Plenty of people surely will disagree, but I firmly believe that underdressed hot dogs simply aren't worth the calories.
If all you're going to do to a hot dog is drizzle some ketchup, splurt some mustard and spoon some relish on it, it's not worth the effort to eat. I favour a well-dressed dog, a hot dog accompanied by robust and inspired toppings that transform this classic summer food into so much more.
As such, my preferred hot dogs tend to be on the overflowing and messy side. But that's why they are summer food, so you can eat them outside.
But just because they are overflowing and messy doesn't mean they shouldn't have a plan. I like to draw inspiration from other dishes when planning the toppings for a hot dog. An Indian curry, for example, is a fine starting point when selecting toppings. Same for Greek spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie), pizza and tacos.
THE CURRY DOG
One part Indian curry, one part all-American dog, this frankfurter isn't afraid of big, bold flavours. There's not a whole lot of work involved in this hot dog, but the potato roll is key. It not only has a crazy good taste and texture, it's also a subtle nod to the potatoes added to so many more authentic curry dishes. Paneer, a heat-resistant Indian cheese that can be grilled, usually is found in the grocer's international or specialty cheese aisles.
— Drizzle a bit of canola oil over 4 hot dogs, rolling them to coat evenly. Sprinkle the hot dogs evenly with curry powder (mild or spicy, to taste). Grill the hot dogs, as well as 4 small slabs of paneer, over medium heat. Grill the cheese for 3 minutes, flipping once, or until nicely browned on both sides. Toast 4 potato hot dog buns on both sides. Finely chop the grilled paneer and fill each toasted bun with some. Place a hot dog over the cheese, then spoon mango chutney over the top. Garninsh with chopped fresh cilantro. Serves 4.
THE GREEK DOG
Inspired by the gobs of feta cheese and spinach that are layered into classic spanakopita, this hot dog has the big, robust flavours of Greek food.
— Thaw 1 cup of loose-packed frozen shredded spinach, then squeeze it over the sink to remove as much water as possible. In a large skillet over medium-high, heat a splash of olive oil. Saute the spinach, a diced medium yellow onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic. When the onion is tender, season with salt, pepper and dill seed. Grill 4 hot dogs and toast 4 hot dog buns over medium heat. Spoon some of the spinach mixture into each bun, then place a hot dog over it. Top with crumbled feta cheese and, if desired, a bit of purchased tzatziki (Greek yogurt dip — sold alongside the hummus). Serves 4.
THE PIZZA DOG
Because the only way to make meat-wrapped meat better is to add melted mozzarella cheese.
— Using 2 slices of prosciutto per hot dog, wrap 4 hot dogs tightly in prosciutto. Grill the hot dogs over low heat, turning regularly, until the prosciutto is crisp and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, fill 4 hot dog buns with bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella). Toast the buns on the grill (bun opening facing up) until the cheese is warm and starting to melt. Place a hot dog in each bun, then top with oil-packed chopped sun-dried tomatoes and chopped fresh basil. Serves 4.
THE TACO DOG
Soft and crunchy and spicy and creamy — exactly the way a taco should be.
— Spoon refried beans into 4 hot dog buns. Lightly crumble about 12 tortilla chips, then sprinkle some over the refried beans in each bun. Grill 4 hot dogs over low heat. Toast the prepared buns (bun openings facing up) until the beans are heated. Place a hot dog in each bun, then top with sliced jalapeno peppers, tomato salsa, sliced black olives and shredded cheddar cheese. Serves 4.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Follow AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.