The Case for the Humble Breakfast Hot Dog
I'm from Chicago, have roots in the South, and thanks to my grandmother, I grew up eating hot dogs for breakfast. Though my hometown has its own style of wiener that it's known for, I'm not referring to Chicago-style hot dogs in the a.m. (I wouldn't necessarily turn my nose up at one, either.) I'm talking about the humble hot dog that would serve as a stand-in for your more standard breakfast meats at my family's table.
Sometimes there was bacon and other times we had sausage, but hot dogs were served with some frequency. Most often they would be sautéed whole in a skillet with some vegetable oil and served alongside home fries, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast. (At my parents' house they tended to be of the standard variety, whereas my grandmother usually opted for turkey franks.) These three items—accompanied by the meat du jour—is what I tend to associate with the breakfasts of my childhood.
When I think of hot dogs for breakfast, I picture sitting at my grandmother's dining room table with a plate of sweetened rice and a griddled wiener or two. I'm sure she made other things for breakfast, but this salty-sweet combo is the meal that comes to mind immediately. I remember my grandmother preparing it those times I was sick from school and my mother dropped me off at her house, or after I would stay the night for one of our grandmother-grandson sleepovers.
Though part of the reason I enjoyed spending time at her house was because she had cable, looking back, I realize I also enjoyed just being in her company. Like the archetypal black grandmother, mine is strong, loving, and wise. I could feed off of her presence alone, hoping at least a portion of her wisdom would permeate my psyche. The lessons she instilled began at a young age, but is something I've become more astutely aware of with over the year, especially as she approaches her 90th birthday in a few short weeks.
My family's story is similar to that of many African-Americans who have been in this country for generations. My father's mother grew up in rural Arkansas before partaking in the Great Migration in search of greater opportunity and racial equality. Despite leaving the Jim Crow South and the improvements that came with it, the fact remained that many African-Americans were (and are) still poor.
I brought up the question of why our family ate hot dogs for breakfast with my father, uncle, and grandmother, and my uncle burst in with a response before I could finish my sentence: "Hot dogs are a cheap way to feed a bunch of kids." My grandmother is one of six and she herself had seven children, so when it comes to feeding a family the size of a small army, breakfast hot dogs are much more economical than bacon.
In a quest to see if this delicacy is shared outside of my kin, I took to Facebook with a poll. Though some were appalled simply by the idea, 37% of the 111 respondents said that they too had eaten hot dogs for breakfast. While a couple of my friends just really love hot dogs and eat them any time of the day, I also learned that they are very common in Mexican and Filipino breakfasts. Huevos con weenies is a standard dish for Mexican kids featuring scrambled eggs and ketchup, and the sausages are commonly served with eggs and rice in the Philippines. Others mentioned cooking them in an omelet; sautéing sliced frankfurters with onion, barbecue sauce, and ketchup to be eaten alongside a piece of toast; and enjoying hot dogs used as part of the kolache filling in Texas doughnut shops.
Perhaps it is shame, related to being poor, that has prevented people from exploring the idea of morning wieners in depth until now. Or the fear of being labeled strange has discouraged others from proclaiming their love for frankfurters at dawn. Shame, class, and food are so tightly intertwined and can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, but it seems that, though there is still much work to be done, there is some improvement that's been made on this front. In the age of organic this and all-natural that, it's thanks to respected publications and prominent figures proclaiming their love for cheap, processed foods—such as Velveeta, instant ramen and Spam—that the tides are turning on what is cool, or even just acceptable, to consume.
Though I'm sure most would love to eat a diet primarily consisting of organic, free-range, artisanal, GMO-free, and locally-sourced food, the fact remains that doing so is unattainable for a large swath of the population. When we neglect to share stories about what countless people are actually eating in order to focus on sensationalist tales of mouth cooking and breadfacing, we are inherently making a value judgement. Eating hot dogs for breakfast should be the least of our worries.