Culinary no-no #525

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinions, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

Here’s a prelude to this week’s no-no from a previous installment.

Shake Shack epitomizes the American Success Story.

The original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park in New York.

Consider this: Already, a single Shake Shack location is worth $50 million, compared to $10 million for a Chipotle, or $3 million for McDonald’s.

That’s the Shake Shack Burger that helped Shake Shack become a beefy success and is now the chain’s go-to menu item. But Shake Shack didn’t always serve burgers.  Remember it started out as a hot dog stand.

And you probably won’t find it hard to believe that like so many incredible rags to riches stories this one began simply. Very simply.

In early 2014, Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti did an interview with about founder Danny Meyer and a napkin’s slice of the history of the restaurants.

You’ve got to understand that 14 years ago, Madison Square Park was in disrepair. There were drugs, rats, homelessness and it was not a nice park. You can’t imagine that today because if you go there now, it may be the most beautiful small park in New York. At the time, we had two restaurants right on the Park, Tabla and Eleven Madison Park. Danny helped create the Madison Square Park Conservancy and their first renewal project was an art exhibit. As part of this exhibit, we birthed a small New York hot dog cart out of the kitchen of Eleven Madison. But what happened was that we held the same standards of quality to our cart that we did in our restaurants, and people loved it. All of a sudden, 50 people lined up, 100 people lined up and the hot cart became this amazing crazy thing.

For three years, we ran the hot dog cart, never thinking beyond that. Then, the city was fielding proposals to fill a 400 square foot kiosk in the Park. On that day, Danny sat down and scribbled on the back of a napkin his vision of a modern version of a roadside burger stand. Not retro, not ‘50s music playing, but today’s version of what made that place great. All we ever wanted to do at Shake Shack was to have good people serving fresh food, and to sell a few hot dogs. We put the burger on the menu and the rest is history.

About that napkin. There’s more to the story, and yes, our eventual no-no.

The napkin, a photo of which was just published recently laid out Meyer’s thoughts about what would all be served. Since hot dogs were on the menu you just had to have a Chicago-style.

Oh, yeh. A thing of beauty.


You’ve got your all-beef dog.

Yellow mustard

Bright green relish


Tomato wedges

Pickle spear

Sport peppers

A dash of celery salt

All served on a steamed poppy seed bun.


Uhh, but that’s not how Danny Meyer envisioned his Chicago-style dog. Let’s take a look at that famous napkin and see if you can spot the no-no.

Shake Shack napkin

Well, for one thing Meyer wanted to toss lettuce in there somewhere. But the most egregious vision he had of his Chicago-style dog was that it would include…



433 editions of Culinary no-no and here we go again. From

The toppings are just as important as the Hot Dog itself. If you look at the required toppings for a Chicago Dog, you will notice that Ketchup is not listed among them. Ketchup is an ingredient frowned upon by Hot Dog aficionados. Although ketchup remains one of the most popular condiments on Hot Dogs, “properly made” Hot Dogs, like the Chicago Style, usually lack the condiment.

Those who consider themselves Hot Dog connoisseurs are often vehemently opposed to eating (or even witnessing) Hot Dogs with ketchup; they think the flavor of ketchup overpowers and destroys the taste of the Hot Dog instead of complementing it. Nowhere is this difference in opinion more apparent than in Chicago.

The inclusion of ketchup on a Chicago Style Hot Dog is a controversial issue. Most adult Chicagoans will shun ketchup. Chicago Hot Dog stands will not, as a rule, put ketchup on a Chicago Dog. Some stands will provide ketchup although you are responsible for defacing your Dog.

“You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It’s watching you stuff your face with those Hot Dogs! Nobody – I mean nobody puts ketchup on a Hot Dog!”.  – This is a famous line from the movie Sudden Impact starring Clint Eastwood.

The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, in its recommendations for proper Hot Dog Etiquette capitulate only slightly to the public’s general regard for ketchup, saying “Don’t use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.”

Then there’s this Straight Dope” column published back in 1991 by the renowned Cecil Adams where we get even more serious.

So even an entrepreneur extraordinaire can blow it (maybe). In the end Danny Meyer’s Shack-cago dog is sans ketchup.
—Culinary no-no #434, August 2, 2015

This past Tuesday was…

Lots of ways to eat one.

40 different, delicious ways to eat hot dogs. The ultimate hot dog style guide!

But to reiterate, note the Chicago style.

To take advantage of National Hot Dog Day Heinz decided to market a “new product.”


Heinz went to Chicago to see if die-hard hot dogs sans ketchup fans could be persuaded to break their long-standing habits.

More reactions:

Replying to

Ketchup is for french fries and 5 year olds in Chicago. Go away .

Holliloki‏ @HolliLoki
Replying to

You got a lot of damn nerve trying to hoist that crap on our Chicago hot dogs.

Andrew Gilson‏ @gillythemanilli
Replying to

Never in a million years will you find such a condiment on my hot dog. Nice try Heinz, but it’s a huge no for me.

From a competitor:


So was the experiment successful? Since it didn’t win over a majority of consumers, probably not.But was it clever marketing? Heinz manufactured a limited number of bottles of the fake stuff that were available only online. They completely sold out. So to answer the question, yes yes.

Pass the mustard and onions, please.


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One thought on “Culinary no-no #525

  1. Pingback: UPDATE: Culinary no-no #525 | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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