On Wardynski vs. Sahlen: Why Our Hot Dogs Beat Yours

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Buffalo Foods: Sahlen & Wardynski Hot Dogs
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"Combined with a lightly toasted hot dog bun, a charcoal-grilled hot dog from either of these vendors needs no condiments in order to taste great."

There are, amazingly, people who hate hot dogs. Over the years, we've learned that the reason for this is almost always traceable to either a memorably bad preparation or the consumption of the wrong brand. In Buffalo, your chances of growing up loving hot dogs are much higher, thanks to a decades-long rivalry between Sahlen's and Wardynski's brands: no matter which one you prefer, they're both better than the stuff you'll find at most supermarkets outside of Western New York. Best served grilled, these dogs come in different lengths - as shown in the comparison photo above, Sahlen's are longer - and by default are locally garnished with fewer toppings than in other cities. Why? When grilled, these hot dogs taste good enough to enjoy on their own.

The Story: Hot dogs are hot dogs, right? Wrong. In Buffalo, hot dogs aren't just differentiated by toppings or preparation: there are local brands that people, and even their families, hold dear as traditional favorites. Sahlen's hot dogs are probably the best-known and more widely available, thanks to their prominent place at the famous local Ted's Hot Dogs restaurants, which even serves foot-long versions. But followers of Wardynski's hot dogs are quick to express their preference whenever asked. To us, the differences are minute; both companies use German-style recipes that have hints of pepper and no sweetness. Each offers several different variations, including plain and smokehouse versions, one of which may taste a little saltier or smokier than the next.

The Secret:: What makes either Sahlen or Wardynski dogs better than their competitors? We'd rank the meat content (pork and beef together), the best-known preparation (grilling, aka "char-broiling"), and the most famous local proprietor (Ted's Hot Dogs) as the keys to their historic success. Combined with a lightly toasted hot dog bun, a charcoal-grilled hot dog from either of these vendors needs no condiments in order to taste great, but you can add as much or as little as you want to change the flavor. Ketchup, mustard, and relish are Buffalo standards, but pickles, onions, and chili are also commonly available.

The Shame:: Ted's, once a stellar place to get dogs cooked to perfection - especially foot-long versions with extra-huge buns, followed by onion rings and Dairy Queen-style Buster Bars - is no longer a standout on flavor, and the only reason to go there rather than grill on your own is the wintertime absence of access to your own grill.

The Alternative: The only hot dog we've ever liked as much as one of these can sometimes be found near Los Angeles' Staples Convention Center. Wrapped in bacon, sold with or without green peppers, onions, or mayonnaise, and grilled (well, fried) by street vendors, the bacon dog is not only supremely unhealthy but also unpredictable in availability. For whatever reason, these bacon dogs seem only to be found in unlicensed portable cooking carts, wheeled around by Latin residents who scramble whenever the police roll by. Someone could make a killing, perhaps literally, selling these things locally.

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