Credit: Julia Thiel

The chef: Barry Sorkin (Smoque)

The challenger: Doug Sohn (Hot Doug’s)

The ingredient: Vienna Beef Hot Dogs

Hot dogs were hardly new to Barry Sorkin—”but I can’t say I’ve ever made anything with them other than hot dogs, or maybe franks and beans,” he says. While he’s grateful that Doug Sohn didn’t assign him something like fish eyes or bull testicles, the ballpark staple presented its own challenges. “It’s a tough ingredient, because you could argue that its highest and best use is on a poppy-seed bun with mustard, pickle, tomato, celery salt—but I probably would have gotten made fun of if that’s what I did,” says Sorkin.

Still, he can easily wax poetic about the Chicago dog: “I just think those toppings work together so well. You’ve got the mustard to give a tangy counterpoint to the smoky, fatty of the hot dog. You’ve got the amazing combinations of flavors and textures and temperatures. You put the cold pickle and the sliced tomatoes and the spicy peppers. It just all works.”

But he’d ruled that out as an option. “So I’m shooting for the second-best use for hot dogs. That’s my target here. I’m not going to try to compete with a Chicago dog.”

What he did was dice up Vienna Beef hot dogs, marinate them in balsamic vinegar and panfry them, and combine them with chopped dried cherries and green onion. “We’re going to stuff it into a jalapeño pepper with some Oaxaca cheese just to give it a little bit of richness,” he said. “And then, since that might not be enough richness, we’re going to wrap it in bacon and then we’re going to smoke it.” The recipe is essentially a variation on “dragon turds,” which are stuffed with chorizo or other sausage, and are popular in Chicago with LTHForum members (who’ve created seemingly endless variations).

Sorkin treated the hot dog dish the same way he treats barbecue. “You want to take that smoky flavor, and maybe want to add a little sweetness to it, and a little tanginess to it, and create something that’s a little bit more balanced,” he said. “The idea is, you should taste the hot dog, but it shouldn’t taste like a hot dog.”

When the bacon-wrapped jalapeños emerged from the smoker, it quickly became apparent that the staff at Smoque was already very familiar with them—Sorkin had been practicing for a few days. One of the cashiers cheered; another staffer wanted to know how long they’d been out of the oven. The staff had learned the hard way that they need to cool for ten or 15 minutes. (It’s not easy to wait that long when you’re staring at crispy bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cheese and hot dogs.)

Finally tasting it, Sorkin said, “You get the sweetness from the cherry, a little bit from the balsamic, you get the smokiness of the hot dog and the bacon, a little spice from the pepper. It’s good.”

There were still a dozen or so left, but Sorkin wasn’t worried about getting rid of them. “Yesterday I made about 15 or 20 of them, and I tried one, and I thought, oh, this is really good, I’m going to go get Al [partner Al Sherman], give him one. I went back in the office and said, hey, you’ve gotta come out and try one of these. I came out and they were all gone.”

Who’s Next:

Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions Deli, cooking with bourbon. “You can’t be a barbecue guy and not have spent some time cooking with a little bit of bourbon,” Sorkin says. “I like to make a caramel sauce out of it and put it over sweet potatoes.” Friedman seemed pleased with the assignment, responding, “Fuck yeah!”

YouTube video

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Balsamic Hot Dog and Sour Cherry Jalapeños Wrapped in Bacon

12-14 medium-size jalapeños

24-28 slices of bacon (not thick-cut)

2 jumbo Vienna Beef hot dogs

3 oz dried sour cherries

3 oz Oaxaca cheese (or other mild cheese, like mozzarella)

4 T balsamic vinegar

1 oz green onion, minced

Cooking oil

Cut the hot dogs into 3/8-inch dice. Add the vinegar and marinate for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil in a sautee pan over medium heat, add the hot dogs and vinegar, and sautee for four or five minutes, unitl the hot dog has started to brown and the vinegar has thickened a bit.

Cut the stem ends off the jalapeños and scrape out the seeds and ribs with a paring knife (a plastic knife works well too). Tap the pepper on your work surface to remove the seeds and rib material. Chop the cherries into 3/8-inch dice and the cheese into 1/4-inch strips about the length of the peppers. Mix the cherries, cooked hot dog, thickened vinegar, and green onion in a small bowl.

Place two or three strips of cheese in each hollowed-out jalapeño pepper. If they’re too long, cut them so that they’re not sticking out of the peppers. Place a small amount of filling in one of the peppers over the strips of cheese, then use your finger to push it all the way to the bottom of the pepper. Add more filling in small amounts, pushing down after each addition, until the pepper is full and fairly tightly packed. Repeat until all the pepper are filled.

Lay out raw bacon strips on a sheet pan or work surface about four inches apart. Place a pepper, cut side down, in the center of one of the bacon strips. Pull one end over the pepper and wrap it over the pointy end of the pepper, then pull the other end of the bacon over that. You should now have the whole ppper wrapped lengthwise with the bacon strip. Turn the pepper on its side onto another piece of bacon and roll it sideways and at a slight angle so that the strip covers all or most of the pepper. Repeat with the remaining peppers.

Smoke the peppers (Sorkin uses applewood) at about 325 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the bacon is done. If you are unable to smoke them, you can cook them in the oven. Note: if the bacon gets too crisp, it will crumble when you eat the peppers.

Remove from the smoker or oven and let rest ten minutes before serving.