Here's What Makes Polish Hot Dogs Unique

Hot dogs come in many forms in the U.S., but with their unique flavor and preparation, it's no wonder the Polish hot dog steals the spotlight. Don't be tricked by their often skinnier shape, Polish hot dogs pack in more flavor than your typical beef frank. The Polish varieties are made of a blend of both pork and beef, and their cases hold a cupboard full of spices including garlic, paprika, marjoram, thyme, and pickling salt. They're certainly more flavorful than your average wiener.

Another thing that sets Polish hot dogs apart is their preparation. Credited to Chicago native Jim Stefanovic, the original recipe calls for Polish hot dogs to be grilled until their outer casing is sizzling. Stefanovic also chose forgo traditional toppings like ketchup and relish, and opted for a new set of flavor pairings — peppers and caramelized onions — that put this variety of hot dog on the map for good. 

History of the Polish hot dog

Humans have been taking a bite out of this historic food since the Middle Ages when Romans — famous for their cured meats — entered now-Polish territory. The Polish adopted their sausage recipes and created their own unique style and flavor. There was a boon in Polish sausage-making after World War II when the government — who then owned all the meat plants and shops — became the authority on how to make sausages. Through official recipes and inspections, they ensured all Polish sausages were of the highest quality.

Polish hot dogs took off in the States in 1939, when Jim Stefanovic began working at his aunt's hot dog stand in Chicago and transformed it into the birthplace of the Polish hot dog in the U.S. With business still booming at Jim's Original today, customers can enjoy this one-of-a-kind meal when they order the Maxwell Street Polish: a traditional Polish hot dog topped with caramelized onions and sport peppers, nestle between a bun that's been pre-smothered in mustard. Jim's Original makes the sausages in house using an 80-year-old family recipe, and these dogs are not to be confused with the also popular Chicago-style hot dog

Polish hot dogs remain popular in restaurants and retail stores alike, and even became the center of controversy at one point. In 2018, Costco stopped selling Polish hot dogs that were previously available at their popular food courts. Customers were disheartened at the change, but the famous dogs haven't reappeared.

Make your own Polish hot dogs at home

When you hit the grocery store, don't pick up any old beef frank, make sure you choose the right meat. Polish hot dogs have a variety of names, so look for any of the following: Polish sausage, Polska kielbasa, or pork and beef hot dogs. Polish hot dogs tend to be longer and skinnier, but you can also find Polish sausages that fit in a standard hot dog bun. And for extra crispy hot dogs, give them a beer bath before you throw them on the grill.

While the Maxwell Street recipe is iconic, you can also add your own twist or substitutions to your Polish dogs. Stefanovic originally used sport peppers to add heat to the dogs, which range from two to five times hotter than a jalapeño. This punch of flavor is a great compliment to the sweetness of the caramelized onions, but you can swap them for the milder serrano pepper for less kick. Additionally, some adaptations of the recipe harken back to Polish roots and swap onions for sauerkraut — a topping made of fermented cabbage — which adds more tang to the overall taste. Don't be afraid to put your own spin on this dish that is truly a cultural culinary fusion.