and vigor, happily eating the all-beef dog topped with fresh guacamole, crumbled nacho chips, and salsa.
We didn’t actually eat this dog but I got a photo in mid-preparation. It looked really good and won the Beta Dog award which is 2nd place by the judges. This dog is named after the NY Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and it’s what they make for their tailgate parties. I gotta start going to Jets games so I can find these guys and get in on the Sanchize action. This team decided to buck the trend and use Nathan’s hot dogs, instead of Hummel’s, because it is the quintissential NY dog. It appears to be topped with sour cream, guacamole, bacon, pickled onions, and possibly more. We also missed out another dog, the Hawaii 5-0, and I also missed a photo op. The Hawaii 5-0 was a firey spiced pork dog with a pineapple slaw and a mornay sauce (which is made with a base of Bechamel sauce (which is made by whisking scalding milk into a white flour-butter roux) with shredded or grated cheese, usually gruyere and parmesean). I bet it was really good.
Damn, so that means Ali and I ate 16 out of 20 dogs. The only thing you can eat after that is dessert, which was provided by Adirondack Creamery. Creamy and rich, this ice cream contains all natural ingredients and hormone-free milk.
This was the best first hot dog competition I’ve ever attended. I look forward to returning to the 6th annual competition. Here are a few more pictures of the day.
Thanks again to Kara Masi, as well as to her fellow organizers Melissa Sands and Jennie Gustafson for a well run event. Can’t wait until next year! And thanks to Ali for going straight from Bikram yoga to a wonderful day of big ass-itude.