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Grilled Chicago Char Dog

I visit Chicago fairly often – my aunt and uncle live in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Every time I’m there, I make sure to get some Chicago dogs. Superdawg drive-in was my favorite, but I’m not picky – I’ve never met a true Chicago dog that I didn’t like.

Then I went to Chicago for IACP14, and found out about char dogs at Downtown Dogs. You people! You were holding out on me! Grilled hot dogs instead of boiled? Of course I want one.

When I got home, I had to make my own char dogs. Now, Chicago hot dogs have a very specific set of ingredients and toppings, which make up their “dragged through the garden” style:

An all beef hot dog with natural casing – Vienna Beef hot dogs are the gold standard – in a poppy-seed bun, with a kosher dill pickle spear and tomato slices laid alongside the dog. Top with mustard, diced onion, pickle relish (Chicago style relish glows green like Marvin the Martian), sport peppers, and sprinkle with celery salt.
Never ketchup. Ever. I’ve warned my kids: if you order ketchup on a dog, they will drive you to the city limits and dump you in Evanston.

It was a pain to find all of these ingredients in Ohio – see the notes section – but it was worth it. Normally, when I make a “blog meal”, the kids all groan in unison. But not on char dog night – they were hopping with excitement.

Thanks to Meathead at, a native Chicagoan, for his informative Chicago Hot Dogs post.

Recipe: Grilled Chicago Char Dog

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes



  • All beef hot dogs in natural casings, with an X cut into the ends (Vienna Beef hot dogs are traditional)
  • Poppy seed hot dog buns (or plain buns – see note)
  • Kosher dill pickle spears
  • Roma tomato, halved, sliced thin
  • Yellow mustard
  • Sweet pickle relish
  • Onion, diced
  • Sport peppers (small hot peppers)
  • Celery Salt


1. Cut an X in the end of each dog

Cut a 1 inch deep X in the end of each dog. This gives the char dog its distinctive curl as it cooks.

2. Set the grill up for direct medium heat

Set your grill up for direct medium heat. For my Weber kettle, I lit 3/4 of a chimney of charcoal, waited for it to be covered by gray ash, and then poured it out in an even layer over half of the grill.
Technically, I used my Weber Performer’s gas starter instead of the chimney.

3. Cook the dogs

Grill the dogs over direct medium heat until well browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Flip the dogs and grill until the cut ends are curling, and the dogs are charring a bit at the tips, about 2 more minutes.

4. Serve

Put each dog in a bun (or two dogs in one bun for a double dog), with a pickle spear along one side and a couple of slices of tomato on the other. Top with mustard, relish, and onions, add a couple of sport peppers, and sprinkle with celery salt.


  • It’s easier to get char on your char dogs with a charcoal grill, but if you can’t give up the convenience of gas, I won’t judge. And, if you’re in a hurry, and want to skip the X in the end of every dog, I won’t judge either.
  • It is surprisingly hard to find these ingredients back home in Ohio. I kept having to compromise. Beef dogs OR natural casing? (Shut out on Vienna Beef hot dogs, finally found natural casing kosher dogs at Acme.) Can pepperoncini substitute for sport peppers? (Finally found sport peppers at World Market.) Is this relish green enough? (No, had to live with it.) I finally found all of the toppings…
  • …except for the poppy seed hot dog buns. I was shut out. So I bought poppy seeds, intending to try this trick from Martha Stewart. And then I forgot to brush them with butter and sprinkle with the poppy seeds before I served them. So close, and yet, so far.
  • What I’m getting at: if you’re too far from Chicago, accept that you have to make substitutions, and do the best you can. Grilled beef franks, a hot pepper of some sort, and plain hot dog buns will do. (But don’t tell them I told you, or they’ll be watching for me at the Cook County line.)

What do you think?

Questions? Other ideas? Death threats from Bill Swerski’s Superfans? Leave them in the comments section below.

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Filed under: Grilling


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.

1 Comment

  1. andyboy says

    Oh Mike, thank you!!
    We’re hot dog fanatics and we’ll be cooking these up a lot. Steamers are okay, but charring is SO much better.
    And easy.
    Most importantly: NO KETCHUP! EVER! On any meat in a tube. Ketchup has it’s place. But not here. My kids thought I was crazy. But they’ve seen the light—finally!
    We love what you do!!!

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