What's the best hot dog mustard? We taste test 12 brands

Mustard and hot dogs just seem to go together — but which mustard? There are so many. The National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wis., has 5,975 mustards in its collection — and sells more than 450 of them.

But then there are a lot of dogs out there waiting to be slathered with mustard. Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day this summer, according to an estimate by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group.

Bruce Kraig and Patty Carroll, co-authors of the 2012 book "Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America," write that the first vendors in America "dressed their hot dog sandwiches with mustard and not much else." A few sentences later, Kraig declares that "mustard is a must for almost all hot dog iterations."

Why? Kraig offered three reasons.

"One is culinary," the Chicago-based food historian wrote in an email, "a taste for mildly hot, sharp flavors cuts through and complements the fat in sausage."

Culinary tradition is a second factor. Mustard, Kraig noted, is an old condiment in Europe. When Europeans — he cited Germans, East Europeans and the English — arrived in the New World, they brought their "mustard-meat nexus" with them.

Commerce, he wrote, was the third factor. Mustard didn't need refrigeration "what with all that vinegar" used in its making and could be easily made available wherever hot dogs were sold.

Yellow mustard is the most popular mustard variety, listed as one of the three most commonly used condiments, along with ketchup and mayonnaise, according to a 2016 report on condiment consumption prepared by Mintel, a market research firm. (Brown, Dijon and deli mustards are grouped together in a separate category by Mintel.)

Kraig said yellow mustard is so popular because it's "cheap, not super hot and it seemed right." French's mustard, he added, became popular in ballparks after 1900 and "mild yellow mustard became embedded in American popular culture."

Given Food & Dining's monthlong "Craving: Sausages" series, a mustard and hot dog tasting seemed appropriate. Twelve mustards were put to a blind comparison, starting with yellow mustard, the traditional go-to for hot dogs. Then we added brown, Dijon and deli mustards because they represent popular varieties.

Nine of the brands were purchased at a small, independent grocery in my Chicago neighborhood — my theory being that if Devon Market was carrying these brands, your local groceries likely would be too. Three of the mustards came from a Jewel-Osco store near the Chicago Tribune. I avoided membership-only club brands because I wanted mustards the general public had a reasonable chance of buying. Prices listed are what I paid.

I broke the mustards down into four broad groups based on Mintel's 2016 consumption data: Yellow, brown, Dijon and deli mustards. There was one exception: Colman's Mustard. I've always used the powdered type of this English mustard, mixing it fresh with cold water, to serve with miniature egg rolls. I wondered how the bottled prepared version would work with a hot dog.

This was a blind tasting, meaning those who took part didn't know which mustard was which. Each taster was asked to sample and rate each mustard on its own, assessing appearance, aroma, texture and flavor. They were then asked to rate the mustards with a hot dog. We used a top-selling national brand, Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners, made with chicken, turkey and pork.

For the results, see the gallery at the top of this article.

wdaley@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @billdaley

 

 

 

 

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