Inside Coney Island’s Scorching Canine Wars

The setting was Coney Island within the early 1900s. The characters have been ingenious, shrewd, cutthroat, and aggressive. The story was meaty and juicy, with glitzy and glamorous celebrities influencing the plot. No, this isn’t a pitch for an HBO status drama or Oscar-nominated biopic. Quite, it was the real-life scene of the (sizzling) canine battle that passed off between Charles Feltman and Nathan Handwerker, two names which may not instantly resonate, however whose affect on the earth of sizzling canine is known.

Whether or not you prime it with a meat chili as is finished in New York’s North Nation—Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, and Lewis Counties—or smother it in nuclear reactive inexperienced relish, yellow mustard, chopped onions, and a dill pickle spear as you may discover in Chicago, there’s one thing satisfying concerning the easy pleasure of consuming a sizzling canine. In fact, not all franks are created equally: There are numerous variations, from all-beef kosher, to cased, uncased, cured, and uncured. Take pea and soy protein and extrude it right into a casing, and you’ve got a sausage. Put that very same creation on a bun, and voila, it turns into a sizzling canine—albeit not the one which ignited the fiery encounter between Feltman and Handwerker on Coney Island’s boardwalk.

Like so many meals which can be embedded in ​American delicacies, the recent canine got here to ​the States together with the arrival of immigrants—particularly, teams of German immigrants that arrived in two nice influxes from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The primary sizzling canine to realize reputation have been offered by pushcart distributors and normally eaten with a knife and fork. As they cooked, the pure casings (usually derived from animal intestines) shrank, inflicting the canine to burst out of their skins and create an audible snap after they have been bitten into.

Whereas Manhattan was chowing down on their pushcart sizzling canine, one thing distinctive was taking place on Coney Island. It was 1867, and in accordance with The Coney Island Historical past Mission (CIHP), Feltman might be seen strolling the seashores of Coney Island with a pie cart. His enterprise morphed from candy to savory when he grew to become a purveyor of sizzling canine and had an aha second. He puzzled: Is there a strategy to get rid of the necessity for plates and cutlery whereas giving prospects a singular expertise that might take them throughout the boardwalk with one free hand? By nestling the frank in a bun, he realized he may create a wholly new market and revolutionize the hot-dog-eating expertise. He employed a wheelwright—somebody who constructed pushcarts—to develop one for his creation, which resulted in a transportable charcoal burner for grilling the canine, together with a tin-lined chest to maintain the buns steamy and contemporary. He known as his product “Coney Island pink hots”, they usually grew to become as ubiquitous because the sand on the seashore beneath his ft.

With the appearance of a subway line that linked Manhattan and Brooklyn, Coney Island noticed an inflow of patrons, and Feltman’s fame and enterprise grew. His pushcart gave strategy to a brick-and-mortar institution, and by the Nineteen Twenties, Feltman oversaw what was billed because the nation’s largest restaurant, serving 5 million prospects a yr. CIHP described his holdings on Coney Island as masking a full metropolis block (within the spot that now homes Luna Park), which consisted of 9 eating places in addition to a carousel, curler coaster, ballroom, outside movie show, beer backyard, resort, bathhouse, pavilion, and naturally, a Tyrolean village.

Given his contribution, you may suppose that each July 4th we’d be paying homage to Feltman for making our sizzling canine so handy and full. Then why is his not the title you readily affiliate with America’s favourite barbecued sausage? Enter Handwerker, a easy grill man and bun slicer at considered one of Feltman’s eating places. Spurred on by two co-workers, struggling artists Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, Handwerker determined he needed to make the leap from employee to proprietor. He saved his $11-per-week paycheck till he had a whopping $300—sufficient to open his personal sizzling canine stand. Handwerker then used a recipe developed by his nineteen-year-old bride, Ida, that was primarily based on one her grandmother had handed right down to her. (Ida’s recipe, which includes quite a lot of spices and garlic, remains to be used to at the present time and stays a carefully guarded secret.) In appreciation for her contribution, you’d assume he named his stand “Ida’s,” proper? As a substitute, he named it after himself, and the empire referred to as Nathan’s was born.

Organising his enterprise just some blocks from Feltman, Handwerker charged only a nickel for his sizzling canine, undercutting Feltman’s value by 50 p.c. Individuals have been leery of a product that price so little, so Handwerker, the sharp businessman he was, let docs and nurses from a close-by hospital take pleasure in his sizzling canine freed from cost in the event that they wore their medical uniforms. To drive the message house, he additionally dressed his staff in white lab coats, all as an instance the pristine high quality of his franks. And to promote, Handwerker’s cronies, Durante and Cantor, unfold the phrase. Quickly, celebrities similar to Grace Kelly, Lucille Ball, and Jackie Gleason have been photographed consuming the eponymous canine, and in 1925, vaudeville star Sophie Tucker sang slightly ditty about Nathan’s. His mates seized the second and inspired Handwerker to rebrand, urging him to capitalize on his newfound fame. Sure, that’s how “Nathan’s Well-known” got here to be.

Handwerker continued to dominate the scene, gaining world consideration on the restaurant’s annual Fourth of July Scorching Canine Consuming Contest (nonetheless going robust many a long time later), with franchises across the globe, and by promoting packaged franks at supermarkets. Nevertheless, there’s no have to really feel unhealthy for Feltman. At its peak, his empire served 40,000 sizzling canine a day, cementing his legacy because the creator of the primary and authentic Coney Island sizzling canine. And, practically 150 years after Feltman modified the recent dog-eating world ceaselessly, a pair of Brooklyn brothers resurrected Feltman’s “boardwalk sensation” as an homage to their brother who died on 9/11. Now, Feltman’s sizzling canine are offered in supermarkets across the nation, occupying the exact same fridge circumstances as Nathan’s Well-known. So, perhaps the following time you host a household barbecue, strive grilling franks from each these legends—and tell us who reigns supreme in your individual yard “canine” battle.

What’s your favourite model of sizzling canine? Share your ideas beneath!

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