Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BYOB: Red Hot Buns

If you hail from Chicago, or have spent any length of time in this fair city, you know all about the phenomenon that is the "Red Hot." You can skip the next few paragraphs, if you'd like.

My husband and I went to college in Chicago (we were dating back then; we got married the summer before our senior year), which is roughly a thousand miles away from our mutual hometown in New York. I have been to a lot of cities all over the world, and Chicago will forever remain one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. I lived a lot and learned a lot out there in Chicago.

One thing about Chicago that completely mystified us in the early days of our residency there was this culinary icon called the "Red Hot." In spite of the fact that we heard and saw these two words everywhere we looked (much like the words "Old Style" and "Vienna Beef"), we were there at least a couple of weeks and still hadn't managed to puzzle it out. There was a place we'd driven past our first night in the city, called Irving's for Red Hot Lovers ~ and since the place had actual windows you could see through (as opposed to window-obscuring signs advertising "previewing booths"), we assumed the emphasis was on the "Red Hot" and not the "Lovers." Irving's had a service counter, so we deduced that the Red Hot was, whatever else it may be, edible.

At last, I don't remember exactly how, after weeks and maybe months of speculating, we came face-to-face with the mythic Red Hot. Maybe it was at a Cubs or White Sox game, or maybe it was at Irving's or any of the other hundreds of places you can go in the Windy City to get a proper Red Hot. Regardless, I remember that I was a little surprised to find that the legend that had been so obscure to us was, essentially, a hot dog with the works.

Now granted, the "works," in the context of the Chicago Red Hot, means diced onion, sliced pickle, sweet relish, hot peppers, yellow mustard, celery salt, and chopped tomato heaped atop a beef hot dog nestled inside a poppyseed bun. In the parlance, this is referred to as a hot dog that has been "dragged through the garden." Go to Chicago and order just a "hot dog," and you'll likely get a naked frank in a bun and your choice of ketchup or mustard to cover its shame. Order a Red Hot, though, and you've got yourself a meal.

Now, a hot dog so lavishly decked out requires not just a hot dog bun but a "Bun-yan." (Get it? as in giant-lumberjack-sized bun? Okay, maybe that's a stretch.) A roll so big and dense and substantial that it can stand up to not just a quarter-pound hot dog but fixins, too. When I decided to make hot dog rolls for the first time, this being the year of BYOB and all, I immediately thought back to Chicago and those amazing Red Hots. I searched online for a recipe and found one, on the King Arthur Flour Web site.

These are terrific buns whether you fill them with Red Hots or plain-old hot dogs or even just butter them and eat them that way, as we did with the leftovers. They make terrific mini sub rolls too.

Chicago "Red Hot" Poppyseed Buns

Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour
  • 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

  • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt

  • 1 cup (8 ounces) water

  • An egg wash made from 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

  • Poppy seeds

    • Manual/Mixer Method: Combine flour, oil, sugar, yeast, salt, and water, by hand or in a stand mixer, beating until the dough comes together in a ball. Knead by hand or mixer (using the dough hook) until it’s smooth and satiny, then put it in an oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to coat it with oil, or brush the surface lightly with oil, and cover the bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it’s doubled, about 1 hour.

      Assembly: Gently de-gas the dough by pressing your fist down into it (no punching, please), shape it into a 12-inch log, cover with a piece of oiled plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll the dough into a 20 x 8-inch strip. Cut the dough (a pizza wheel works well here) into ten 4-inch squares. (Cut in half lengthwise, then into fifths vertically.) Shape each square by folding it over, pressing the edges to seal them, then rolling to form a bun about 6 inches long. Flatten the buns till they’re about 2 inches wide, and transfer them to lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving 3 inches between them. Note: If you prefer to tear the buns apart from one another after they’re baked, place them so they’re only about 3/4-inch apart. Cover the buns with a piece of oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until they’re puffy.

      Brush the buns with the egg wash, and sprinkle the tops with poppy seeds. Bake the buns in a preheated 350°F oven for 16 to 18 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, cool them on a rack, and store tightly wrapped, or freeze.

      Yield: 10 large buns

      Printable version (of original recipe)

      You can find a complete version of this recipe (with instruction for bread machine) and other great recipes at


Judy@nofearentertaining said...

I wonder if these same rolls would work for hamburger buns? They look so good! I am loving BYOB!

glamah16 said...

I need to make these for the Germans sausages when he gets back. I was first perplexed by Chicago's hot dogs. But there really is no other way. Give me the onion, pickle, sport peppers, celery salt,neon green relish,and tomato.

Kate said...

This is SO amazing. I just joined your BYOB, as you know, and I decided one of the early items I'd try were poppy seed hot dog buns. I've bought the seeds already.

We finally got out here in the West, a hot dog stand where the proprieter claims they are the true, famous Chicago style hot dogs -- except the buns. He can't get them, so they come on a standard, plain roll. What---? Isn't that against the law?

It set me to thinking. Here is restaurant owner, granted, just a fast service style but, nevertheless, a full service, extensive, sit down hot dog place, and he can't get poppy seed buns from the commercial vendor, so he doesn't offer them. How hard could it be for venders to make a poppy seed version? Or do trick out his own in some fashion?

Once it occurred to me that it wouldn't be terribly hard for HIM, that meant it wouldn't be terribly hard for me, either... and it went onto my BYOB list. You read my mind and made your post, again, just for me. That's so darned nice of you!

Micha .:. Scraping the Skillet said...

Yay! I love Chicago style dogs - memories of home! The other love, that my husband has yet to experience in it's full glory is the Italian Beef. That would require a different kind of bun, though.

Sandy Smith said...

Judy: I don't see why they wouldn't. They're very much like a kaiser roll in texture. I typically use a different recipe for my burger buns because it's my son's favorite (it's denser and sturdier - can really stand up to a mighty burger) but these would work great too.

Courtney: Oh yeah! These are perfect for sausage buns because they're huge!

Kate: Amazing ~ to even think of selling Red Hots without the poppy seed buns! Maybe you should make a batch and take them to this guy. Perhaps this is a cottage industry in the making for you! And wow ~ I'm so glad you liked the post I thought up just for you! ;)

Micha: I LOVE Italian Beef and have an awesome slow-cooker recipe that my dear friend used to make for all our office parties when I was an editor back in Chicago. I'll have to post that on Eat Real sometime. And I'll start searching for a suitable bun recipe! Yay, Chicago!!

Mary Beth Magee said...

Sandy, I grew up in New Orleans and for us, hot dogs meant the lunch counter at the Kress store. The buns were almost like slices of bread scored in thirds and carefully bent to hold the wiener. (I'm probably not describing them very well, but I haven't seen them anywhere else in my lifetime.)

When I moved to Illinois in the 1980s, I was astonished at how hard it was to fine a place that served hot dogs without the poppy seed buns. Once I got used to them though, I came to appreciate the subtle distinctions you so eloquently described.

Now I'm out here in Northern California and wondering where to find a decent dog. Go figure...

Great article and recipe. Thanks

Alejandra said...

Oh no! Now I'm craving hot dogs and it's not even noon! These look awesome!

KAF Customer Service said...

Thanks for mentioning King Arthur Flour's recipe! For Mary Beth the hot dog buns you remember are New England Style hot dog buns.

Joan@ KAF bakers hot line

Aparna said...

I made these from the King Arthur Flour site, too and they were delicious.
I do almost all of my own bread baking as I now have a wider choice and it definitely tastes better.
Thanks for visiting my blog.

EAT! said...

Having grown up in Chicago for the first 30 years of my life, I miss good deep dish pizza and Chicago dogs when I moved to the East Coast. Can't wait to make my own poppy seed buns!!

Frieda said...

I love your blog! Thanks for the add! I would love to join your BYOB...I have been baking mine for years and have just starting blogging about it...I look forward to sharing recipes with you!

Anonymous said...

Those poppy seed buns look wonderful! Thanks for the friend add on Foodbuzz. Great blog!

RecipeGirl said...

neat story! What perfect looking buns. Great job with those!

mia said...

oh yum. But I REALLY wanted to see how your hot dog looked when you were done loading it up :)

Anonymous said...

I was so in the mood for real dogs, and I cannot get MaryAnn buns (the only real buns for Chicago dogs!) out here west of the Mississippi, and I found your blog. Huzzah!

The recipe is rising as I type.

Just one little correction, if I may: No one who knows Chi-town dogs would ever put ketchup on their tube steak. It's just not done. :)

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