Most hot dog vendors rely on getting some level of repeat business from their customers. The ability to attract regulars is what can make the difference between an average cart and one that makes a killing on a daily basis. This is where your menu comes in. Your menu must be just right if people are to enjoy your food, go away happy and spread the word.
In the following article we look at the importance of hot dog cart menus and how to put them together. We also offer some ideas on what to include in your menu.
The best menus offer customers enough variety to satisfy them while still being simple enough to avoid complications. A simple menu is easier to understand and it can help you to avoid errors and wasted time as people ask questions. A simple menu also means that you won’t have complications when ordering the stock that you need.
Marketing with Menus
Don’t forget that your menu can do much more than simply convey information. It should also be an advertisement for your products. Having some ‘mouth watering’ images on your menu can really boost sales, especially if they have been done by a professional photographer.
You may want to offer ‘combo’ deals whereby customers can get a full meal for a special price. The most common deal is to offer a hot dog, a bag of chips and a soda for a price that is much more attractive than if the items were ordered individually.
Tastes can vary from state to state so you may want to do some research at the local level to find out what is popular. You will also have to check the provisions of your license as these may restrict your menu to some degree.
The Main Attraction
Your hot dogs are obviously your main attraction so you must do all that you can to ensure that you have a five star product. Here are some things to consider.
1) The common frankfurter is your key ingredient, although you can also offer variations like Polish or Italian sausages. You can also get Kosher hot dogs or even vegetarian hot dogs if you think that their will be sufficient demand in your area.
2) Look for a local supplier and do some taste testing. In general, you can’t go wrong by using a national brand like ‘Nathans’.
3) Some people may want to order ‘double’ dogs with two frankfurters instead of one. Others may order a hot dog without the bun, especially if they are trying to limit their carbohydrates intake.
4) There are many regional variations in the US. A ‘Chicago Style’ for example never contains ketchup and in New York they often use a special ‘brown onion’ sauce.
5) Hot dogs can be boiled or grilled. In the Northern states grilling is more popular while boiling is common in the south.
6) Always use quality, fresh buns. Some vendors simply steam their buns while others toast them. Some regional specialties have specific bun requirements such as the ‘Chicago Style’ which typically comes served on a poppy seed bun.
7) The sauces and toppings that you can put on hot dogs are endless so you should look for recipes online to get some inspiration. You may be limited by your license though and you may not be permitted to use toppings like cheese or mayonnaise that require refrigeration.
Other Common Menu Items
Apart from hot dogs you will want to sell beverages. Soda, diet soda and bottled water offer excellent profit margins and require little effort to serve on the part of the vendor. Chips and candy bars are even better as they won’t take up your valuable refrigeration space.
Hot dog stands often also sell salads, coleslaws, French fries and nachos to name just a few common hot and cold food items. You may decide that it is not worth complicating things by adding too many other products. Your license will also limit you to some extent. However, if you have a busy location then you may as well test as many products as you can within reason to see what sells well.
I think if you could ask 100 different vendors their opinion on grilling, boiling or steaming you would find that boiling is most preferred. I will expand on this to help you decide your method of attack.
This is the process of using a spillage pan with the bottom filled with water. Inset into this pan is a perforated pan that allows the boiling hot water below to steam through onto the food.
Pros: Steam is attractive coming from a cart and allows for quick cooking of frozen foods and steaming buns. Many of the long time doggers use this method with great success.
Cons: Steaming can change the color of the hot dogs. It also doesn’t allow for long holding periods. Too much steam and your dog will shrivel and some dogs, all depending on the type of casing and meat, will split and turn grey.
This method requires no explanation. Boil water, drop in hot dogs.
Pros: Quickly boil 30 or 40 dogs at a time. Turn off heat when done and they can sit in hot water while awaiting their fates. Tip: Add in a beef bullion cube or a can of beer to the boiling water prior to cooking the first batch. This will saturate the water with flavor and prevent the water from sapping out the flavor of the dogs. A garlic clove is a great addition also.
Cons: Often referred to Dirty water dogs, it holds no negatives for me. I love to boil my dogs and find that I have less waste and great looking and tasting hot dogs, no mater the brand. However, dogs can split and bust if boiled too long. 6 minutes from frozen to done is my rule, practice on your cart to get the timing down.
Grilling dogs is the most attractive and customer friendly way to serve dogs and involves cooking your dogs over an open flame.
Pros: They seem to taste better. They are more appealing with grill marks. Grilling creates smoke from the drippings hitting the hot interior of the grill body, this often has an attractive smell and can bring folks a running.
Cons: Grilling frozen dogs is difficult, this means you have to have more open and thawed stock. Grilled dogs do not hold long. If you aren’t serving them immediately, the skins get tough and start to shrivel. Grilling requires more space as you can not stack hot dogs on a grill like can be done when boiling or steaming.
A grill either brought with you or attached to a cart makes for great eye candy to customers. I know I just explained that boiling and steaming would be better, but if you are boiling and steaming and then using the grill to create the aroma and ambiance that customers love. When customers start lining up, I often will throw my soaking wet dogs from the boiling pan onto that super hot grill, steam and smoke rise and it all smells so good.
Chicago Style Hot Dog
1 beef hot dog
1 poppy seed bun
1/8 cup onion, diced
2 tomato slices
1 pickle spear
2 sport peppers
- Preheat grill. If you are using an outdoor grill, try to obtain a medium to high heat. Before cooking, remember to lightly oil the grill grate. If you are using a George Foreman, preheat the grill for about 5 minutes while keeping the lid closed and before cooking remember to spray with a non-stick cooking spray.
- Place dogs on grill. Cook for approximately 6-8 minutes or until thoroughly cooked through.
- Toast buns lightly. Be careful not to burn.
- Place dog on toasted bun and top with the following ingredients: mustard, pickle relish, pickle, chopped onion, sliced tomato wedges, and sport peppers. Dig in!
Detroit Coney-Style Hot Dog
1 hot dog
1/8 cup onion, diced
Beef chili, cooked
1/8 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- Preheat grill. If you are using an outdoor grill, try to obtain a medium to high heat. Before cooking, remember to lightly oil the grill grate. If you are using a George Foreman grill, preheat the grill for about five minutes and before cooking remember to spray the grill with a non-stick cooking spray.
- Place dogs on grill. Cook for approximately 6-8 minutes or until thoroughly cooked through
- Toast buns lightly. Be careful not to burn.
- Place cooked dog on bun and top with the following ingredients: chili, chopped onion, and shredded cheese. Dig in!
Kansas City Hot Dog
1 hot dog
1 sesame seed buns
1/8 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 cup sauerkraut
- Preheat grill. If you are using an outdoor grill, try to obtain a medium to high heat. Before cooking, remember to lightly oil the grill grate. If you are using a George Foreman grill, preheat the grill for about 5 minutes while keeping the lid closed and before cooking remember to spray the grill with a non-stick cooking spray.
- Place hot dogs on grill. Cook for approximately 6-8 minutes or until thoroughly cooked through
- Toast buns on grill. Be careful not to burn them.
- Place dog on bun and top with the following ingredients: Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and mustard. Dig in!