The Staple Barbecue Side That Makes Atlanta-Style Hot Dogs Iconic

Hot dogs go perfectly with grilled corn on the cob, crinkle cut potato chips, and creamy potato salad — but what if you put a summery side dish on the dog inside of beside it? Atlanta-style hot dogs take advantage of this unusual but genius idea, topping the franks and buns with coleslaw for an all-in-one delight.

The hot dog at drive-in chain The Varsity is perhaps Atlanta's most iconic. This bustling establishment has been around since 1928, and has long been a destination for celebrities, dignitaries, and Atlantan hot dog lovers. The coleslaw includes minced cabbage, a bit of grated carrot, and just enough mayonnaise-based dressing. Folks that frequent this joint are often fans of keeping it simple with just the frank and slaw served in a steamed, split-top bun (also called a New England hot dog bun). The chain also offers its coleslaw as a topping for a chili dog with mustard, with the option to add cheese.

Whether you're ordering from an Atlanta institution or making them at home, this regional hot dog definitely boasts a winning combination. The cold, crunchy, and sweet coleslaw provides the perfect contrast to a simple, meaty frank. The tangy and crisp topping can also lighten up meaty chili and zippy mustard. It is everything that you want at a backyard cookout or tailgate party, all in a squishy steamed bun.

The history of slaw dogs

Atlanta-style hot dogs are also aptly known as slaw dogs, and they are popular outside of Georgia as well. West Virginia actually lays claim to the idea, as slaw dogs appeared within the state sometime around the 1920s; it is said that other versions proliferated from that point on. Just like with Chicago hot dogs, these veggie-loaded franks were more than likely created to affordably stretch cheap processed meat and bread into a more satiating meal. You can get a sense of this old-time feel at The Varsity, where employees clad in white aprons and red paper hats are known for enthusiastically asking, "What'll ya have? What'll ya have?" when it's time for you to order your dogs.

West Virginia's take on the slaw dog usually gets topped with a thin, beanless chili (often just called "hot dog sauce"), yellow mustard, diced onions, and very finely minced cabbage coleslaw (hold the carrots). However, those in the northern part of the state tend to favor dogs with just the chili-mustard-onion combination, and skip the slaw entirely.

You can find other famous twists on slaw dogs in the Carolinas and other parts of Georgia. Sometimes the slaw adorns a frank that has a beef and pork mix, and other times it is an all-beef wiener. Though you will find as many versions as there are slaw dog lovers, this is one of simpler regional hot dog styles that still manages to pack a punch.