RE: New Jersey Hot Dogs
Sun, 10/8/06 11:59 AM
This past summer I was part of a team that reviewed hot dogs for the Star Ledger. There was a weekly article that ran along with the regular Munchmobile article that featured a different food each time out. Because of the 2 features (regular Munchmobile and S.W.A.T. Dog) there was a limit as to how much could be included. Everyone on the panel had their own opinions and kept notes. I'll post my opinions here with some observations and comments.
We tried to hit as many places as we could; both the "name" places as well as the more obscure ones. There are easily a couple of hundred if not thousand places serving hot dogs in this state, from carts, trucks, restaurants, diners, to little hole in the wall type places. What follows are my observations and opinions, which were not neccesarily shared by everyone. We visited 87 places. I had been to 49 of them previously. A few that I hadn't gone to I had known about. The remainder were completely new to me.
There were 3 particular dogs that were served at many places. The carts, trucks, and other establishments that served boiled, or "dirty water dogs overwhelmingly used a Sabrett all beef dog. Since the dog and method of preparation were similar, I had to look at ways of distinguishing between the offerings of the many places that served this dog. Most of the team went by toppings. For me, I place the taste of the dog as most important. I usually got chili on half of the dog and tasted the other half first with just mustard. Or I got 2 dogs, one with a topping, one without. When judging the dirty water dogs, I looked for 3 things. Casing. Some had a casing, some were skinless. I prefer casing. Second was size. Many places served a tiny 12 or 13 to a lb dog. And charged what others charged for a bigger 10 to a lb dog. All things considered, I'll take the bigger dog. Third thing was temperature. Some dogs were served barely warm, others hot, others actually cold. I like the dog hot. Also, some natural casing dogs lost much of their snap due to being in the water too long. These dogs didn't do as well in my scoring.
The second brand of dog that we encountered frequently was the Thumanns dog for deep frying. This dog is popular in the northern part of the state, particularly Passaic County. Used a lot by people who serve the North Jersey style of Texas Weiner. In this case, I looked for 2 things that set these places apart. One, if the dog was left in the oil long enough. The better places cooked the dogs longer. I would suggest ordering your dog "well" or well done. The other thing I judged was the chili, as most of the places that use this dog are Texas Weiner joints.
The third most popular dog was the Grote & Weigel Friddle frank. Used at the places that serve a Plainfield area style Texas Weiner. This dog is griddled rather than deep fried, with a thicker or coarser chili. This dog tasted virtually the same at every place I visited. The only way to choose one over another was by the chili. The dogs were 6 to a lb and had less variation than the Sabrett dogs (different sizes and either casing or skinless) or the Thumanns for deep frying (slightly different sizes and variation in frying time).
Another factor to consider is that for the places I had been to many times before, I knew what to expect. But some of them will provide better service and try to provide a better product (more toppings, more attention to how the dog is prepared) when they knew that they were being reviewed. We had no choice but to rate the place based on what we experienced that day. But I can give my opinions of what I experienced in the past.
One other observation. I went to each place with an open mind. Some that I wasn't crazy about in the past, I enjoyed when I went with the team. And vice versa. This isn't an exact science, so certain factors like how you are feeling that particular day, how hungry you are, etc. will affect your taste. I tried to block everything out when judging the dogs. It's also worthy to note that on a few occasions, even though we had eaten a lot, the last dog sampled was judged to be the best of the day.
First outing, 5/18
1) JJ's hot dog truck, Bloomfield Ave. Newark.
They served a 12/lb skinless Sabrett, dirty water style. I've been to JJ's many times in the past. They have a reputation as one of the top trucks in the state. In the past (prior to August of 05) they used an 11 to a lb natural casing Sabrett. Since then, they switched to the skinless version in a smaller size. No doubt to save money. They are open until 3 or 4 in the AM to serve Rutgers college students and other late night revellers. At that hour, anything tastes good, and I doubt that the majority of their customers noticed that they switched dogs. JJ's is highly overrated in my opinion. When we went there, the dog was small and bland from being in the water too long. Again, similar to other places that use the same recipe Sabrett beef dog, what makes this place not as good as many others was the small, skinless, bland, waterlogged dog we had that day. This opinion was shared by most of the team.
2) Dickiee Dees Italian Hot Dogs, Bloomfield Ave. Newark
An authentic Jersey style Italian Hot Dog. They use Best skinless dogs deep fried, as do the majority of places making an authentic Italian Hot Dog. Difference is, these dogs are too small. 12 to a lb. Most use 10 to a lb. Some use 8. 8 is better. But Dickiee Dees uses the tiny dogs. Fried in peanut oil, the dog itself is very flavorful. This place I would rate as top 5 or 6 in the state, but it isn't in the top echelon because of the small size of the sandwich. The potatoes are in chunks rather than thinly sliced which I prefer, but it's a matter of taste. The peppers were hard and crunchy rather than soft. I prefer soft as did most of the team. Pete liked the harder peppers.
3) Amazing Hot Dog, Bloomfield Ave. Verona
A fairly new place known for the wide variety of toppings. They serve a 4 to a lb Best natural casing dog and deep fry it. They call it flash frying, but the dogs are prepared in a deep fryer. They're just fried for a few minutes and taken out before the skin splits open. This keeps the flavorful juices in and works for this dog. Amazing Hot Dog was voted best deep fried dog by the panel. It was also my pick, but I will say that choosing bewteen this dog and a beef/pork dog like Rutt's Hut was like choosing between apples and oranges. Rutt's has my favorite condiment (their relish), but in a tough decision, I picked the tastier dog from Amazing. The dog has a great flavor, but I like the dog a little thinner. Also, I prefer the mustard to be put on the dog, rather than on the bun. One comment made by the team was that there was too much mustard put on the dog. The fries were top of the line, as was the other toppings. The chili was one of the 5 best I sampled. It had a unique flavor. A great place serving a great dog.
More to come soon.