It’s a scene too universal to need much writerly description: the weather is sweltering and the menu is hot dogs and burgers—simple and straightforward and a relief. This part of the day, at least, makes sense: being outside and not having too many dishes to wash and eating foods that convey unfussy joy.
Later, when the hot dogs and burgers have been eaten, and the sky is pink or charcoal, you call it a day. There are a few cooked hot dogs left on the grill, maybe a single burger puck. You remove them, close the grill cover. You contemplate the leftover foods, which were so frictionless to plan and execute and yet are strangely difficult to know what to do with afterward, now that the plan has come off.
Why? My theory is that there’s an effort imbalance to be resolved between the before and after. Hot dogs and burgers are so easy to make, so likable, so good at creating a mood that if you want a second chance at eating them the cosmic scale is going to demand some input of elbow grease. For contrast, consider braised meat: there’s a lot of up-front work—salting a day ahead, browning, slow cooking for hours. But there is no shortage of clear and obvious things to make with the leftovers, like pulled-meat sandwiches, ragù, chili, stew, and, and, and . . .
If you’re interested in making further use of your leftover hot dogs and burgers, first let go of their identities as hot dogs and burgers and consider their underlying flavors and textures and other innate qualities. For hot dogs, you’re not cooking with “hot dogs” but with something sweet, smoky, salty, smooth, impossible to dry out. For hamburgers, with something savory, smoky, salty, crumbly, impossible to dry out.
Hamburgers are easier. I haven’t eaten a sloppy joe since summer camp, but if I were going to it would be chopped leftover cooked burger, heated in adobo sauce, with maybe a little chilli vinegar or vinegar hot sauce, and spooned, with chopped pickled onion, onto potato rolls. Twice, recently, I’ve made and enjoyed a cheeseburger omelette—a dish whose success depends on pickles, American or cheddar cheese, a wobbly, eggy middle, and a hangover. Most often, though, I chop up the burger meat very, very finely and add it to mapo tofu—my three-year-old son just eats the accompanying rice—or, a recent favourite, to leftover-burger Bolognese, which the meat’s slight smokiness from the grill makes taste complex and considered. (My son just eats the accompanying fettucini.)
“Hot-dog salad” is not a phrase that naturally ignites the appetite, but please hear me out. The sweetness and saltiness and tube-iness of hot dogs make them a viable option for a salad inspired by a Thai yum goon chiang, which is typically made with sweet Chinese sausage. Thinly slice the hot dogs on a bias and sear them quickly—or, even better, cut them into matchsticks and then sear them until the edges are crisp—then combine them with copious amounts of herbs and shallot, plus chilli, lime, fish sauce, and sugar. The cook Leela Punyaratabandhu adds cucumber to her yum goon Chiang. I think my hot-dog salad benefits from cucumber, as well. And peanuts.
My other go-to’s are hot-dog fried rice (leftover rice, eggs, salt, hot dogs, oil) and hot-dog onigiri—Japanese rice balls filled with chopped hot dogs candied in homemade teriyaki sauce. This is a bald ripoff of Spam onigiri, which is exactly what it sounds like and, in better times, would be a perfect snack to eat with friends at a bar alongside tall, fat, ice-cold mugs of beer. For my version, I make teriyaki sauce according to Just One Cookbook—where, in general, instructions are irreproachable—and simmer a half cup of sauce per cup of finely chopped leftover hot dogs in a frying pan until the meat is almost caramelized and syrupy. I drop little spoonfuls of this mixture into balls or squares or triangles of sushi rice and rest each on a thin strip of nori, with a dab of umeboshi (salted plum) paste or pickled ginger, or both, on top, and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds or the rice seasoning furikake.
I made these hot-dog onigiri just a few weeks ago, during one of July’s heraldic rain storms. Our first house guests since March had just arrived. I had some leftover pork ribs from Larry Walker, the first vendor this summer to roll his smokers and grills down to the stretch of Hudson River waterfront near my house, and I added that meat to the teriyaki sauce along with the chopped hot dogs. I don’t know if it was the storm, or the sweet smoky flavor from Walker’s grill, or just how foods often taste better when they’ve settled overnight, but we were all a little stunned at how hot doggy the meal felt-—like things were fine, and fun, and easy, and unburdened.
- ⅔-1 cup cucumber matchsticks, unpeeled (about ½ an English cucumber, or 1 Kirby, or 2 Persians)
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. fish sauce, plus more to taste
- 1 small shallot or bulbed spring onion, cut into thin rings
- 1 thinly sliced chili, like a habanero, bird’s eye chili, or jalapeño
- 1 Tbsp. peanut or similar oil (optional)
- 1 hot dog, cut into matchsticks the same size as the cucumber ones
- 1 cup chopped cilantro, mint, basil, or any combination of them
- Lime juice to taste
- Chopped roasted peanuts
1. Mix cucumber pieces with salt and sugar and let sit for 10 minutes.
2. For crispy hot-dog bits, heat oil in a small pan over a medium flame, then sauté hot-dog matchsticks until browned on all sides. Or, if you prefer, leave the hot dog unfried.
3. Add fish sauce, shallot, juice from half a lime, and chili to the cucumbers and mix through. Add hot-dog pieces and mix again.
4. Adjust fish sauce and lime juice to taste, then add herbs. Mix through and taste again for any final adjustments. Top with peanuts! Eat the salad by itself, or wrapped in large pieces of lettuce, or on rice!