Alaska's Reindeer Hot Dogs Pack A Coca-Cola Flavored Twist

For enthusiasts of food history, exploring how a particular cuisine or individual dish has evolved over time and across different regions is a genuine delight. A single food item can provide a snapshot of a place, its people, the agricultural products it yields, and much more. In America, where there is a vast amount of geographic and cultural diversity, regional cuisine takes on an entirely new meaning. Although it may not seem like a significant culinary achievement, the simple hot dog is one of the under-the-radar dishes that defines American cuisine, offering an unexpectedly rich insight into a specific place.

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans consume approximately 20 billion hot dogs a year, and there are myriad unique regional variations of this dish. While most hot dog styles revolve around an all-beef sausage and vary mainly in their toppings, America's northernmost state challenges this concept. Alaska's reindeer hot dog is made with a sausage that combines beef, pork, and, yes, reindeer, a species scientifically known as Rangifer tarandus and more commonly referred to in North America as caribou. This hot dog is served in a steamed bun topped with whichever of the usual suspects appeals to you — ketchup, mustard, or relish — as well as onions that have been caramelized in Coca-Cola for a unique twist on a classic.

What does Alaska's hot dog taste like?

While caribou is not a meat option you're likely to find in grocery stores or on menus around the world, the animal is native to Alaska, and has been a key food source for its indigenous tribes for thousands of years. What does caribou taste like? The meat itself offers a complex blend of sweetness and umami flavors with a gamey taste most often compared to duck or venison. While many prefer hunting moose or other large game for standalone meals, reindeer is widely agreed to lend itself beautifully to dried jerky, pepperoni, and sausages.

You may not immediately jump at the chance to try Alaska's reindeer hot dog, but in a side-by-side comparison with the traditional New York-style hot dog, you might find you prefer it to the classic — it's long been a favorite among tourists and locals alike. Reindeer sausage is every bit as meaty and delicious as your standard all-beef frank, but it's juicier and more robust in flavor, subtly spiced, and delightfully snappy. Paired with the unexpected magic of Coca-Cola caramelized onions and your favorite condiments, the finished product is perfectly balanced and incredibly satisfying, checking more flavor boxes than you knew a hot dog could.

The future for reindeer hot dogs

Since reindeer and caribou have long been integral to the life and culture of indigenous people in Alaska, it's only natural that they would eventually become a staple in the region's local sausage landscape. Predominantly produced by Alaska Sausage and Seafood and Indian Valley Meats, reindeer sausages have been sold in restaurants and food trucks year-round for decades. But for how long can we expect to enjoy these unique hot dogs?

Although a beloved and long-standing component of Alaskan foodways, the Western Arctic caribou population has been in dramatic decline since 2017, with herd numbers lower than they have been in decades. Factors like industrial development, overhunting, and, most significantly, climate change have put great strain on reindeer and caribou. As of December 2023, the caribou population in the Western Arctic stood at 152,000. Stricter hunting regulations will be in place until the overall herd numbers can improve. Through careful monitoring and conservation efforts, hopefully, this animal will continue to be a significant part of Alaskan tradition and life well into the future.