The origins and evolution of what we now commonly know as the hot dog are so convoluted it bears little direct scrutiny. Let's just say there was a town, called Frankfurt, which in the 14th century or perhaps even earlier begat a little sausage plunked in a bun of similar shape, and it became known as a frankfurter. An Austrian town called Wien (AKA: Vienna) gave birth to the sausage known as a weiner. And on it goes, through Europe and eventually to America, and most notably St. Louis, where the first real commercial usage of what was known as a hot dog took place.

Over time, with the World's Fairs that came near the end of the 19th century and the rise of major sports stadiums the hot dog found its culinary and cultural traction. Today, the 7-11 empire alone sells over 100 million hot dogs annually. Fenway Park, Coney Island, you name it, they all have their own version of a hot dog.

When we say "version", we mean two things. First, a hot dog can be either pork or beef, or even both. It can, of course, be made of such things as turkey, chicken or soy. And as we continue the surge toward healthy eating, the hot dog of yore, with its fillers, animal by-products, and even sawdust, is virtually a relic of the past. As with everything else at the market, quality still runs from low to high, so buyer be aware. The pork version is generally associated with the term "weiner"; beef versions tend to be called "franks" or frankfurters. So etymology, it turns out, is at least a little useful. The only rule is to find the kind of meat product that you like best. Oh, and maybe keep an open mind in case something new announces itself and knocks you out.

The second consideration is the condiments, and of course the bun itself. The options for buns are unlimited, but let's leave it at a traditional, fairly standard bun for today's doubleheader, and look at the condiments. That's where the real fun begins. Green relish and yellow mustard, perhaps a few raw onion pieces, a standard and for some reason a sensational match of ingredients. Ketchup is nearly universal, though the older you get, the less vital that is.

Various cheeses, onions, beans, a bewildering array of relishes, and even sauerkraut add some splendor to your dog. Cooking competitions tend to add spice, literally, to the mix, with chilies and garlic and even cheese curd. In short, given the contents of any given fridge any given Sunday, the variations on a hot dog are infinite.

John Mellencamp had Jack and Dianne "sucking on a chili dog outside the Tastee Freeze", and that chili dog, unwieldy, dripping and oozing, has to be the supreme hot dog. A bit of chili slathered over the dog and an ample bun. Finely chopped raw white onions on top of that. Cheddar or American Jack cheese melted onto the whole, placed in a thin cardboard container with a napkin sticking out from beneath. For the few moments it takes to inhale one, there is nothing else on earth but the smell, feel, and taste of that dog, fully unleashed.