The 7th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn!
It’s like the Super Bowl, NYC Marathon, and America’s summer lunch all rolled into one great gustatory event! Once July 1st comes along, all I can think of is The Great Hot Dog Cookoff. This is the third time I went and it seems to grow in popularity every year. From the original cookoffs in organizer Kara Masi’s backyard, to a block party, and now to the gigantic lot at the former Pfizer headquarters (now owned and supplied by Acumen Capital Partners LLC), this is one of my favorite new annual NYC events.
The most important part of the cookoff is that all net proceeds are donated to Food Bank for New York City. And with hundreds of people attending every year now, that translates to thousands of dollars in addressing the needs of those less fortunate around the city. The second most important part is that for such a large event (I heard around 600 people attended this year), you need sponsors and supporters to make it happen. There are way too many to list, ranging from concessions, supplies, and prizes, so you can check out the cookoff website to see everyone that got involved. There are some I should mention though: Kelso Brewery helped fuel the gastrothletes, Applegate Farms provided the nitrate & nitrite free organic hot dogs to all the competing teams, and Fairway Market jumped on board as a new sponsor. I could also swear I saw a trio of people wearing Martin’s Potato Roll polo shirts, so maybe they were scouting out the event as well.
Hans was the first person I thought of to join me on the quest to eat as much as possible. I knew that since we were successful last year, he could repeat his performance this time around. It’s important to have a partner to keep you straight through the haze of hot dog induced hallucinations, and Hans was the Dr. Gonzo to my Raoul Duke. We would have to rely on each other to eat everything and interact with others while hiding the meat sweats and increasingly dilated pupils. Here’s the quick run down of the event: 24 amateur teams compete for glory by assembling Picasso-esque sandwiches. There’s a crowd favorite and a judge’s favorite. This year was also the first time they included a Pro Row, consisting of 5 professional teams of restaurants and butcher shops. And now…the dogs. Grab a snack, this is a long read.
This was our first dog of the day, and it turned out to be my favorite, and deservedly won 1st Place for crowd favorite. This is a great story for chef Joe Maino since he has come in 2nd place during the past 2 years. As always, his dog is named after someone from the NY Jets, and this time it’s their center, Nick Mangold. Although the team didn’t have their trademark tailgating beer pong table, they didn’t need it. He and sous chef Sal Coluccio stuffed a Royal Crown bakery bun with a deep fried Best brand hot dog and topped it with Tailgate’s own chili, bacon onion jam, and deep fried cheddar cheese balls. I’m usually not a fan of lots of deep fried stuff, but the flavors and textures were awesome. His chili was really unique; I could swear he used some Indian spices or cinnamon. And the deep fried cheese balls, which could be a great snack on its own, was an inventive way to get gooey cheese on the dog without being completely sloppy. This combo stayed true for the hot dog purists and was inventive enough for the blaspheming adventurers. I voted for this one before the contest was over.
Mike Stewart and Charlie Mirisola of the Brooklynauts blog entered the contest again with the very deceptive Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. It’s topped with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese all on a buttered and toasted Martin’s potato roll. The meat was mysteriously beefy looking, and upon closer inspection and tasting, this hamburger somehow disguised itself in tube form. It was fun and subversive but almost guaranteed to not win any hot dog awards.
We continued to move down the line towards You Had Me at Swine, created by John Torluccio and Ray Leadward. As seen in the sign above, they decided to brine their dogs and then grill them. They then topped it with a 100 year old chili recipe and pepperjack cheese. They also added some sides, which while tasty, were unnecessary for a hot dog competition. I just had a nibble because you have to eat carefully when trying to eat 25 samples.
The third place crowd vote went to Shawn Reilly and Jim Mather’s Belly’s Mexican Dog-Popper. Their Applegate dog was covered in a black bean puree, wrapped in a cotija arepa, fried, and then topped with a jalapeno vinaigrette. It was a unique and successful way of taking the bun out of the picture, while the vinaigrette creeped up and smacked me around.
If I remember correctly, one of the teams, for the first time, was in the top 3 for both crowd and judges’ favorite. Therefore, they gave another team a chance for winning, and that spot was earned by Basil Lee and Kevin Stafford for their 99% Dog. This was topped with a chili mac n cheese, crispy onion frito crunch, and pickled bird pepper relish. I remember this dog having an amazingly similar taste to nachos!
That’s right, they put the executives and the 99 percenters in the same competitive cooking tent. Former champs Scott Holt and Janice Wright had a dog that held no intrigue for me at first, mainly because it had mushrooms, which creep me out. But after biting in, that didn’t matter anymore. Their dog was also topped with onions, bacon, blue cheese, and a wine sauce all on a thick, crusty roll. Hans wasn’t a fan of the roll, but once that wine sauce hit my tastebuds, I was definitely won over.
This was one of the dogs I was really interested in trying. Veteran cookoff competitors Eric Michielsen, in his trademark Vienna Beef t-shirt, and Christian Olson combined their dog with a Chicago style Italian beef sandwich. The dog was wrapped in a soft chewy roll and topped with top sirloin and giardiniera peppers. Then chef Eric grabbed each sample and dunked it in a vat of beef gravy, which, incidentally, is a beautiful thing to witness. I’ve never been to Chicago and it’s on my list of food destinations. So for now, I will have to settle for these occasional great Chicago bites in NY.
Chefs Petrit Husenaj and Mike Kaufman created a simple and tasty slaw dog, and topped with what I think was Thousand Island. I think this was the only regional type of dog entry. The slaw was crunchy and not overly creamy, and the bun was nicely grilled.
Veteran competition chefs Tony and Merrilee Santoro are back again with their semi-tradition of baking their own rolls. A few years ago they made a delicious Hawaiian bread and this year they made their own sourdough rye buns. Their dog was lightly smoked with even more homemade toppings including corned beef, sauerkraut, spicy Russian dressing, and melted swiss. I like what they were going for but the tasty bun and large amount of sauerkraut masked the rest of the ingredients. The dog tasted good but wished I had more corned beef and swiss.
Noah Berland and Aaron Fox continue with their tradition of experimental dogs. They made an ice cream dog a couple of years ago (which unfortunately was tough to keep solid in 100 degree weather). This time around they made a play on Vietnamese Shrimp and Papaya Salad and summer rolls. I think they had some trouble keeping their creations in one piece because those wraps are very delicate. It was a bit of a sloppy mess but quite tasty. Hans was bowled over by the delicious peanut sauce.
I think it was at this point where Hans began to doubt how much his stomach lining could stretch. I don’t think the beers helped and he seemed to recognize that too. But it was hot. And he wears all black 12 out of 12 months. It was time for that beer. We actually weren’t even halfway through yet, but he began to change his mind when we got on line for our next dog.
This dog deserved all the votes it got. Chefs Laena McCarthy and Eric Sherman made the anarchy dream come alive. Laena made my favorite dog a couple of years ago, and made another crazy creation last year. Dubbed the Jam Queen and Meat King, they placed the dog in a duck fat toasted potato roll and topped it with ‘ducktastic’ chili, chive crema, aged cheddar, garlic pickled onions, duck and jowl bacon crispies, and a beer jelly drizzle. Sometimes the competitors put on too many toppings that compete with each other and the dog can get lost. However, this basically had high quality chili, cheese, and onions with a couple of textural components to create one of the best entries of the day.
I had to take a break from the dogs for a second when I saw these dudes sporting the best t-shirts of the day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a shirt from the movie Major League. And Val Kilmer twirling a volleyball? C’mon! Thanks Doug and Jim!
Chef David Ross was aided by a sous chef whose name I unfortunately didn’t write down. Plus, I think I heard them say they were missing an ingredient. It seems like the above combo is incomplete, maybe because it’s all on a stick. The dog was skewered with a grape and pineapple, but drizzled with sriracha sauce. I never would have thought that sriracha could mix with fruit, but this was a surprisingly good combo of flavors.
While waiting in line for our next dog, I snapped a photo of John wearing this Hot Doug’s shirt. He then realized that he read about Hans and I eating all of the entries in last year’s competition, and recognized Hans from the blog. We basked in the glow of being notable hot doggers while waiting for the next great entry.
I thought this was pretty great, and felt it needed a large display. It’s pretty self-explanatory and was really fun, but did not win any awards. It’s a hot dog done up General Tso’s style on a bed of broccoli and sprouts with sesame seeds, green onions, and chow mein noodles on top. Perhaps it didn’t get any awards because the General Tso sauce was stronger than the dog, but I thought it was very tasty and quite photogenic!
Sung Lee and David Kim had the only Korean entry of this year’s competition (I think there were at least 2 last year). Their dogs were marinated in a spicy Korean chili paste and topped with pork, kimchi coleslaw, cucumbers and toasted nori flakes in a lettuce wrap…in a bun! I enjoy Korean dogs, especially topped with marinated meat!
Joe Gonzales and Cassie Walker served up traditional franks and homemade beans but served a bit unconventionally. This spruced up version was garnished with green onions and served ‘bruschetta style’ on cheddar jalapeno cornbread. Something to consider trying on your next camping trip!
This was the last of the south and southeast Asian dogs that we ate. And what a strangely compelling creation by Eric Childs and Alexei Taylor. Everyone who competed put so much work into everything, but these guys had the extra task of making intricate rolls on the spot for hungry bbq fans. They kept up their great attitudes and salesmanship throughout the whole competition and deserved their prize. For those of you who are thinking this is a total abomination, you should really try it first before judging. It reminded me of the shredded seaweed toppings at Japadog. The nori is an unusually complementary taste to hot dogs, and is not as potent as you would think. This wrap contained the hot dog, sweet melon, ginger, and probiotic Kombucha slaw. At the beginning of the competition, Hans said that he could probably skip this dog…it sounded too healthy. He was glad he changed his mind.
Although I was still feeling good at this point, and not on the verge of a meat coma, my tastebuds were becoming a bit overwhelmed. There were many rich ingredients throughout the day. My cholesterol and blood pressure were probably at a record high. Maryanne Nigro and Adam Meregith didn’t help matters any with their Daffy-inspired dog. However, the duck fat, duck bacon, melted cheese and spicy mustard can feel free to kick my cholesterol’s ass any day.
We rounded the bend and reached the final straightaway with Michael Tyrrell and George Janin’s dog called the Pierre-Sanchez. Chef George was on the team that created my favorite dog from last year. According to their description, their creation was a combination of French and Mexican flavors. Some people may not like the huge list of toppings, but it was a well executed spicy and refreshing mix. The first layer was chipotle, roasted corn, and bittersweet chestnut honey. On top of that was a cool cucumber-green apple slaw and cilantro. It’s taken a lot of eating over time to realize that my favorite dogs include fresh non-meat toppings, and I really enjoyed what this team offered.
I made my way over to the Pro Row and had my sights on the offering from Marlow & Daughters, a butcher and restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the interest of saving time (even though you’ve probably spent all day reading this post) I will encourage people to check out the cookoff website for the pro row menu. I should first say that Mile End Delicatessen was another competitor, and I think they make one of the best dogs in NYC. But I wanted to try another offering. This entry was made in the style of ‘choucroute garnie.’ Their housemade all-beef smoked dog was topped with housemade sauerkraut, smoked bacon and mustard on a challah bun made from Hot Bread Kitchen. This was a beefy and rich selection, and they took home 2nd place from the pro row!
Hans and I reached mile 26, which apparently ends in France. The Hot Dogiflette is a riff on a popular French dish called a tartiflette, which originates from the Haute Savoie region and is made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions (according to Wikipedia). The Dogiflette variation was made with melted cheese, potatoes, sauteed onions, sour cream, and fresh herbs on a baguette. A great bunch of toppings, but at the end of the day it was WAAAAY too much food. The potatoes and sour cream were as tall as Mont Blanc, with the hot dog helplessly buried beneath. It was a tasty and rich dog to end on, but with room for only one bite.
I should add that I also had an entry called The Hot Dogpling, which as you could guess, was a hot dog dumpling with shrimp and pork, and served with hot mustard and spicy catsup. Unfortunately I sometimes forget to take pictures in my eating frenzy, so my apologies to chefs Cathy Erway and Shunya Togashi. There were a few dogs I couldn’t try, because the teams ran out of samples. Maybe it was because of the huge amount of people that attended. I missed out on one that was topped with strawberries, goat cheese, basil, mint, and balsamic vinegar. Another had slow-simmered BBQ sauce, smokey cheddar and pickled jalapenos. But unfortunately, I missed out on the Father & Son dog, which brought in 1st place by the judges. This was a beef dog topped with veal ragu, gremolata, pickled chili, aged provolone, creshed funyons, on a bone marrow butter toasted bun. Yeah, it does sound awesome doesn’t it. When asked what Father & Son title meant, the chefs referred the crowd to the beef and veal combo. Ashley Berman and Ericka Martins brought home the gold in their first outing at the cookoff! Congrats! And the 1st place prize for the pro row was brought home by The Meat Hook, a Brooklyn butcher shop that created a pasture-raised beef & pork dog in a natural lamb casing topped with roasted jalapenos, Kewpie mayo and housemade Mexican coleslaw. According to their website, their “hot dogs outsell the charcuterie twenty to one.” That says a lot for why they won the prize for the pros!
Many thanks to the amazing organizers of this awesome event. Kara Masi, Melissa Sands, and Jennie Gustafson have done a terrific job in putting this together year after year for an ever larger and hungrier crowd. Also an extra thanks to Jennie who sought me out to tell me how much she likes the blog! What an honor! The music was fun, the food was great, and repeat MC George Duran made it a complete day. Hopefully Mike will finally be able to join us for the 8th annual cookoff. Can’t wait to test out next years competition!