The National Hot Dog Council Has Strict Rules For Topping Etiquette

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) takes its role as a champion for the iconic American comfort food pretty seriously. In fact, since being founded by the American Meat Institute in 1994, the NHDSC has not only established a hot dog glossary to ensure proper linguistic usage, but it has also established etiquette rules that apply solely to those who are engaged in the act of consuming hot dogs (aka wieners or frankfurters).

Hot dog etiquette, as you might imagine, doesn't have much in common with the etiquette rules practiced in fancy restaurants. The NHDSC doesn't care if you have your elbows on the table, and their idea of napkin etiquette is decidedly different from fine dining experts. According to the NHDSC, one should always eschew cloth napkins in favor of the paper variety, which may be wiped across the face as necessary. The rules aren't pretentious at all, in other words. But a few of them are somewhat controversial, and they mostly boil down to the toppings. Yes, there is official topping etiquette when it comes to franks.

For example, the NHDSC is no friend of ketchup. Back in 2008, the organization came out strongly against the popular tomato-based condiment, claiming it should never be used on hot dogs, at least by adults. As shocking as this admonition was, the NHDSC followed it up with strict recommendations regarding the proper order in which condiments should be applied, with a distinction made between those that are "wet" or "chunky."

The NHDSC's etiquette rules for hot dog toppings

When the NHDSC stated in no uncertain terms that it was against ketchup use on hot dogs by all but children, its spokesperson noted that such aberrant condiment usage could even get you arrested in Chicago. This reference to Chicago laws was tongue-in-cheek, as no legislation of this sort has ever been enacted in the Midwestern city. But Chicagoans are as adamant about the condiment's unsuitability for hot dogs as NHDSC officials, and traditionally, Chicago-style hot dogs are only topped with yellow mustard, relish, and a few other approved ingredients. Tomato wedges make the cut, but not ketchup.

The NHDSC agrees that mustard and relish are great condiments to use on hot dogs, and also gives the thumbs up to cheese, chili, and onions. The organization's recommendations don't stop there, however. The NHDSC has also divided toppings into wet, chunky, and other categories, and issued strong recommendations regarding the order in which these toppings should be applied — and where. Don't even think about letting mustard touch the sides of your bun, for instance.

There are four steps to properly adding toppings to hot dogs, according to the NHDSC. Wet toppings like mustard should always precede chunky ones (relish and sauerkraut, for example). Shredded cheeses are a category of their own, meanwhile, and should be layered on third, with seasonings saved for last. All of these toppings, regardless of category, should be applied directly to the hot dog, not the bun.

Why the NHDSC opposes ketchup on hot dogs

The NHDSC isn't fantatical about its etiquette recommendations. It just wants this classic American ballpark-style snack treated with the respect it deserves. Nothing fancy, mind you. Hot dogs are still meant to be eaten with one's hands, and if they're served on anything, it should be paper (or standard use) plates and napkins.

In fact, if it wasn't for the ban on ketchup for adults, the NHDSC's etiquette guidelines would seem pretty reasonable at any backyard barbecue. But the Washington D.C.-based champion of all things hot dog and sausage related has stood firm on this issue. Perhaps it's because ketchup, while popular at backyard barbecues, is not used in the most popular regional hot dog traditions, which, per the NHDSC, are those originating in New York, Chicago, and Michigan.

Chicagoans, of course, don't want ketchup anywhere near their hot dogs, and Michiganders apparently feel the same. The Michigan, or Detroit-style hot dog, is famous for its chili, cheese, and onions. Ketchup is also not a traditional topping for America's favorite regional wiener, the New York-style hot dog. Like its Chicago brethren, New York's hot dog makers aren't opposed to the tomato. Just as Chicago hot dogs boast tomato wedges, New York-style dogs feature tomato paste, along with mustard, onion, and sauerkraut. So maybe it is just kids that like ketchup on hot dogs, and according to the NHDSC, that's okay. Adults, however, should know better.