No matter how polarized the nation has become on political and social issues, there is still a sacred place where people come together, differences are set aside, cultures happily intersect, and the delicious possibilities of diversity are realized. That place is the kitchen, and when the metaphorical melting pot meets the literal, delicious fusion dishes like Spam musubi, birria ramen, BBQ chicken pizza and sushiritos are born, making our stomachs – and social media – go wild. Another such Frankensteined food, the Sonoran hot dog, has been gaining traction lately with foodies, home cooks and chefs looking for the next level of Nathan’s Famous.
“I tend not to like fusion [foods] or twists on certain dishes, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were the first time I tried them,” Stella Navarro-Kim, a content creator and recipe developer based in Southern California, tells Yahoo Life. “I loved them so much I knew I had to recreate them for my blog.
Not unlike Sonoran hot dogs, Navarro-Kim says their flavor is a product of two separate culinary traditions, having grown up in a Korean-Mexican household. “The beans and a bacon-wrapped hot dog make them stand out, and the jalapeño sauce is a huge game changer,” he says. “Although it’s more time-consuming to make than a traditional hot dog, the Sonoran dog is special and definitely deserves some shine.”
What is a Sonoran Hot Dog?
Loaded with spices and bursting from the specialty bun, the Sonoran dog is believed to have been invented in Sonora, the Mexican state that gave it its name and borders Arizona. Seen primarily as street food, it was usually sold on street carts by vendors known as dogueros. Fused francs are made with elements from both sides of the border. The standard formula: American bacon, beef hot dog, a bolillo bun, whole pinto beans, grilled onions, green onions, diced tomatoes, mustard, mayo and jalapeño salsa. A yellow caribbean pepper is served on the side.
Where Did Sonoran Dogs Come From?
Fittingly, the man generally credited with introducing and popularizing it in the US (especially in Tucson), Daniel Contreras, is the embodiment of the aforementioned melting pot mentality and the American dream. He ate his first when he was 7 years old polishing shoes in his hometown of Magdalena, Mexico. He didn’t forget them when he immigrated to the US in 1979, but his only goal at the time was to finally become his own boss. When it came time to open his first restaurant, El Guero Canelo, the dogs he’s now inextricably linked to weren’t part of his business plan.
“After a few years of living and working here, I realized I couldn’t get my hands on fresh carne like the type I grew up eating,” Contreras tells Yahoo Life. “So in 1993, in partnership with my wife, I opened a very small carne asada stand focused on quality and freshness.”
Contreras says the stand was so small that customers came to expect it to be a hot dog stand. “After two years, I got my wife to open a hot dog stand on a different street, eventually adding [Sonoran hot dogs] on our menu,” he says. “I had no idea about it [style of] the hot dog would become so popular and what would I be associated with. It was a pleasant surprise.”
A prize dog
A bigger surprise was in store for Contreras and his humble hot dog business in 2018 when he won the James Beard “American Classics” award. (According to the James Beard Foundation for Good, the American Classics category honors restaurants with “timeless appeal” that are “loved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.”) But that was mostly because he had no idea. WHERE the what James Beard, his eponymous institution or the annual “best of” culinary awards were.
“They called me a few times before the announcement asking for information, but I carefully turned them away, worried it was some kind of scam,” he says. “As soon as I found out that it was such a highly regarded culinary honor, I went crazy with excitement and emotion. I was in disbelief that they chose my hot dogs to receive that price. From dishwasher to James Beard Award recipient with 90 employees? I was in disbelief.”
His empire, from which the 61-year-old claims he is “80/20%” retired, now includes three El Guero Canelo outposts, a meat market and a bakery and tortilla factory in Magdalena. He explains that the bakery is important because bolillo—a Mexican bread similar to but shorter than a baguette—is a key ingredient in the recipe.
“That way we can control the quality,” he says. The wide, bowl-like roll can handle the heavy load of toppings better than typical tube-shaped buns. “It works best steamed, making it super fluffy,” says Contreras, acknowledging that bolillos can be hard to come by for the home chef. “People should go to a local Mexican bakery and ask for ‘pan de hot dog.’
Navarro-Kim, who points out that the first place she tried Sonoran hot dogs (and got the idea for the TikTok post that has since seen 1.7 million users) was at El Guero Canelo, says she can vouch for how it is difficult to find the required carbohydrate. “The bagel is very important, but it’s very hard to find outside of Sonora,” he says. “I couldn’t. If you can’t, use extra large brioche buns. Don’t bake or toast them, they’re meant to be soft. Steaming is the way to go.”
How to make a Sonoran hot dog
To prepare for the post, the blogger tried every variation of the Sonoran dog she could find — many of which are local, like adding nacho cheese, avocado or crushed chips — but she always came back to that first bite at El Guero Canelo .
As for what to pair them with, that usually comes down to personal preference. Navarro-Kim opts for a beer and the traditional side of chiles toreados, peppers that are blistered or fried in oil and finished with salt and lime. “It’s not a Sonoran hot dog if there’s no frozen Mexican Coke or Pepsi in the bottle with them,” he adds.
Whether or not bread escapes you, both Navarro-Kim and Contreras encourage making these delicious local dogs at home and experimenting with toppings. Both have some pointers for those who dare to attempt it.
Contreras recommends using Hormel bacon (Used the brand for 29 years.), pinto beans and a good quality bolillo bun. Navarro-Kim agrees, saying she learned the hard way to “definitely go light on the bacon.”
“Use thin bacon and one slice per hot dog,” he instructs. “On my first test run, I wrapped the hot dog in thick bacon and used two slices per hot dog thinking it would taste better. It just tasted like bacon. I couldn’t taste the beef franks.”
“For the beans,” he continues, “I recommend buying canned pinto beans that are already seasoned. Making my recipe from scratch will of course be better, but it’s time consuming. The canned still tastes good and can be made better adding a few simple spices. Finally, don’t skip the jalapeño sauce.”
Are you ready to take these dogs for a walk? Navarro-Kim’s shares her viral recipe.
Sonoran Hot Dogs
Courtesy of Stella Navarro-Kim at Stella ‘n Spice
Ingredients for frijoles:
1/4 diced raw onion
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1 onion, thinly sliced and grilled
4 roasted yellow chili peppers
1 yellow chili pepper
1 clove of garlic
To make the frijoles:
*If using canned beans, skip these steps and just heat them in a saucepan.
1. Rinse and soak the pinto beans in water overnight, picking out any that have browned or become misshapen.
2. Boil the beans in a pot with a little fresh water, onion, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, dried epazote or Mexican oregano, and salt to taste. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adding water as needed.
3. The beans are ready when the water in the beans has thickened and the beans squish easily between your fingers.
To collect the Sonoran Dogs:
Prepare all the toppings. Chop some onions and tomatoes and set them aside. Thinly slice some grilled onions and cut the jalapeños and 1 yellow chili pepper in half. You will also need 2 limes, a small handful of coriander and 1 clove of garlic.
Wrap the hot dogs tightly with strips of bacon.
Cook the bacon-wrapped hot dogs in a large skillet over medium heat.
Flip the hot dogs over and when enough bacon oil comes out of the pan, add the sliced onions and peppers. Turn the hotdogs constantly as they cook, and once the peppers start to bubble, add the garlic clove.
Remove everything from the pan once cooked except most of the onions (remove a small amount of the cooked onions to make the jalapeño sauce).
Sauté the onions a little longer with a little mustard (optional: I see a lot of vendors do this in their cart and I think it adds a great flavor to the onions).
To make the jalapeño sauce, combine cilantro, roasted jalapeños, 1 roasted yellow pepper, garlic, some of the roasted onions, juice of 1 lime, salt to taste, and a little water. Mix until they are homogeneous.
Steam the bolillo or hot dog buns by wrapping them in a wet paper towel and microwave for 10 seconds.
Make your Sonoran Dog: First add a layer of lime mayo to the bun, then bacon-wrapped hot dogs, followed by fries, raw tomatoes and onions, more mayo, grilled onions, mustard and jalapeño salsa. Serve with roasted yellow chili peppers on the side.
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