The Creamy Ingredient That Defines Seattle-Style Hot Dogs

Whether you consider hot dogs to be a sandwich or not, there's no denying they are one of the most popular foods in America. Not only are there hot dog eating contests across the country, but so many regional variations of this meaty treat exist, making it impossible to be bored by the classic street food. 

In New York, you can find them served traditionally with onions and mustard. Chicago-style dogs are a "drag through the garden" affair topped with mustard, neon-green relish, tomatoes, and sport peppers, among other ingredients. In Detroit, Coney-style hot dogs are served with meaty chili, mustard, and onions. And in Arizona, it's prepared Sonoran-style: wrapped in bacon and grilled, with a bottom layer of beans and topped with tomatoes and jalapeños.

One of the most interesting variations on a hot dog, however, comes from Seattle, the birthplace of Amazon, Starbucks, and grunge music. Vendors in this city might serve you a dog on a bun smeared with cream cheese — yes, the spread more often associated with bagels and smoked salmon. 

The origins of the Seattle-style dog

Like many delicious foods around the country, the Seattle-style hot dog was invented on the fly. According to NPR station KUOW, it started with a man named Hadley Longe. Originally from the Midwest, Longe ran a bagel cart in a college town in Illinois before moving to Seattle in the late 1980s. There, he started selling bagels at night from a cart in Pioneer Square, a popular nightlife hotspot where a music style later to be known as grunge was born.

Here, Longe would get repeated requests from hungry patrons for hot dogs instead of bagels. Not willing to give up on bagels entirely while also satisfying the request of customers, he turned to a relative of the bagel known as a bialy stick. Split lengthwise, it could accommodate a long hot dog, but before placing a dog in the bialy, he added a trademark smear of cream cheese. Mr. Longe's invention turned out to be a hit among hungry club goers, and soon other vendors started to copy his style, giving birth to the regional street food.

Making your own Seattle-style hot dog

Before you fly across the country to get a Seattle-style hot dog, try making one at home. All you need are hot dogs (or Polish sausages), cream cheese, sliced white onions, and classic hot dog buns (and some jalapeños if you like it spicy). To begin, take the cream cheese out of the fridge to soften. Then, cook the sliced onions with oil in a pan on medium heat slowly until they soften and caramelize, which should take about 15 minutes. In the meantime, cook the sausages or hot dogs as desired in a pan or on the grill until lightly browned. Toast the surface of the cut buns, and smear cream cheese on them.

To serve, simply place the sausage in the bun and top with the caramelized onions and jalapeños, if you choose. If you want more crunch and spice, you can add cabbage and sriracha sauce. Pair with a Starbucks coffee and some Alice in Chains playing in the background, and your Seattle experience will be complete.