The boss dogs of summer

Americans, always quick off the mark, have declared July to be their official hot dog month.

Hiss, boo. In my kitchen, hot dogs are the boss dogs of summer, and they rate a two-month season: July and August.

I figure that’s why we call those months “The dog days of summer.” Apparently the dog days were named after Sirius, the dog star, but my theory is that some early Roman version of the hot dog was the kickoff.

Pause now to reflect on the humble tube steak, iconic dish of long summer evenings. Hot dogs are often the first food independently cooked by little kids. They love to stand too close to a campfire, small paws locked around a wiener stick, impaled sausages alternately burning and blazing, mothers shrieking, ketchup dribbling.

No tribute to the dog days of summer could ignore Edmonton’s own boss dog: Fat Frank’s smokies. I’ve been eating them for at least ten summers. When Fat Frank’s mobile hot dog carts arrive downtown, I can smell the smokies in Sherwood Park. Swear to God.

For my money, smokies are the icing on the cake of every music fest the season brings. Give me a summer night on the hill, a blues band cookin’ in the valley, a smoky in one hand, a cold beverage in the other. Perfection, especially if it isn’t raining. Add an August moon rising over the north skyline. Could it get any better?

Smokies and their many cousins belong to the summer dog days: sausages of all kinds, notably a hefty chunk of coarse garlic sausage (koubasa or kobasa, or kielbasa, or even cabasa, depending on your source). Spell it however you wish, a rose by any other name, etc.

In Alberta, home of giant food art, we have the towering mushrooms of Vilna, the great pumpkins of Smoky Lake, the biggest pyrogy-on-a-fork in Glendon or the world, the enormous mallard duck in Andrew, and the giant gorgeous egg in Vegreville.

Isn’t it only right that we also have the world’s biggest garlic sausage? Six tonnes of tasty-looking fiberglass, reaching 13 metres skyward. It stands in its own park, a tribute to the made-in-Mundare sausages of the Stawnichy family and the town’s former mayor and benefactor, the late Eddie Stawnichy, Alberta’s undisputed sausage king.

It must be said, those Mundare sausages are darned delicious when served as a fully-dressed hot dog.

Here’s what to do: cut a ring of garlic sausage into manageable chunks and grill until the fat spits. Plunk one into a toasted hot dog bun along with fried onions, fried peppers, maybe a little sauerkraut and a small application of German mustard. Avoid those mushy hotdog buns in the plastic bags. The weight of the trimmings will overcome them, and in the heat of the moment they’ll self-destruct all over your clean shirt. Go for a reliable crusty roll, one that can handle the pressure.

Various versions of the hot dog have been responsible for crashing more of my diets than any other dish, including maple walnut sundaes.

It’s because of the smell. The meat, the onions, everything frizzling away on the grill, fat spurting, aromas wafting.

My resistance crumbles and once again, faced with delicious food, I’m helpless.

So I’ll be a little fatter. So what?

To woefully misquote the immortal Miss Piggy: summer is short, eat hot dogs first.

Judy Schultz is a food and travel writer based in Alberta and New Zealand.