Ahh, the great outdoor barbeque season is in full swing on Long Island.
It starts on Memorial Day weekend and ends sometime in October. Long Islanders of all shapes and sizes, regardless of financial status, gather with friends and family in backyards to char-broil just about anything.
It doesn’t matter if you prefer the carcinogenic fumes of charcoal or the inherent danger of propane; we gather to watch the host’s grill master work their flame-broiled magic on many different culinary delights. Some grates contain chicken or tightly wound reels of sausage. Others have taken the time to create skewers combining shrimp with pearl onions and squares of bell peppers. Don’t forget the grill masters that use wooden planks to cook salmon or grill baskets for sliced vegetables. It takes a seasoned professional to properly cook steak on a grill, like my friend Billy Taylor or my son Kevin. Many have tried, but few have succeeded.
Regardless of the chef’s menu (or ability), these gatherings offer hot dogs and hamburgers.
Of course, there have been endless debates about which of these grilling staples is healthier for you. Studies indicate hot dogs have fewer calories, but hamburgers can be a better choice, especially when made from lean meat. You can hand-craft hamburgers with whatever ground meat you desire, whereas hot dogs are pretty much out of the package, so their sodium level is higher. For those of you who can make your own hot dogs, more power to you.
Enjoying hot dogs and hamburgers at a barbeque is not about eating healthy; it never has been. You can eat healthy the other six days of the week. This day is about eating whatever comes off that grill, right?
Which one do you prefer?
Hamburgers are obviously more popular than almost any other food when considering the proliferation of fast food and specialty places every 500 feet. The only place I can think of that specializes in hot dogs is Nathans, and they are few and far between. Besides the occasional food truck on the side of the road, getting two hot dogs and a soda for lunch is hard to find.
It’s no mystery that I love a good hamburger and prefer Burger King over McDonald’s when making fast food decisions. A good backyard BBQ should provide a robust platter of burger accessories like pickles, onions, lettuce, and tomato. However, I’m happy if I have cheese and ketchup.
But I secretly love a good, crisp, snappy hot dog.
Nothing against those plump Ballpark franks, but give me a long, hanging-over-the-bun dog any day. I’ll put almost anything on a hot dog – except ketchup. I love those dirty-water dogs from the cart with sauerkraut or onions. I was never a fan of relish, but give me squeeze cheese and smother it in chili!
Once in Baltimore, just outside of Camden Yards before a ballgame, Kevin and I had to try an “Oriole” dog – cream cheese, peanut butter, and jelly before a ballgame. Disgusting, right? Wrong! It was actually much better than I thought. While on vacation in Denver, Kevin and his wife Arielle visited a place called “Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs,” where you can sample dogs made from elk, wild boar, ostrich, or a combination of rattlesnake and pheasant. Arielle had the wild boar with cream cheese and caramelized onions, while Kevin tried the elk dog. The official report was that they were fantastic.
So, as the calendar turns into August and we celebrate the last few weeks of summer, enjoy your fancy grilled shish-kabob, salmon, or sausage and peppers while fighting off the yellowjackets and sipping mojitos. There is still plenty of room on the barbeque for grilled chicken and steak. Wrap those baking potatoes in foil and put them on the top rack. Don’t forget the corn-on-the-cob!
Me? I’ll pick at the chips and dip as everyone scrambles for the burnt chicken and makes a plate with salad. I’ll bide my time until you clear the grate and start lining up the dogs and burgers.
And don’t forget the cream cheese.