Washington, D.C. — Although stadium menus continue to expand faster than franks on a hot grill, fans still relish the hot dog as their favorite food at the ballpark, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s 2011 annual report released on Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Opening Day.
Humphrey Bogart said, “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz.” How about almost 23 million of them?
The Council projects that MLB ballparks around the country will serve 22,435,400 hot dogs this season, enough to round the bases 31,160 times and, if laid end-to-end, would stretch from AT&T Park in San Francisco to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. That represents 1.06 million more hot dogs than 2010, or a 5 percent increase, the first increase in three years.
In addition, the Council predicts ballparks will sell 5,161,370 sausages this year, more than 227,000 than in 2010, an increase of 4.6 percent.
“Major League ballparks today offer some of the most extensive menu and food options of anywhere in the country,” said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. “Yet these numbers once again confirm the hot dog is MVP of stadium concessions. The increase in projected consumption is a positive sign that as our economy slowly starts to turn around, people are heading back to the ballpark to catch baseball games — and to grab a hot dog, of course. The hot dog is a great economic indicator.”
While the Council can’t predict which teams will play in the World Series this year, it can with some degree of confidence, forecast the top hot dog consuming MLB venues. Dodger Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tops the list this year, dethroning two-time champion Fenway Park in Boston. The Council projects that Dodger Stadium will serve two million hot dogs over the 2011 season. This number should perhaps be even higher when you consider one of the stadium’s most popular dogs, the Dodger Dog, is actually a foot-long frank served grilled or steamed and topped with mustard and relish.
New York’s Yankee Stadium, where fans are expected to consume 1.62 million hot dogs this season, finished second in this year’s report. On the menu at Yankee Stadium is the classic Nathan’s Famous “water dog,” served boiled and on a steamed bun.
Rounding out the top three is Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, coming in at 1.5 million hot dogs. Fans at “The Bank” nosh on the South Philly Dog, topped with broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and sharp provolone on a crusty Italian roll.
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, finished fourth with 1.35 million hot dogs projected. This is up 65 percent from 2010, evidence that a World Series appearance is a great boost to overall sales. Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, rounded out the top five with 1.33 million hot dogs estimated to be consumed.
Although it didn’t crack the top five, AT&T Park, home of the World Champion San Francisco Giants, is also expected to see a significant increase —66 percent over last year. Playoff appearances also impact the bottom line —just ask the Atlanta Braves, who posted the highest year-to-year percentage increase (42 percent) of all teams outside of the World Series contenders.
Why the Popularity?
Culinary historians note that sausages joined peanuts, popcorn and soda on the concession menus at ballparks sometime in the 1890s. By the early 1900s, the hot dog as we know it today was becoming increasingly popular at public events – boxing matches, fairs, carnivals, horse races – but nowhere more popular than at baseball games.
“It made sense,” noted Super. “The hot dogs were relatively inexpensive and easy to produce in mass quantities. They’re already cooked, so they just needed to be re-heated. And by knowing the exact size and weight of a product and having it available with minimal preparation time, vendors knew exactly how much profit could be made on each item and how many could be sold in a given time. Most importantly, fans loved them – hot dogs were inexpensive, easy to handle and tasted great.”
The same holds true today.
When asked what it is about the hot dog that has sustained its popularity for generations, the answer from concession managers was unanaimous: tradition.
The head of concessions at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, where sausage reigns supreme, acknowledged the unwavering appeal of the hot dog.
“While brats are still king in Milwaukee, I think overall, hot dogs evoke a sense of tradition and Americana to the average fan,” said Ken Niedermeier, concessions manager at Milwaukee Sportservice.
Another reason? It’s a favorite at any age.
“Hot dogs remain the number one concession because everyone is a kid at a baseball game — young and old,” said Mark Null, director of operations for Levy Restaurants at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
And, perhaps most important to those Major League fans hoping to catch a homerun, foul ball or maybe even akiss on the jumbotron, is the hot dog’s functionality.
“You can hold a beverage in one hand and the dog in the other. It isn’t messy, typically, so no one is afraid to sink their teeth into one,” said Joey Nigro, general manager for concession provider Delaware North, Inc., at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Miller Park in Milwaukee, home of the Brewers and the world-famous Klement’s Sausage Race in the sixth inning of each game, is projected to serve 900,000 sausages this year, good for a landslide victory in the Council’s third-annual sausage consumption survey. Miller Park is the only stadium in Major League Baseball where sausages out sell hot dogs.
The Minnesota Twins, who played their first season at the new Target Field in 2010, cracked the top three this year and finished runner-up to the Brewers, with approximately 500,000 sausages expected to be sold. Finishing third, and slipping from number two in 2010, is U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, with 345,000 projected in sausage sales.
While the hot dog tradition is as strong today as it was in 1900, today’s fans certainly have more selections than they did 110 years ago, with stadiums around the country offering signature dogs to hungry fans.
Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, features the St. Louis BBQ Bacon Dog, a bacon-wrapped jalapeno dog served with baked beans, pickles, tobacco onions and sweet St. Louis-style barbecue sauce.
A staple at Rogers Center, home of the Toronto Blue Jays is the Homerun Dog, a foot-long hot dog topped with maple baked beans, crumbled Canadian bacon, caramelized red onions and Canadian Cheddar.
At Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, fans flock to the “Most Wanted” dog, topped with beef brisket, BBQ sauce, chopped onions and kosher pickles.
At Angels Stadium in Anaheim, a fan favorite is the Halo Dog, an all-beef hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with charro beans, shredded Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo salsa.
Although the popularity of the hot dog is unwavering, stadiums still strive to come up with new twists on the old favorite.
New this year to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles is the “Doyer Dog,” named for the Spanish-language pronunciation of the Dodgers (Los Doyers). The Doyer Dog is an all beef hot dog loaded with chili, nacho cheese, onions, tomatoes and jalapenos.
Also being unveiled this year at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the Birdland Dog, a new play on the crowd-pleasing Esskay dog, featuring the tastes of Baltimore: smoked pit beef, Little Italy pepperoni hash, stewed tomato jam and crispy fried onions. Nestled in a fresh baked bun, it’s a hot dog that eats like a meal.
New to Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds, is the Meat Lovers Hot Dog, a jumbo hot dog wrapped with bacon and deep fried, then topped with beef and black bean chili, shredded pepper jack cheese and crispy salami.
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is expanding its offerings from Nolan Ryan Guaranteed Beef available at the ballpark to include hot dogs and sausages. Selections will be served on a potato bun and topped with gourmet condiments.
A new addition for 2011 to the “Say Hey Sausage” location at San Francisco’s AT&T Park is a California-sourced, low-fat apple chicken sausage. Staying out West, at Seattle’s Safeco Field, you can get the “Hit It Here Dog” a bacon wrapped, jumbo, all- beef hot dog topped with pulled pork and Washington apple-habanero pepper relish.
And Miller Park will for the first time feature a racing sausage shish-ka-bob, with a cut of each of the five Klement’s Sausage Race participants — the bratwurst, Polish sausage, Italian sausage, hot dog and chorizo.
Dogs for a Cause
As the economy slowly recovers and food prices remain high, many ballparks across the country continue to offer specials like “Dollar Dog Nights” or all-you-can-eat package deals.
But the Philadelphia Phillies and Hatfield Quality Meats are taking it even a step further in 2011. Hatfield, the hot dog and sausage supplier of the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park, is building upon the success of their “Home Runs Against Hunger” program, which was initiated last year. For every Phillies home run hit, 100 pounds of product will be donated to Philabundance, a local food bank.
Now that’s something we can all root for.