Monday, July 14, 2008

"Nathan, Nathan, Why you Waitin

Nathan's Hot Dog Cookbook

Grab yourself a red hot and let's get ready to celebrate National Hot Dog Month! That's right folks. July is National Hot Dog Month! I know, I probably should have mentioned it at the before, but frankly, I thought everyone knew. It wasn't until Manuela over at Baking History left a comment that she didn't know July was National Blueberry Month, that I realized maybe all these monthly food holidays aren't known to everyone. I can certainly understand why, there are just so many of them especially in July. Today, however, we are celebrating Nathan's Hot Dogs.


Nathan'a Hot Dog Cookbook ©1968

Although Nathan Handwerker and his historic hot dog stand snuggle quite comfortably in the history of hot dogs in America, Nathan Handwerker did not invent the hot dog. No, the formal introduction of the frankfurter in America is another debatable food legend that this girl does not want to touch with a ten foot hot dog roll. I'm going to leave that discussion up to the expert over at What's Cooking America. What I would like to share is my Nathan's Hot Dog Cookbook because, July 14 marks the day that Nathan Handwerker was born in 1882. (Ed Note: some websites list June 14th as his date of birth but the Nathan's website says July 14th so I'm going with it.) Published in 1968, Nathan's Hot Dog Cookbook allows us a glimpse into the history of Nathan's Famous of Coney Island, New York. The book is written by Murry Handwerker who was the son of Ida and Nathan Handwerker the founders of Nathan's Famous, Inc. As of the writing of this book, "Nathan's is the world's largest and most renowned "Hot Dog" mart. It sells eight million franks a year and was the first to use the noble frankfurter in gourmet food treats."

There may be a cast of doubt on who actually "invented" the hot dog, but there is no doubt that Coney Island pioneer Charles Feltman and his Feltman's Restaurant brought the frankfurter to new heights. Here's a little excerpt from the Nathan's Hot Dog Cookbook.

When we speak of the modern hot dog, we refer to the frankfurter wrapped in a bun or roll. Its birth place was Coney Island and its inventor was Charles Feltman, who came to our Cote D'Azur for the masses from his native Frankfurt (hence the name "frankfurter"). Feltman sold pies from a little wagon which he drove up and down Coney Island's rustic trails. In 1867, two nearby inns began to serve hot sandwiches for lunch and Feltman became alarmed at the competition. He decided he'd better serve hot sandwiches too...Feltman's wagon was small and there was no room for elaborate cooking. Furthermore, he did not want to cook anything that would require long preparation or delicate seasoning. He finally hit on the idea of rigging up a small charcoal stove to boil frankfurters and then wrap them in toasted rolls.

As the story goes, Nathan Handwerker visited Coney Island in 1915. Although he was already a manager of a modest restaurant in downtown Manhattan, he decided to take a job at Feltman's Coney Island Stand shortly before WWI. In his new position, Handwerker was assigned the duties of roll slicer and part time delivery boy. I think it is important to realize, Coney Island was then a popular resort for all types of people. It was one of the world's largest and finest amusement areas. It had three amusement parks, beaches, arcades, sideshows, shooting galleries, restaurants, and saloons.

Nathan Handwerker was a Polish immigrant who had arrived penniless in New York only four years earlier when Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor implored him to start his own hot dog business. He was working part-time as a delivery boy for the Max's Busy Bee eatery making $4.50 a week. On Sunday afternoons he moonlighted at Coney Island dishing out Charles Feltman's famed 10-cent franks. He decided to take the advice of his show-business friends...Handwerker took his life savings of $300 and with his new bride, Ida, opened a small open-front stand on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. He laced his hot dogs with Ida's secret spice recipe...(source)

Nathan Handwerker and his wife Ida opened their new storefront in a weathered clapboard 8-foot by 25-foot building at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, one block from the beach, where they installed a basic 20 foot walk-up counter and a large red sign proclaiming five cent hot dogs. Ida developed a spicy recipe that used all beef and lots of garlic. Frankly, the high quality which Nathan's has always been famous for, didn't mean a thing to the board walkers. They were skeptic. How could one stand be selling hot dogs for 10 cents while another is selling for 5 cents. "There must be something wrong with the cheaper hot dogs" they thought. But, that was only part of the problem. You see, Coney Island was a mass of attractions and food stands. How would one notice a red sign that merely said Five Cent Hot Dogs. First, Nathan hired a bunch of men to be portrayed as doctors complete with lab coats and stethoscopes. (some say they were derelicts who he first sat at the counter eating hot dogs.) They made a great show of eating the five-cent franks. People started to think the hot dogs must be good. After all, the "doctors" were eating them and Nathan had erected a sign that said"If doctors eat our hot dogs, you know they're good! Now, it was time to come up with a name.

Nathan toyed with the idea of calling it "Handwerker's Hot Dogs" but that was too long for his sign. Providence in the form of "Tin Pan Alley" then provided a bright idea. At that time, a song called "Nathan, Nathan, Why you Waitin'?" became enormously popular. Dad decided that since Nathan was his real first name and the song was popularizing that name, he would call his place "Nathans" (The Famous came a bit later.)

Last Stop Coney Island!

Nathan'a Hot Dog Cookbook ©1968

The secret of Nathan's success is probably no more complex than the quality of his product. Naturally, one must take in to account the promotional tactics used by Nathan Handwerker. Take for instance the Famous Nathan's 12 minute hot dog eating contest which debuted in 1916 the very year Nathan's opened. It quickly became a crowd pleaser and a catchy newspaper headline. As a matter of fact, I read this year's winner was Joey Chestnut. It's likely, one of the most influential events that added to the success of Nathan's was the extension of the New York subway system in early 1920s. Up until then, the crowds were mainly middle and upper class visitors. The five cent subway brought access to many poor residents and newly arrived immigrants who could now leave the sweltering hot city for the seaside resort. Location, location, location, the subway station was right across the street from Nathan's. (Because the subway ride to the resort cost only five cents, the Island came to be called the "Nickel Empire.")

Every weekend, thousands of visitors disembarked right in front of Nathan's counter. Soon, there were 50 employees and lines of hungry Coney Island hot dog eating customers. "Nathan's sold an average of 75,000 hot dogs every summer weekend. In addition, the restaurant sold hundreds of gallons of root beer, Coca-Cola, and malted milk shakes." During the 1920s and 1930s, Nathan's Famous became truly famous. Politicians, sports figures, and celebrities often were photographed eating Nathan's hot dogs. Nathan's famous hot dogs became a Mecca for any visitor to the city. The Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Cook Book lists quite a few of them by name.

...From its main base in Coney Island or from its units in Oceanside, LI and Yonkers, NY Nathan's air expresses its products to hot dog and salami lovers the world over. These overseas Nathan's fans include U.S. servicemen stationed abroad, but they also include such world figures as Princess Grace of Monaco and Britain's Queen Mother Elizabeth, who first came into contact with a Nathan's hot dog at the memorable Hyde Park picnic of 1939, hosted for her and the late King George by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt...When Barbra Streisand held her closing night party in London following her triumphant run in funny Girl, she had it catered by Nathan's from 3,000 miles away...

The Recipes

Perhaps, you thought I was joking when I wrote "Grab yourself a red hot peanut butter hot dog and get ready to celebrate National Hot Dog Month! I wasn't. It seems that there was a peanut butter hot dog craze recently sweeping a town in Pennsylvania. Now, I'm quite a few miles away from Du Bois so I don't know this for fact but if you would like to read the article, the link is below. It just happened to catch my eye because oddly enough, there is a recipe in the cookbook for Peanut Butter Hot Dogs. Granted, it is in the chapter labeled Hot Dogs for Children but, you should know by now, I just couldn't resist including it especially since I didn't find a similar recipe online.

Boil 8 hot dogs in a cup of water for 5 minutes. Cover and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, spread 8 tablespoons of peanut butter on cut surface of 8 hot dog rolls toasted. Place a hot dog on each peanut-buttered roll. Serves 4-8

If you are planning a Moon Day celebration on July 20th, you may find this recipe useful. I thought it was rather interesting especially since this book was written before the first humans landed on the moon in 1969. It's called, Astronauts' Delight.

Astronauts' Delight
8 hot dogs
3 dill pickles
1 onion, chopped
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1 c. canned tomato sauce
1 c. water
2 tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tbs. vinegar
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 head cabbage
Cut hot dogs in 2 pieces and pickles into 1 inch chunks. Thread a piece of hot dog lengthwise on a skewer, then a pickle chunk, then another chunk of hot dog. Broil over hot coals. Mix together all the other ingredients except the head of cabbage. Brush the skewers with this sauce as they cook. To serve, stick skewers into cabbage head. Pass remaining sauce. Serves 4
Nathan'a Hot Dog Cookbook ©1968

Have FUN! and ENJOY! Hot Dog Month!

1. National Hot Dog Month Trivia Quiz
2. Nathan's Famous Facts
3. Nathan's Comes to Long Island
4. "Everybody comes to Nathan's."
5. Nathan's the man behind the brand
6. Peanut butter hot dog craze sweeping Du Bois


  1. Louise, thank you so much for linking to my malt honey ice cream post!
    I want to have a sidebar where I can see new posts from other blogs but I have to find out how to create one on my blog.

  2. Just ate Nathan's Hot Dogs for dinner. They are the only kind I will buy. Thanks, Mommy!

  3. Nathan's hot dogs are my favorite. I didn't know there was a cookbook, I'll have to look for it.

  4. I could do without the peanut butter on my dawg.:-) And I love that picture of the hotdaogs arranged like a rack of lamb

  5. Fabulous post as always! I have this cookbook too and it is so much fun...

  6. I really have avoided hotdogs in recent years, but I had a couple of grilled ones over the holiday weekend, and they were fantastic! There's an awful lot of eating to celebrate in July!


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Thanks for dropping in...Louise