What is a Sonoran hot dog? Why foodies say the bacon-wrapped bean-covered dog 'deserves some shine'

·9 min read
Piled high with condiments and bursting out of its specialty bun, the Sonoran dog is believed to have been invented in Sonora, the Mexican state that gave it its name and borders Arizona. (Photo: El Guero Canelo)
Piled high with condiments and bursting out of its specialty bun, the Sonoran dog is believed to have been invented in Sonora, the Mexican state that gave it its name and borders Arizona. (Photo: El Guero Canelo)

No matter how polarized the nation has become on political and social topics, there's still a sacred place where people come together, differences are set aside, cultures joyfully cross pollinate and the delicious potential of diversity is realized. That place is the kitchen, and when the figurative melting pot meets the literal one, fabulous fusion foods like Spam musubi, birria ramen, barbecue chicken pizza and sushirritos are born, causing our stomachs — and social media — to go wild. Another such Frankensteined food, the Sonoran hot dog, has been gaining traction of late with foodies, home cooks and chefs looking to next-level their Nathan's Famous.

"I tend not to like fusion [foods] or twists on specific dishes, but I was pleasantly surprised how good they were the first time I tried them," Stella Navarro-Kim, a Southern California-based content creator and recipe developer 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 her taste is the product of two distinct culinary traditions, as she grew up in a Korean-Mexican household. "Beans and a bacon-wrapped hot dog make them stand out and the jalapeño sauce is a huge game-changer," she says. "Although it is more time consuming to make versus a traditional hot dog, the Sonoran dog is special and definitely deserves some shine."

What is a Sonoran hot dog?

Piled high with condiments and bursting out of its specialty bun, the Sonoran dog is believed to have been invented in Sonora, the Mexican state that gave it its name and borders Arizona. See primarily as a street food, they were commonly sold at street carts by vendors known as dogueros. The fused franks 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, fresh onions, diced tomatoes, mustard, mayo and jalapeño salsa. A caribe yellow pepper is served on the side.

Where did Sonoran dogs come from?

Fittingly, the man generally credited with introducing and popularizing it in the U.S. (especially Tucson), Daniel Contreras, is the embodiment of the aforementioned melting pot mentality and the American Dream. He ate his first one when he was a 7-year-old shoeshine in his hometown of Magdalena, Mexico. He didn't forget about them when he immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, yet his only goal at the time was eventually to become his own boss. When it came time to open up his first El Guero Canelo restaurant, the dogs he's now inexorably linked to weren't part of his business plan.

"After a couple of years living and working here, I realized I couldn't get my hands on fresh carne asada like the type I grew up eating," Contreras tells Yahoo Life. "So, in 1993, partnered with my wife, I opened up a very small carne asada stand focused on quality and freshness."

Contreras says the stand was so small that customers came expecting it to be a hot dog stand. "After two years, I had my wife open a hotdog stand on a different street, thus finally adding [Sonoran hot dogs] to our menu," he says. "I had no clue the [style of] hot dog was going to be so popular and what I would be associated with. It was a pleasant surprise."

An award-winning dog

A bigger surprise was in store for Contreras, and his humble hot dog business, in 2018 when he earned a James Beard "American Classics" award. (According to the James Beard Foundation for Good, the American Classics category honors restaurants with "timeless appeal" that are "cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community.") But that was mostly because he had no idea who or what James Beard, his namesake foundation or the annual gastronomic "best of" awards were.

"They called me a couple of times before the announcement asking for information, but I cautiously turned them away worried it was some type of fraud," he says. "Once I found out it was a culinary honor of such high regard, I went crazy with excitement and emotion. I was in disbelief that they chose my hotdog to receive that honor. From dish washer to a James Beard Award recipient with 90 employees? I was in disbelief."

Bread matters

His empire, which the 61 year old claims he is "80/20%" retired from, now encompasses three El Guero Canelo outposts, a meat market and a bakery and tortilla factory back in Magdalena. He explains the bakery is important because the bolillo — a Mexican bread similar to but shorter than a baguette — is a key component of the recipe.

"This 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 extremely fluffy," says Contreras, acknowledging that bolillos can be hard to find 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's since been seen by 1.7 million users) was at El Guero Canelo, says she can vouch for how hard it is to find the called-for carb. "The bun is very important but it is very hard to find outside of Sonora," she says. "I couldn't. If you can't, use extra large brioche buns. Do not grill or toast them; they are meant to be soft. Steaming is the way to go."

How to make a Sonoran hot dog

To prep for the post, the blogger tried every variation on the Sonoran dog she could find — many of which are regional like adding nacho cheese, avocado or crumbled potato chips — but always came back to that first bite at El Guero Canelo.

As for what to pair them with, that's usually up 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 topped with salt and lime. "It's not Sonoran hotdogs if there isn't a chilled Mexican Coke or Pepsi in the bottle with it," Contreras adds.

Whether or not the bread eludes you, both Navarro-Kim and Contreras encourage making these tasty regional dogs at home and experimenting with toppings. Both have a few pointers for those who dare attempt it.

Contreras recommends using Hormel bacon (He's 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 with the bacon."

"Use thin bacon and one slice per hot dog," she instructs. "On my first test run, I wrapped the hot dog with thick bacon and I used two slices per hot dog thinking that it would taste better. It just tasted like bacon. I couldn't taste the beef franks."

"For beans," she continues, "I recommend getting canned pinto beans that are already seasoned. Making my recipe from scratch of course will be better, but it's time consuming. The canned stuff still tastes good and can be made better by adding a few simple spices. Lastly, do not skip the jalapeño sauce."

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

(Photo: Stella 'n Spice)
(Photo: Stella 'n Spice)

Ingredients:

  • 4 hot dogs

  • 4 slices of bacon

  • 4 soft bolillo buns or brioche hot dog buns

Cooked bean (frijoles) ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried pinto beans or 1 15-ounce can pinto beans

  • 1/4 of an onion

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried epazote or Mexican oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin

  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper

  • salt to taste

Other toppings:

  • 1/4 diced raw onion

  • 1 large tomato, deseeded and diced

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced and grilled

  • 4 grilled yellow chili peppers

Condiments:

  • mayonnaise with lime juice

  • mustard

  • jalapeño salsa

Jalapeno salsa:

  • 3 jalapeños

  • 1 yellow chili pepper

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1 lime

  • grilled onions

  • cilantro

  • salt

  • water

Instructions:

To make the frijoles:

*If using canned beans, skip these steps and just heat through in a saucepan.

1. Rinse and soak the pinto beans in water over night, picking out any beans that are browned or deformed.

2. Boil the beans in a pot with some fresh water, onion, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, dried epazote or Mexican oregano and salt to taste. Boil uncovered on medium low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adding water as needed.

3. The beans are ready when the bean water has thickened and the beans are easily squished between your fingers.

To assemble the Sonoran dogs:

  1. Prepare all toppings. Dice some onions and tomatoes and set aside. Thinly slice some onions for grilling and cut the jalapeños and 1 yellow chili pepper in half. You'll also need 2 limes, a small handful of cilantro and 1 garlic clove.

  2. Tightly wrap the hotdogs with bacon strips.

  3. Cook the bacon-wrapped hot dogs in a large pan over medium heat.

  4. Turn the hot dogs over, and when enough of the bacon oil has been released into the pan, add the sliced onions and peppers. Continuously flip the hot dogs over as they cook, and once the peppers have started to blister, add the garlic clove.

  5. Remove everything from the pan once cooked through, except for most of the onions (take out a small amount of the grilled onions to make the jalapeño salsa).

  6. Sauté the onions just a little bit longer with some mustard (optional: I see a lot of vendors doing this at their cart and I think it adds great flavor to the onions).

  7. To make the jalapeño salsa, combine cilantro, grilled jalapeños, 1 grilled yellow pepper, garlic, some of the grilled onions, juice from 1 lime, salt to taste and a little water. Blend until smooth.

  8. Steam the bolillo or hot dog buns by wrapping them in a dampened paper towel and microwaving for 10 seconds.

  9. Build your Sonoran dog: Add a layer of the lime mayo in the bun first, then the bacon-wrapped hot dogs, followed by frijoles, raw tomatoes and onions, more mayo, grilled onions, mustard and jalapeño salsa. Serve with grilled yellow chili peppers on the side.

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