Wednesday, July 01, 2009

As American (and Southern) as apple pie, sweet tea ... and red hot dogs?

The Charlotte Observer has a great piece on the appeal of red (you know the ones) hot dogs. Those things are one of those great Southern mysteries, like grits, that people either love or hate. (I like 'em; the wife won't touch 'em.)

In fact, the bright red dogs have developed loyal followers that (according to the article) there are people who won't eat anything BUT a red hot dog.

"This holiday weekend, depending on where you live in North Carolina, the hot dog peeking out from under your mustard, chili and slaw is likely to be bright red," says the Observer. ...

" 'It's the flavor and the tradition,' Manly Turner, 51, explains while eating lunch last week at Jones Lunch in downtown Clayton, about 140 miles east of Charlotte.

"Johnston County is ground zero in North Carolina for the fire-engine-red dogs. The county is home to two makers: Carolina Packers and Stevens Sausage Co. ...

"The red dog not only has fans in North Carolina but also throughout the Southeast. In Alabama, the Zeigler brand is preferred. Along Highway 11, also called the Lee Highway, in southwestern Virginia, hot dog shops and lunch counters serve the Valleydale brand. ..."

The article even delves into that age-old question: why -- or rather HOW -- are they so red?

"What you probably don't know is all hot dogs used to be red, explains Bruce Kraig, a professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago who just wrote 'Hot Dog: A Global History.' (Kraig recently did a taste test with about 150 people in New York City. The crowd preferred Bright Leaf hot dogs over Oscar Mayer.)

"In the 1960s, when concerns were raised about a commonly used red food dye possibly causing cancer, most hot dog companies stopped using red dye. But in the South, hot dog makers switched to other red dyes to keep that scarlet color. Now the same dye used to color cough syrup and cherry soda is used in those dogs.

"It was the same at Carolina Packers. 'We started with the red. We continued with the red,' says Jean Jones, president and CEO of Carolina Packers. ..."

So there. Happy Independence Day, red hot dog eaters!

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