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According to USA Today, more than 20 billion hot dogs are consumed in America each year, an average of 60 hot dogs per person, meaning the majority of us either enjoy hot dogs or at least know a little about them.
If there’s such a thing as the All-American food, it might be the hot dog.
Just like with other dishes, however, the hot dog has become somewhat regional in that folks from each area of the country claim the way they prepare their hot dogs to be the best.
Ordering a hot dog “all the way,” particularly in the South, usually means the hot dog is topped with mustard, chili and onions.
Regardless of the location, most people have an opinion about the best hot dog and the best place to get one.
Among the favorite hot dog toppings found nationwide are mustard, chili, onions, ketchup, relish, sauerkraut, coleslaw, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, cheese, olives, Texas Pete hot sauce, bacon bits and probably many others unknown to me.
The favorite topping of all is mustard, thus the bright yellow color of the championship belt awarded each year on July Fourth at the Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest held in Coney Island, New York.
Current men’s champion is Joey Chestnut, who ate 74 hot dogs in the 2018 contest.
Other important dates in hot dog circles are Sept. 10, designated as national hot dog day and the entire month of July that is national hot dog month.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of downing hot dogs at many locales and listed below in no particular order of preference, are some of the most notable.
• Wilson’s Fleming Stadium concession stand during the 1950s — Hot dogs made to order by Frank working behind the counter. At 35 cents apiece, they were a true bargain.
• Dick’s Hot Dog Stand — A Wilson landmark and local favorite founded in 1921 and still owned by the Gliarmis family.
• Paul’s Place — Located in Rocky Point near Wilmington and known for its sweet relish condiment.
• Choplin’s Hot Dogs booth at the N.C. State Fair — Always worth stopping by a couple of times each year for a footlong prepared “all the way.”
• The Creamery in Wilson — A popular high school hangout during the ‘50s and ‘60s made even better because of its excellent hot dogs.
• Maurice’s Grill on U.S. 117 near Wilson — Another popular hangout with great dogs and burgers.
• A country store off N.C. 58 near Trenton on the way to the beach — I don’t remember the name of the place, but its hot dogs were among the best I’ve had anywhere.
• Bill’s Hot Dog Stand in Washington, N.C. — No frills, but the spicy chili makes the visit worth the effort.
• Former Cliff’s Drive-In at Five Points in Wilson — Besides having good hot dogs, Cliff’s is where Elvis Presley dined following his Wilson performance in 1956.
• Former Bruce’s Hot Dog Stand at Five Points in Wilson — Located directly across the street from Cliff’s, but you can never have too many hot dog joints.
• The Grocery Bag inside Percy Flowers Store near Clayton — As of 2016, it had sold more than 6 million hot dogs and was still adding to the total.
• Former Carroll’s Grill on Herring Avenue in Wilson — The chili was world-class.
• Jake’s Grill of Micro — A relative newcomer, yet it doesn’t take a back seat to anyone in the hot dog business.
My son, Will, and I visited Coney Island in August of 2003 hoping to sample some Nathan’s world-famous hot dogs. Unfortunately, this was the same weekend as the power outage throughout much of the Northeast, leaving us and many others with no electricity and no hot dogs.
In 2018, the average price of a hot dog sold at major league baseball stadiums was $5.
If that sounds expensive, how about the 2-foot-long Boomstick hot dog sold at Texas Rangers ballpark that goes for $26?
That 1-pound, all-beef hot dog comes topped with chili, nacho cheese, jalapenos and grilled onions.
It gets even better.
In 2014, the world’s most expensive hot dog, sold as part of a charity auction in Seattle, went for $169.
The cheese bratwurst offering was smothered in butter, teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, wagyu beef, foie gras, shaved black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayonnaise on a brioche bun.
Keith Barnes is a reporter and columnist for the Johnstonian News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.