While we’re totally open to discuss the merits of any type of frank, it’s good to touch base now and then on our first love: the West Virginia Hot Dog … sometimes known as the slaw dog.

The slaw dog is a delicious but somewhat odd combination of a frank, chili, mustard, and finely chopped creamy sweet-sour green cabbage coleslaw (as opposed to the sauerkraut you’d find in New York). In addition to being mind-numbingly yummy, it provides a cheap meal delivering two kinds of meat, veggies, and starch … all in one hand. Understand, however, that adding coleslaw to a hot dog does not inherently make it a WVHD: the true slaw dog is designed from the bun-up to work as a unit. Dumping slaw on a chili dog no more makes that a slaw dog than adding Hershey’s syrup to a bowl of ice cream creates a banana split: there’s simply more to it than that.

Some purists might argue our definitions, but then, we look at the WVHD differently than a lot of other locals, because we care about the whole sandwich, including the bun, frank, and mustard. Now, if you’re not from around these parts, you might read that and think “Well, duh!” But the fact is, slaw dog aficionados aren’t as concerned about certain elements–say, the taste and snap of the wiener–as hot dog lovers in places like New York or Chicago. Oh, sure, they’ll admit that a better frank makes a better sandwich … it’s just not something they fuss about too much.

Same thing with the mustard, the onions, and the bun. They’ll use the best of whatever is available, but again, not too fussy in those areas. For these guys, it’s all about the chili and the slaw, and how those two key ingredients work together.

Which is fine–to each his own. We certainly wouldn’t argue that the slaw/chili relationship wasn’t the main order of business. We just happen to believe that having ALL great ingredients is worth a little extra effort.

The Coleslaw/Chili Connection

Having said that, let’s talk a little about those key elements. Slaw (or coleslaw–same thing) can have varied ingredients, but it’s always based on chopped cabbage and mayonnaise. The best slaw for topping a dog, however, might not have the same consistency of a side-order that comes with your vegetable plate: for proper dog-sitting, WVHD slaw should be very finely minced, with a cabbage-to-slaw ratio that almost makes it spreadable.

When it comes to chili, the WVHD is all meat, no beans, and flavored with a generous amount of chili powder. If an eatery is known for its slaw dogs, it probably has its own secret recipe for chili that is discussed only in smoke-filled backrooms like some kind of health care bill. Each will add their own proprietary blend of garlic, onion, black pepper, or other ingredients, but the taste should be built on a foundation of chili seasoning.

The ground beef will add texture, but how much you need is also subjective: again, it largely depends on the consistency and potency of the slaw.

The Other Stuff

Onions are an important part of the WVHD. A few folk just add the onions into the slaw, but most of us feel that compromises the flavor of both. The amount of mincing will vary, as will the type of onion. Yellow onions have a stronger flavor, while some prefer Vidalias or other sweet onion varieties for their mildness, and as a counterpart to the tangier cabbage taste.

As with most (some say all) hot dog creations, mustard is yellow. End of story.

Buns tend to be soft white, which get gooier when loaded with wet ingredients. Toasting adds strength, but steaming is preferred. Cheese? Well, some suggest it, but the true connoisseurs say it’s a no-no, and we tend to agree.

Like many Southern food traditions, the West Virginia hot dog is evidence of the straight-forward and innovative nature of “simple folk.” West Virginians have taken something as basic as a hot dog and turned it into a delicious, practical meal that in many ways defines a cultural identity.