This past Saturday at 10 a.m. sharp, the Serious Eats Chicago crew met up in Avondale to accomplish one of the most glorious eating projects in Chicago history: to eat every single item at Hot Doug's. Why? Without a doubt, this "sausage superstore and encased meat emporium" is the busiest hot dog stand in Chicago and is often mentioned as the best in the nation. While other writers have sought to capture the essence of the experience, we were only interested in the meat. Until now, all of us had only eaten it piecemeal. But we wanted the whole picture, and there was only one way to do that.
We waited in line like everyone else, patiently checking the time before the doors opened at 10:30 a.m., when we all rushed in. We knew that owner Doug Sohn would be there—he's always there—but we didn't expect him to be so focused and ready. Sure, he knew we were coming (it was the least we could do) but we didn't expect him to have the order already written out and ready to go. All he had to do was hand it to his crew and the feasting would begin.
The actual eating process was a blur. The sausages started coming out of the kitchen so quickly we had a hard time keeping track of them all. Though ten insatiably hungry eaters came to battle every sausage at Hot Doug's, you better believe that the encased meats won. We tried our hardest, but with over 25 different items, we barely made it out alive.
But let's go over the basics, shall we? Hot Doug's has two menus, a regular menu that, with exception of a few name changes over the years, stays the same. Here you'll find such classic sausages as the bratwurst, Polish, and the natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog. Each can be ordered up exactly as you'd like, though we definitely recommend asking Doug what he prefers. His suggestions are always spot on.
But Hot Doug's is probably most famous for its chalkboard menu of Daily Specials, a collection of composed sausages that pair exotic sausages with some truly surprising toppings. This is where you'll find items like a Spicy Thai Chicken Sausage with Sriracha Mustard, Sesame-Seaweed Salad and Duck Cracklings and an Irish Banger with Guinness Mustard and Carrigaline Farmhouse Cheese. As the label suggests, these offerings change constantly, so even though we ate everything on the menu on our visit, items pop up and disappear regularly. Always check with the website if you want to know for sure. But you can rest assured you'll find the notorious Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel, which earned Sohn the very first fine during Chicago's brief foie gras ban.
When the two menus are combined, you're left with 23 different sausages options. But, wait! There's more!
A Side of Duck Fat, Please
With so many tempting sausage choices, it's probably best that Sohn keeps it simple with the sides. Besides the tater tots that come with the mini-bagel dogs, fresh-cut french fries are your only choice of a side during the week. The weekend, however, is a different story. On Friday and Saturday you can also order duck fat fries, which, as the name suggest, are cooked in duck fat. We ordered both, along with an order of cheese fries, which use the regular fries.
Doug, as always, was gracious and accommodating throughout this crazy project. We truly couldn't have done this without his help, or the heroic effort from his crew. Honestly, they all couldn't have been nicer about the whole thing. Thanks!
Okay, enough talk. Without further ado, here are all the sausages at Hot Doug's!