A while back, I was interviewed for the Food and Faith Podcast, and we talked about food and how it figures into our memories. And I had a throwaway line in there where I was talking about the power of food, and I said that the best meal you ever had and your favorite meal was probably two different meals.
My point was that the feelings we associate with food are often separate from the actual quality of the food. This is why my favorite way to eat a hot dog has nothing to do with the best tasting hotdog I ever had.
The best tasting hotdog I ever had was about two weeks ago, in my kitchen. It was the Kirkland bun-length all-beef hotdog, from Costco. It was on a Natures’s Own butter roll, and it was outfitted with dill pickle relish and dijon mustard.
They are in our rotation, and maybe once a month when we need supper in a hurry, I will steam some hotdogs and bake some tater tots and have supper on the table in 20 minutes, with very little mess to clean up.
It’s an amazing hot dog. Really. But it’s not my favorite.
I was six years old and was staying at Monty and Doc’s house. They were the retired farmers who lived next door to us and served as my surrogate grandparents because all of mine were either dead or far away.
Monty was the best cook in the world – I know I said so dozens of times, and usually to my mom when she tried to replicate something I had eaten cooked by Monty, and Mom’s version was found wanting.
“Of course, it’s not as good as Monty’s, Mom. Monty’s the best cook in the world.”
This was probably not, in retrospect, the most empowering thing my mom ever heard.
But anyway, I’m staying at Monty and Doc’s. And for lunch that day, she told me we were having hot dogs.
I loved hot dogs. Mostly, Mom just boiled them and we put them on buns with mustard and ketchup (don’t judge – I was young and foolish). Sometimes, when we went camping, we would eat them grilled. But I had never had Monty’s hot dogs – I just knew these were gonna be great!
I knew something was up when she got out a cast-iron skillet. She then sliced the dogs – the bright red linked dogs you bought at the butcher counter, not the “regular” hot dogs Mom always bought – from end to end. Then she put a dab of bacon grease in the middle of the skillet and turned the stove on medium, and I watched the fat melt and coat the bottom of the skillet. She picked up the skillet and turned it first this way and then that, coating the bottom of the skillet with a thin sheen of fat.
She put the sliced dogs cut side up in the skillet, and cooked them until they got a slight crust on the outside, then flipped them over. At this point, they would often be curled from the heat, and she would take her turner and press the cut side down against the bottom of the skillet until it, too, was crusted.
While they were cooking, she had put white bread (light bread, we called it then) under the broiler to toast. Then she slathered one piece with yellow mustard, put one and a half hot dogs (three strips) on top of that, and then coated the other piece of toast with mayonnaise and the sandwich was made.
I protested. “I don’t like mayonnaise on my hotdogs!” I told her.
“Have you ever had a hot dog sandwich before?” she asked.
Well, no, I admitted.
She told me that meant I didn’t know if I liked it or not, and to sit down and eat my sandwich.
So I did. And that was the day I learned that I love mayonnaise on a hot dog sandwich.