Brace yourself for the short and disputed history of the “hot dog.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, people commonly believed that the thin sausages contained dog meat. This particularly gruesome coinage started on American college campuses in the late 19th century, according to hot-dog historian Bruce Kraig.
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council suggests the phrase, in part, might have slightly more innocent inspiration. In the mid-19th century, German immigrant butchers in the United States began selling variations of sausages, some of which were thin and long, like the dog breed dachshund. They called these dachshund sausages. Over time, the phrase may have been bastardized into “hot dog.”
Two other words for hot dogs — frankfurters and wieners — raise an unsettled debate about where the food originated. The former is named for Frankfurt, Germany; the latter, for Vienna, Austria (wiener is the German adjective that means “of Vienna). Even the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says this argument is too hard to pin down.
And in case, you’re wondering: Non-kosher hot dogs do not contain dog. They have pork in them, whereas kosher hot dogs have no pork and are likely to contain beef, chicken, or turkey. No dog meat there, either.
The word “hamburger” also owes its origins to a German city — in this case, Hamburg. Food historians believe that around the same time sausage-makers were refining their meat products, cooks in Hamburg served up a cooked version of steak tartare. For awhile, the dish was known in English as “hamburger steak.”
If you’re a vegetarian, fear not. We have a word to barbecue for you, too. Throw a tofu burger on the grill and keep this is mind: “tofu” comes from Chinese, by way of Japanese, meaning “rotten bean.”