Will We Ever Know Who Really Invented The Chili Dog?

The invention of the hot dog dates back to the late 15th century, per History, but its actual place of origin is disputed, with two cities – Frankfurt and Vienna – claiming ownership of the now iconic comfort food. Less uncertainty surrounds the hot dog's introduction to America. They were first sold in New York by one or more German transplants via pushcart circa 1860.

Coney Island, in many ways the ancestral home of American-style hot dogs, saw its first stand opened in 1870, thanks to German-born entrepreneur Charles Feltman, observes Culture Trip. But competitors would abound in the decades that followed, including a former Feltman protégé named Nathan Handwerker. Yes, the founder of Nathan's Famous in Coney Island, which has been hosting hot dog eating contests since it opened in 1916, recalls Business Insider.

In the century-plus since Nathan's premiered, the hot dog has exploded in popularity nationwide. It has also inspired, it must be noted, a host of offshoots. Many of these, like the Chicago dog or Jersey breakfast dog, are regionally specific, Salon explains. In some instances, however, it's hard to know just which region a hot dog variation actually hailed from. Like the early disputes over the origins of the hot dog in Europe, people continue to dispute, for example, the derivation of the chili dog in the U.S. Who created it? Where did it come from, and when? 

Multiple origin stories for the chili dog

There are so many competing origin stories for the chili dog, it seems unlikely that the true story will ever be known. The Atlantic, for example, notes that chili had crossed the border from Mexico to San Antonio, Texas by the 1870s. But how it ended up on hot dogs is still unknown ... or at least unproven.

Salon attributes the invention of Coneys (as chili dogs were once known) to Macedonian immigrants in the Midwest. Macedonia, of course, is traditionally part of Greece, notes Britannica. Thus, native Greek Konstantin Keros may be a link to this story. "Gust," as he was called, was serving both chili and hot dogs in Detroit by 1910, confirms Vox Media. At some point he put the two items together, ostensibly inventing the chili dog. That is, if George Todoroff hadn't (allegedly) already beaten him to it by inventing chili dogs at his Jackson, Michigan restaurant in 1914, as his family still insists.

Art Elkind, the founder of Art's Famous Chili Dog, a Los Angeles fixture for 80 years, is also alleged to have invented the chili dog when his restaurant first opened in 1939. Confusing the issue further is the addition of cheese to the chili dog. The Spruce Eats says they originated in Texas in 1981. The origin story is not clear. So it's hard to know for sure.