AmazingRibs.com is supported by our Pitmaster Club. Also, when you buy with links on our site we may earn a finder’s fee. Click to see how we test and review products.

Absolutely, Positively No Ketchup on Hot Dogs. Never. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Some people say there is a ketchup controversy. There is no controversy.

Chicagoans, reknowned for our worship of the all beef frankfurter, understand that ketchup is popular with children because they like sweet stuff, so they don’t argue with kids who order it on their franks. But if you are over 18, never, ever, no how, no way, allow ketchup nowhere near a proper hot dog in Chicago. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Apparently no less an authority than National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, the official trade association based in Washington, DC, agrees. It has codified the rule in their paper on “Hot Dog Etiquette and everyday guidance for eating America’s sacred food”. There it is in black and white “Don’t use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.” In their video (at right) they add “We all have to grow up sometime”.

In Chicago, if you want ketchup on your dog, they’ll point you to the bottles used for garnishing French fries and tell you to “go rune it yaself.”

It is such a Chicago shibboleth that when Bob Schwartz, a VP of Vienna Beef, the leading Chicago wiener supplier, wrote a book, he titled it “Never Put Ketchup On A Hot Dog“. He calls ketchup an “affliction”.

Another famous Chicagoan, President Barack Obama, made it official with a proclamation on June 3, 2011 while visiting one of the Rudy’s Hot Dog stands in Toledo, OH. Obama and the mayor stopped in for a chili dog, but apparently the subject of ketchup came up. “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog,” your President said.

Anthony Bourdain relates a conversation with the POTUS when he asked him if it is ever acceptable to put ketchup on a hot dog? Anyone running for office, would say, “Well, you know, to each their own” but he said, after the age of 8 an intervention is required. “And I agree,” the Chef/author/TVstar said, “I think there is a time and a place for ketchup and I don’t think the hot dog is one of them.”

Sure, the chef was his usual brash self with the president, but like so many of us, he’s sweating that upcoming holiday dinner. “This is a situation that’s fraught with peril and there’s probably all sorts of simmering resentments going on,” he told Kasper. “I get really nervous.” His advice for cooks with a case of nerves? “Most importantly, you don’t carve the turkey at the table.” Leave nothing to chance, says the chef — he roasts an additional “stunt turkey” to get the oohs and ahhs, but serves a different bird he’s already carved in the kitchen.

So there you have it. Big government once again interfering on our right to chose. Just have a look at this highway sign on Chicago.

road sign: no ketchup

The late great Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago columnist Mike Royko said it better than anyone in a column on November 21, 1995 “No, I won’t condemn anyone for putting ketchup on a hot dog. This is the land of the free. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a hot dog and actually eat the awful thing, that is their right. It is also their right to put mayo or chocolate syrup or toenail clippings or cat hair on a hot dog. Sure, it would be disgusting and perverted, and they would be shaming themselves and their loved ones. But under our system of government, it is their right to be barbarians.”

This is not just a Chicago prejudice. In Detroit, the town that hates Chicago, Charley Marcuse vends hot dogs at Comerica Park for Tigers games. He is world famous for his operatic cry of “Ho-O-ot Do-O-ogs”, a chant that delights and infuriates some fans. But if his siren song lures you in, don’t ask for ketchup. He’ll tell you in his tenor in no uncertain terms “There is no ketchup in baseball!”

Nobody drove home the point more profoundly than Dirty Harry. In the film “Sudden Impact”, Clint Eastwood, playing San Francisco detective Harry Callahan, a.k.a. Dirty Harry, appearing at a crime scene, blows his top while watching a cop munching on a hot dog: “Nah, this stuff isn’t getting to me, the shootings, the knifings, the beatings, old ladies being bashed in the head for their social security checks… Nah, that doesn’t bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It’s watching you stuff your face with those hotdogs. Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog.

In another film, the 2005 remake of the movie Bad News Bears, Tanner Boyle declares “My dad says the only people who put ketchup on hot dogs are mental patients, and Texans.”

Cecil Adams, syndicated author of the popular Q&A column “The Straight Dope” and self-proclaimed “The World’s Most Intelligent Human Being”, tried to explain the problem in 1991 in a column called “Why is there no ketchup on a properly made hot dog?” From a culinary standpoint he explains “Ketchup is destructive of all that is right and just about a properly assembled hot dog… Ketchup smothers the flavor of the hot dog because ketchup makers add sugar to their products. That takes the edge off the highly acidic tomatoes, but it takes the edge off everything else, too… Put ketchup on it and a kid will swallow anything — and from there it’s a straight shot to Velveeta cheese, Franco-American spaghetti, and Deborah Norville.”

Purists like Adams argue that one would never put sweet ketchup on a steak, so why defile an all-beef frank? Of course the sweetness argument has a fatal flaw if you are a Chicago Dog purist. The standard Chicago Dog has seven compulsory ingredients offered in all of the estimated 1,800 hot dog stands in the city (where hot dog restaurants far outnumber burger joints). The Chicago Seven are mustard, raw onions, hot sport peppers, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, kryptonite green pickle relish, and savory celery salt. Yes, there it is, right before your eyes, dear purists, glowing in the dark: Sweet pickle relish colored with blue dye to give it the signature iridescence of the relish in Chicago.

In an August 3, 2011 Chicago Tribune column titled “Don’t let anyone tell you ketchup can’t go on hot dogs” Kevin Pang challenged Chicago pride as deeply as the day the Bears fired Mike Ditka. “For many of us, we know deep inside that ketchup indignation is a facade, a narrative we fulfill for civic pride. We have the Second City complex. We have two baseball teams with one World Series championship between them since Woodrow Wilson was president. We lost the Olympics. Our governors have this thing for committing felonies.” Pang quotes Jeff Ruby, dining critic at Chicago magazine: “My stance is that it’s perverse for any person to tell another what he can and can’t put on his food. That’s foodie fascism.”

In a followup article the next day, Phil Vettel, the Trib’s restaurant critic asked around. He asked Nick Kokonas, co-owner, Alinea, called by many the best restaurant in the nation. “To this day I only order them one way: mustard only. The mustard must be yellow mustard. I enjoy pickles on the side. Tomato too. I really like Dijon and grainy mustards and if I am having a certain kind of sandwich or making a salad dressing, they are wonderful. But a Chicago dog has one thing: yellow mustard. One of my sons puts only ketchup on his hot dogs. It is troubling. But to answer directly, it is never OK.”

Doug Sohn, chef/owner, Hot Doug’s, called by many the world’s best hot dog restaurant said “I’m more morally opposed to food rules than I am opposed to ketchup on a hot dog. I don’t think the flavor of ketchup matches well to other toppings, but if someone wants ketchup on their hot dog, and I know this sounds like heresy, I’ve got no problem with it. However, if you order a hot dog with everything, we’re not putting ketchup on it. Tsuris like that I don’t need.”

Merrill Powers, a friend of mine who competes on the barbecue circuit tells this tale: “My son has been frequenting Gene & Jude’s, a well known Chicago hot dog joint. I had never been there and he asked if we could go there for lunch. Not being one to deny myself a good lunch, I agreed. While in a very long line, he says, ‘They have the worlds best ketchup here, you have got to try it. It’s not bottled, I think they make it here.’ OK, 17 year old son being helpful, I should have been suspicious. Following his advice, I asked for my dog with ketchup and onions. The entire line stopped, leered at me and I was told to go to the back of the line. They were serious. They would not serve me! They don’t even have ketchup for their fries. Which are fresh cut and out of this world. My son and his friend were laughing hysterically! I had the last laugh though… I had the money and he had to go to the back with me! He didn’t think that part was funny.”

My motto for years has been “No rules in the bedroom or the dining room.” But frankly, I’ve been thinking of changing it to “Only one rule in the bedroom or the dining room.”

Oh and one last thought. If you read the comments below, there is ample evidence that ketchup on hot dogs impairs your sense of humor.

Related articles

Published On: 7/14/2013 Last Modified: 4/22/2021

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and much more!

Millions come to AmazingRibs.com every month for quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 4,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner like TV network or a magazine publisher to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club, but please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get 21 great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial membership, and help keep this site alive.


Post comments and questions below

grouchy?

1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.

Moderators

  Max

Click for comments...

Spotlight

These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on AmazingRibs.com and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys: https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs


Blackstone Rangetop Combo: Griddle And Deep Fryer In One


The flat top does the burgers and the fryer does the fries. Use the griddle for bacon, eggs, grilled cheese, and so much more. And why deep fry indoors when you can avoid the smell and mess by doing it outside!

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


Fireboard: The Ultimate Top Of The Line BBQ Thermometer

Fireboard Labs Product Photo Shoot. Kansas City Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photographers ©Kevin Ashley Photography

With the ability to monitor up to six temperatures simultaneously with either Bluetooth or Wifi on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer, Fireboard is the best digital thermometer we’ve tested.
Click here to read our detailed review


Compact Powerful Sear Machine For Your Next Tailgater


Char-Broil’s Grill2Go x200 is a super-portable, fun little sizzler made of heavy, rust-proof cast aluminum. The lid snaps shut. Grab the handle and you’re off to the party! Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared design produces searing heat while reducing fuel consumption. A 16 ounce LP gas canister is enough to keep you flipping burgers for hours.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


GrillGrates Take Gas Grills To The Infrared Zone


GrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, kill hotspots, flip over to make a fine griddle, and can be easily moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips, pellets, or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke.

Click here for more about what makes these grates so special


Finally, A Great Portable Pellet Smoker


Green Mountain’s portable Davy Crockett Pellet Smoker is one mean tailgating and picnic machine. But it’s also gaining popularity with people who want to add a small, set it and forget it pellet smoker to their backyard arsenal. And with their WiFi capabilities you can control and monitor Davy Crocket from your smart phone or laptop.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


The Efficiency Of A Kamado Plus The Flexibility Of The Slow ‘N Sear Insert

kamado grill
Built around SnS Grill’s patented Slow ‘N Sear charcoal kettle accessory, this 22-inch kamado is a premium ceramic grill that brings true 2-zone cooking to a kamado.

Click here for our article on this exciting cooker


The Pit Barrel Cooker May Be Too Easy


The PBC has a rabid cult following for good reason. It is absolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world. Period. This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers because temperature control is so much easier.

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them