Against Aioli

Now that we’ve figured out the existence of God and the reality of time, let’s get down to the important issues: please stop putting aioli on hot dogs.

Recently, a casual restaurant called the Dog Haus opened right on the street I drive down on my way to and from work. It’s a pretty simple concept: fancy hot dogs and sausages. As restaurant concepts go, this is right in my wheelhouse, combining two things I love very much: (1) fanciness, and (2) hot dogs. I am precisely the target audience for this establishment. I would not be surprised if some marketer had shown a picture of me in his PowerPoint presentation to the Dog Haus board meeting at one point.

However, upon actually eating at the Dog Haus a couple of times, my overall impression was one of grave disappointment. I had sampled a couple of their suggested special items — things like “Das Brat,” which comes with bratwurst, whole grain mustard aioli, white american cheese, caramelized onions, and sauerkraut. In each case, the offering came across as too bland and goopy to really qualify as anything special. I have had hot dogs at baseball stadiums that brought me greater pleasure.

But I persevered, out of a conviction that I should like this kind of place. Finally I decided to forgo the suggested menu offerings and just get a plain dog and put on the condiments myself.

It was heavenly. Spicy, crisp, lively, and served on an amazing Hawaiian bread bun. The hot dog I had been waiting for all my life.

It took me a while, but I eventually sussed out why I could take the Dog Haus raw ingredients and create something special, but was turned off by all of their pre-suggested menu items. Namely: the suggestions they put forward were far too likely to feature an innocent sausage drowned in “aioli.”

Photo of a Dog Haus dog (with aioli). From A Moveable Feast, whose author is far too forgiving of this abomination.

Photo of a Dog Haus dog (with aioli). From A Moveable Feast, whose author is far too forgiving of this abomination.

It’s not just the Dog Haus. I’ve been to a disturbing number of upscale burger joints that seem to think that aioli is what one puts on cheeseburgers. (Not to mention “brioche buns” — don’t get me started.)

It is not. Traditionally, on burgers one puts ketchup, and on hot dogs and sausages one puts mustard, in addition to whatever other creative accoutrements one is inspired to add. But not aioli, a garlicky kind of mayonnaise meant for eggs or fish or something else light and delicate.

I am here to inform the gourmet chefs of the world that hot dogs and hamburgers are not light and delicate foodstuffs. They are robust, coarse, energetic foods, and they require condiments that can stand up to the challenge. Something with a kick, with some life in it — not a greasy white emulsion of oil globules.

It’s not hard to see why such an obvious mistake is being made. You want to brand your dogs and burgers — traditionally classified as simple peasant fare — as something upscale and sophisticated. Mustard and ketchup are the antithesis of upscale sophistication, so you peer into your list of French condiments and see what comes up. (Whatever appears first in alphabetical order, apparently.)

The solution is equally obvious: better-quality mustard and ketchup. The Dog Haus even has such things, which explains why it’s not hard to build a memorable dog all by yourself, if you don’t make the mistake of letting them do it for you.

I will close with a picture of Joël Robuchon, one of the greatest chefs of our age, eating at In-And-Out Burger. I bet he was sad that “animal-style” burgers involve Thousand Island dressing.


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41 Responses to Against Aioli

  1. Dan says:

    If it has something French on it, it’s not a hot dog. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a hot dog. Is nothing sacred?

  2. Tom Flynn says:

    Gee Dan, maybe it’s a haute dog?

  3. Bryon says:

    A thoughtful guy like you, Sean? I would have expected you to be a vegetarian.

  4. Gristle McThornbody says:

    As long as they don’t put cilantro on it (or, preferably, have it anywhere in a 3-mile radius of the establishment) I could probably choke down any kind of hot dog or sausage. But I had to look up what aioli was, so I’m not a true hot-dog gourmand.

  5. Ray Gunn says:

    That’s what MWI will get you.

  6. Richard Olson says:

    If beef or pork served is bland-to-tasteless and about as tough as carpet, and there is no Heinz 57 available, and I’m really, really hungry, I’ll settle for ketchup to cover up the flaws. Preferably enhanced with hot sauce. I would never ruin a flavorful burger with that stuff, though.

  7. darrelle says:

    I love cheeses and sausages of many, many kinds. I even sometimes love some kind of cheese on some kind of sausage.

    But, american cheese? On a nice bratwurst? I can’t think of a surer way to turn something bland than by putting american cheese on it. If you want to “kick it down a notch” as opposed to “kick it up a notch,” go ahead. Put some american cheese on it.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say american cheese is disgusting, because it isn’t. It just isn’t worth eating. If you want to eat cheese you may as well eat something with some character and flavor.

  8. Jshobe says:

    Mustard. Any kind of mustard, but the hotter the better. French’s in a pinch. Aioli? Maybe on a tuna-dog? To the Thousand Island on a burger: three more inches of sea-level rise and it will have to be called 500 Island.

  9. Paulina says:

    I think the only thing that goes with hot dogs is Wow-Wow Sauce, which Archchancellor Ridcully swears by (first time I tried it while reading “Hogfather” by Sir Terry 😉 ).

    Unfortunately, the delights you’re describing in this Wow-Wow post are not in my current “life-saving” diet of chicken liver, chicken liver, chicken liver, and too many green vegetables I’d care to mention or know the names in English. But when/if I survive this diabolical diet and other constraints on my life, I’m going all the way, with or without aioli.

  10. Can’t you just say “hold the aioli”?

  11. Joel Grant says:

    On the other hand, sriracha mayo is good on everything, with the possible exception of popcorn.

  12. Shecky R says:

    For gosh sakes, be happy they’re not putting kale on it!

  13. Lord says:

    A good horseradish mustard can be hard to find.

  14. Ben Goren says:

    Aioli is what you should be dipping artichoke leaves in, and spreading on asparagus, or maybe topping some delicate fish. I could maybe see it for those who like mayo on fries.

    But on dogs and burgers? What’s the point? Aioli itself is delicate enough that you can only enjoy it with something that doesn’t compete with it — which means something similarly delicate. You’re just wasting the aioli itself by putting it on a dog.

    What’s next? Chili fries topped with béchamel? Chiles rellenos served with clarified butter? A dash of saffron atop a pepper-encrusted steak?


  15. Bob H says:

    As a lifelong lover of dogs and burgers, I must get my personal oar in here. On hot dogs, they should be the ones with the casing and lightly browned (never boiled) so they “pop” when you bite into one, releasing a burst of flavor. In agreement with others, the topping should be a spicy brown mustard – preferably from a good deli, but Gulden’s works, and dill relish too. Please, never a bland yellow mustard like French’s. Burgers should never be well done and better if they drip on your fingers a little. Low fat ground chuck makes a tasteless, dry burger. Topping? I’m a purist – salt, pepper and thin dill slices. Cheese? OK but not American.

  16. George W. Harris says:

    If you’re ever in Durham, NC, check out Only Burger. They do sometime have a burger with aioli (the GoodFella, along with bruschetta and provolone, but all of their standard burgers are excellent. I recommend the Bacon and Blue, with bacon, bleu cheese, and a house-made red onion jam. If you don’t care for bleu cheese, they will also make it with feta.

  17. BobC says:

    A hot dog rant? Rly?

    I double-checked the date, just to be sure, and to ensure no sudden time warps had occurred.

    But, damn if I’m not craving a dog RIGHT NOW!

    Good thing Lent ends tomorrow.

  18. Fred says:

    dude, that sausage menu tells me all I need to know. Kung Pao Cajun? They obviously don’t know what they’re doing. You don’t murder an andouille like that. Hot Doug’s they are not. I can forgive a traditional chicago dog being absent from the menu… but no emphasis on celery salt anywhere else to make up for it? I just don’t know if grad school at Cal Tech is worth it. I just don’t know anymore…

    The next time you’re around Atlanta:
    And if you go to FLIP Burger, they used to have a hot dog spot that has long since closed; but if you you tell them you’d like it in tube form, they’ll show you something special. If they refuse, you could tell them what you do for a living and tell them something interesting about liquid nitrogen, or just eat one of their burgers.

  19. Heather says:

    Hunh. I live in Marseille, and REAL aioli has like eight cloves of raw garlic per spoonful of olive oil mayo, and is if anything less delicate than mustard. You’re right, though, that it’s used to pick up otherwise bland (read, boiled) food, and no one here would eat aioli with dogs, either.

    Sauerkraut is far more reasonable. Hot dogs are “saucisses de Strasbourg” or “de Francfort” (depending mostly on the casing) and the French do love them some mustard. We eat hot dogs either without buns, in a plate of lentils (yum – but not with your fingers) or inside a hollowed-out baguette half, if you’re talking a sports event.

    If they’ve got some condiment with fish sauce in it available, now you’re talking.

  20. rtkufner says:


  21. phumurn says:

    Cool I think hot dogs mite be different in other universe in a multiverse reality

  22. Antonio (AKA "Un físico") says:

    Hi Sean, I am a new commenter in your blog.
    People’s likes (or dislikes) about food can change. I discovered aioli 40 years ago and nowadays I am enjoying it much more than before (but less than, e.g., 2 years ago).
    More difficult is to change people’s understanding of physics. I have read some of your “great hits” about cosmology and relativity and I am somehow disapointed. Anyhow, I have noticed some good points in there (I guess, then, that you are not “another” Caltech staff abducted by Hollywood 🙂 ); so I will follow your site for a while: let’s see if we can have some nice argued threads.

  23. Gaehazzi says:

    Now that the question of God is settled, we can proceed with the following inquiry. When God hath punished Adam and Eve and the Serpent for their transgression in the Garden of Eden, and He cursed the Serpent “and dust you shall eat all the days of your life,” did that curse have anything to do with the fact that Americans today indulge in hot dogs, hamburgers, Hershey chocolate, buns with the consistency of cotton wool, and such, congratulating themselves that nothing in the world can possibly taste better.

    (And old Polish adage: The worm boring in the horseradish thinks nothing is sweeter.)

  24. Gaehazzi says: