When Nathan Handwerker starting selling his frankfurters at Coney Island in 1916, New York’s reputation as a hot dog town began. Nathan’s is only half of the story though. The true connoisseur knows to look for the blue and yellow umbrellas attached to the little metal pushcarts that roam the streets. Find one of those and you’ve found a legendary Sabrett Hot Dog.
Sabrett hot dogs date all the way back to 1916. They are all-beef with a hint of garlic mixed in and packed into a natural casing that gives them their distinctive “snap.” But they might not have become famous if it wasn’t for a Greek immigrant named Gregory Papalexis.
He was the son of a baker who eventually followed in his father’s footsteps by starting a hot dog bun company. The next logical step was to sell hot dogs, and rather than have New Yorkers have to drive all the way to Coney Island for their fix, he was happy to sell them a dog from the metal push carts that began to dot the city and Long Island, each featuring an easy-to-spot blue and yellow umbrella. Eventually, he would acquire the Sabrett company.
The man equally responsible for putting Sabrett on the map was an MIT food chemist named Alan Geisler. Papalexis hired him to create an easy-to-produce onion sauce that he could offer from his carts. Geisler concocted the divine topping that basically consists of onions cooked to death in an olive oil and tomato-based sauce.
The result was to die for, both tangy and flavorful, and something that instantly set Sabrett apart from their Coney Island counterpart. To many New Yorkers, a hot dog isn’t complete unless it has sauerkraut, good mustard and a dollop of that infamous onion sauce, the perfect trifecta.
Today, one needn’t travel to NYC for the experience. Sabrett hot dogs are available through the mail and in a few grocery chains, as is their onion sauce, sauerkraut, mustard and even the unique buns – designed to be light enough to ensure that you wouldn’t get filled up on just one Sabrett.
But, like most things, even though the ingredients might be authentic, there’s still something about getting one of those dirty water hot dogs fresh from the cart, with everything on it, that you just can’t duplicate in the home kitchen. I know. I’ve tried many times.
Are you a fan of Sabrett hot dogs? How’s about that onion sauce? I’d love to hear all of your hot dog memories in our comments section below and help pay tribute to this New York culinary tradition.