Editor’s note: This story originally ran on March 31, 2014.
The 29 MLB stadiums not named Miller Park don’t have especially vibrant tailgating scenes, and that’s really a shame. By virtue of its extended schedule, baseball season provides about 10x the amount of opportunities to partake in grilling as football, but that capacity goes criminally underutilized. To avoid repeating those mistakes this season, we caught up with John Carruthers and Jesse Valenciana from ManBQue. They have an exceptional grilling cookbook coming out in late April, and provided us with general tips on grilling hot dogs and sausages, as well as eight great recipes:
On a full-sized home grill, lighter fluid-fired briquettes still leave an unpleasant petroleum taste on your food. On a tiny tailgate grill, where the fuel is mere inches from the food, you may as well throw your signature creation into the trash and pay the $7 for a plate of lukewarm nachos. Get a cheap chimney starter or even a pack of paraffin starter squares.
Also, use charcoal. It’s not that gas is inherently inferior, per se, but most tailgate-targeted propane grills are woefully underpowered. You need a char on a good ballpark sausage, and a lot of the lower-end tailgate grills can’t even make a decent grill mark. Conversely, you can pile up some charcoal in a small, cheap grill and know that nature and vengeful hellfire will do the job for you.
Use foresight and home kitchen space to limit the amount of work you’ll have to do when you get to the parking lot. This means cutting up the garnishes and getting your sausages ready to stand up for themselves when they hit the grill …
One of the most annoying things about grilling sausage is a raw sausage’s tendency to split and leak precious juice when it gets too hot and the casing contracts at too fast a rate. Luckily, poaching in beer (or red wine, which we did for our Italian sausage) not only makes parking lot cooking a 3-minute proposition, it toughens the casings and ensures even and split-free cooking. Just wait until the sausages hit 155 on the thermometer and pull them out to finish on the grill. You can even do this the night before and refrigerate them until it’s tailgate time.
Baseball, like food, has a beauty that lies in the regional variations. Stare at a point on a map, and it’s steamed dogs and stadium mustard. Move that point just a little, and you either slap some chili on that dog or you go to hell. Food obsessives, in our experience, are the only people who rival sports fans in provincialism and venom. Which, to be fair, is most of the fun. We’ve seen a lot of games and eaten a lot of sausage in our Miyagi-like training as grill experts. When it comes to baseball, here are our picks for what are undoubtedly the best dogs in the majors:
The Sonoran (Arizona Diamondbacks; middle) – This is a cross-border labor of love, matching our beloved dog with a massive array of Southwestern accompaniments – refried black beans, pickled onions, sliced jalapeños, fried pig skin (called chicharrones), and more. It’s beloved on both sides of the border, and its influence is apparent in San Francisco’s sterno-cooked late night Danger Dogs.
It starts with a Kosher dog split and stuffed with aged Mexican cheese, then wrapped in bacon and slow-cooked to crispy, cheesy perfection. From there, if it’s delicious we add it. The launching pad for this fistful of culinary excess is a fresh-baked bolillo roll.
Beer pairing: For a day out in the mid-summer Phoenix sun, whether it’s roof open or roof closed, you can’t beat a cold can of Tecate with a wedge of lime to squeeze on your choice of dog or beer.
The Chicago Style (Chicago Cubs/White Sox; right) – This majestic beast is a steamed dog in a poppyseed bun (camp stoves and a cheap bamboo steamer or insert are perfect for preparing this) loaded with sliced tomatoes, diced raw onion, neon green relish, tangy pickled sport peppers, yellow mustard, and celery salt. It’s sublime.
Beer pairing: For your low-end regional lager, you can’t beat Old Style, the Wisconsin-brewed Chicago favorite that has been sold in sweaty wax paper cups in Wrigley Field since our grandfathers used to go to games. For something a little nicer, Goose Island’s Matilda Belgian ale is a perfect refreshing summertime complement.
The Detroit Coney (Detroit Tigers; left) — This is an art form best personified by two neighboring diners who specialize first in the Coney and second in hating each other — it’s the kind of thing you see a loose cannon detective eating in a 1980s action movie with an antacid chaser. Ours is a charred dog served with a condiment-thick chili, raw chopped white onion, and a larger-than-healthy application of tangy yellow mustard. We’ll say it — as far as iconic Detroit things go, this dog is literally better than Robocop.
Beer pairing: Bell’s Best Brown Ale. The pissed off-looking owl on the bottle looks as if it would rather claw your face into human poutine than suffer your insolence. Alternately, we’d like to recommend Kona Brewing’s Lava Man Red Ale in honor of pop culture’s greatest Tigers Fan, detective, and mustache-haver, Thomas Magnum (P.I.).
The Philly (Philadelphia, front) – Philadelphia is protective enough of the definition of the term “cheesesteak” that we opted not to court the death threats that would inevitably follow an attempt to interpret that signature dish into a sausage version. Instead, we’re taking our inspiration from the city’s fantastic roster of classic neighborhood Italian joints. An Italian sausage with fennel is poached in red wine, finished on the grill, and served with sautéed peppers, onions, and garlic with fresh slices of mozzarella and a balsamic glaze. The pretzel roll both contains and improves the whole affair.
Beer Pairing: Come on, this is Pennsylvania. It’s Yuengling — the oldest operating brewery in the U.S. is the perfect match for the birth of MURRICA and its national pastime. And if not that, we’ll take a tallboy of Narragansett, which is essentially your East Coast Old Style.
Oktoberfest Bratwurst (Milwaukee, left) – Milwaukee brats are at their best after soaking in beer for an extended period of time. We like to toss a couple sliced onions and some smashed and peeled cloves of garlic into the bottom of a roasting pan, use that as a bed for a half-dozen fresh-made Sheboygan brats, and cover it in whatever cheap beer our last guests left over. An hour or two braise at 375 firms them up and keeps them fresh for a quick fire bath on the grill. Add a pile of sauerkraut and some good hot mustard and you’re good to go.
Beer pairing: A good rule of thumb here is to avoid anything with Milwaukee in the name — sorry Milwaukee’s Best and Old Milwaukee, but you only ever caused misery and 2 a.m. trips to Taco Bell. Instead, consider a New Glarus Brewery beer — you could choose one completely at random and not go wrong, though we’re extremely partial to the Moon Man IPA or anything in their Thumbprint Series.
The Pittsburgher (Pittsburgh, right) – Perhaps we’re just a couple of fatties who eat too many deli sandwiches, but for us, it’s impossible to think of Pittsburgh without picturing the piles of slaw and fries on a Primanti Brothers sandwich. So we made a red pepper and cider vinegar slaw, kept our fries in the oil until they were extra crispy, and did our best Pittsburgh sandwich impression within the confines of a hot dog bun.
Beer pairing: Rivertowne Hala Kahiki Pineapple Beer is a Hawaiian-named beer from Pittsburgh whose label features a fedora-wearing fish in pants. And it has pineapple in it. Splendid.
Bison Sausage (Colorado, front) – Colorado, for all its ‘90s-era purple and thin air, cannot be beat when it comes to game meats — they raise amazing bison, elk, and lamb, among other less-trafficked delicacies. The strong, unique taste of game allows for the addition of bolder flavors and spicing that would drown out of your run-of-the-mill sausage. We like some crumbled Stilton cheese, which is essentially a PED-era bleu cheese. To compete with that, we like a deliciously hot stone-ground mustard and some crispy fried shallots with a generous application of black pepper.
Beer pairing: Denver is home to many great breweries, but few can claim the accolades of Great Divide Brewing Company. Their Yeti Imperial Stout more than stands up to the huge flavors of the bison dog. And at 9.5 percent ABV, you might not even care when the lefty specialist comes in to close out the 8th and walks three guys in a row.
The Dodger Dog (Los Angeles, front) – Apart from Vin Scully and leaving to beat traffic nothing says Los Angeles baseball more than the iconic Dodger Dog. With farmer’s market season coming up, we didn’t try to improve on the classic — just a 10” dog on a steamed bun with fresh chopped sweet onions, heirloom tomatoes, dill relish, and yellow mustard.
Beer pairing: If you can find it — and our extensive drinking research suggests that LA is one of the few places you can in this country — Japan’s Ginga Kogen Weizen is fantastic. We highly recommend seeking it out.