Inside Coney Island’s Hot Dog Wars

The setting was Coney Island in the early 1900s. The characters were inventive, shrewd, cutthroat, and aggressive. The story was meaty and juicy, with glitzy and glamorous celebrities influencing the plot. No, this is not a pitch for an HBO prestige dr…

The setting was Coney Island in the early 1900s. The characters were inventive, shrewd, cutthroat, and aggressive. The story was meaty and juicy, with glitzy and glamorous celebrities influencing the plot. No, this is not a pitch for an HBO prestige drama or Oscar-nominated biopic. Rather, it was the real-life scene of the (hot) dog fight that took place between Charles Feltman and Nathan Handwerker, two names that might not immediately resonate, but whose influence in the world of hot dogs is legendary.

Whether you top it with a meat chili as is done in New York’s North Country—Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, and Lewis Counties—or smother it in nuclear reactive green relish, yellow mustard, chopped onions, and a dill pickle spear as you might find in Chicago, there’s something satisfying about the simple pleasure of eating a hot dog. Of course, not all franks are created equally: There are countless variations, from all-beef kosher, to cased, uncased, cured, and uncured. Take pea and soy protein and extrude it into a casing, and you have a sausage. Put that same creation on a bun, and voila, it becomes a hot dog—albeit not the one that ignited the fiery encounter between Feltman and Handwerker on Coney Island’s boardwalk.

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