Why New England Hot Dog Buns Are Split At The Top

For many people, the idea of a hot dog bun may be one that is lightly browned, rounded, submarine-shaped, and sliced nearly in half through the side to leave a sort of hinge. When filled with the frankfurter, the bun tends to teeter on its side with the cased meat nestled between the rounded top and flatter bottom. 

But, ask a New Englander what a hot dog bun looks like, and they might have a whole other idea. In this region of the country, traditional 'furter bread options are typically slit cut right through the top, from tip to tip, as the hot dog lies in an opening in the middle of both long sides. 

While hot dog buns were invented in the late 1800s, it was in the 1940s when the New England-style bun (also called the split-top bun, top-sliced bun, or frankfurter roll) was invented. But it actually had nothing to do with hot dogs at the time. The split-top bun was created especially for the clam rolls at the now extinct New England-based restaurant-turned-hotel chain Howard Johnson's. The Maine-based bakery J.J. Nissen was commissioned by Howard Johnson's to create a bun that would stand upright without tipping out the strips of cornmeal-dredged fried clams.

What makes New England split-top buns perfect for hot dogs

Today, New England-style buns remain popular for regional, seafood-based favorites like the lobster roll, with their unique top-loading design helping to hold the sandwich intact. Recognizing the better construction, many on the coast started using these buns for hot dogs, too. While it isn't known for certain how and when the transition happened, Bruce Kraig, author of "Hot Dog: A Global History," credits New England full-service chain Friendly's with popularizing the idea of throwing a hot dog into a buttered and griddled split-top bun. 

This style is not only soft but sturdy, but also has sides begging to be toasted in butter (they are soft and fluffy like the inside of a piece of bread, making them perfect for soaking up melted butter). Another benefit is that the bread is often shorter than standard hot dog bun varieties, so it means that the ratio of meat to bread is favorable. Since these buns can stand upright, they are also ideal for covering a hot dog or beer brat in abundant toppings. 

If you are finding yourself with a strong urge to get your hands on some of these buns, in the New England region, you can still find the original J.J. Nissen brand, among many others. Elsewhere, Pepperidge Farm,King's Hawaiian, and Wonder Bread make split-top buns. If they prove difficult to find outside of New England, as may be the case, you can also purchase them online.