What Makes Kansas City-Style Hot Dogs Unique?

The United States is many things, but one unimpeachable truth about the U.S. is that we're a hot dog nation, a patchwork of regional styles and peccadilloes. New Yorkers, for example, like a boiled dog with mustard and maybe some sauerkraut or onions in sauce from a Sabrett's cart. Chicagoans drag their dogs through the garden, layering on sport peppers, whole pickle spears, onions, celery salt, sliced tomatoes, bright yellow mustard, neon green relish, and nary a drop of ketchup. And, down South, slaw reigns supreme (via Delish).

But what about Kansas City, that bluesy, beefy plains metropolis that is more known for their BBQ? Does KC have a municipal dog to call their own? The answer is yes ... and no. While organizations like the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) list a Kansas City-style dog — one topped with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on a sesame seed bun — on their compendium of regional takes, other outlets, like Men's Journal, says that a truer take would be a dog topped with brisket burnt ends and sweet, smoky KC barbecue sauce.

Barbecue or no barbecue?

Kansas City has a culinary legacy that is impressive to say the least, notes Google Arts & Culture. An early rail hub, Kansas City was the destination for cattle drives originating from as far away as Texas. That necessitated a massive stockyard complex, one that flourished until 1991, housing thousands of heads of cattle and pigs, explains KC Today. The added benefit of the stockyard's proximity was access to quality beef. Though the stockyard is gone, the evidence of its influence remains in the local barbecue, of which pork ribs and beef brisket are the standouts (via Experience KC).

With that sort of barbecue pedigree, burnt ends and sauce are a natural choice for toppings. Local NPR station KCUR polled Kansas City chefs and listeners about what constitutes a KC hot dog, and while the answers varied, there was a through line: barbecue sauce and fried onions.

Why then does the NHDSC list Swiss cheese and sauerkraut as the traditional toppings of a Kansas City-style hot dog? It's likely linked to a hot dog served at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals, finds First We Feast. There, one can get a Reuben dog topped with melted Swiss, caraway seeds, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. Was the Reuben sandwich invented in KC? Is Kansas City known for particularly delectable Reubens? No and no, but it was only a matter of time before someone loaded up a dog with these toppings, and it might as well have been in Kansas City.