Hot Dog Hour

  • By Josh Shaffer
  • Photography by Lissa Gotwals

A club in Raleigh meets once a month to experiment with its favorite food.

Hot Dog Club in Raleigh North Carolina

Dave Farley skewers his first hot dog of the day, plucks it from the grease of his Grillin’ Griddle, and holds it up to the light.

He turns it to judge its color, its char, its juiciness, its heft — sizing it up with the same critical eye a wine tourist trains on a glass of chardonnay.

Then, declaring it done, he grips it with one fist and chomps it in half.

“This is an appetizer,” he says. “That’s why hot dogs come in packs of 10, and buns come in packs of eight. You need appetizers.”

On the third Tuesday of every month, Farley leads about 25 hot dog nerds to a picnic pavilion on the Research Triangle Park campus in Raleigh, where they fill up on frankfurters.

Mostly engineers and programmers, the group transforms a weekday lunch hour into a hot dog symposium, sampling the world’s inventory.

“I call this the private stash,” Farley says, dumping five pounds of Sahlen’s hot dogs from Buffalo, New York, on the grill. He drops one dog on the ground, snatches it up, and gobbles it down in three bites.

“We have a 10-second rule,” he says. “And none of us can count.”

Farley, a retired IBM engineer and contractor for Lenovo, leads the group as much as anyone, but the club’s namesake is founder Dale Rider, who died in 2003.

Worldwide sample

When the club began a dozen years ago, five or six men from IBM ruminated about the greatest dogs and began visiting different spots around the Triangle.

Snoopy’s in Raleigh. The Sabrett stand at Duke University Hospital. Cloos’ Coney Island Hot Dogs. The one-pound hot dog at Joe’s Diner in Durham.

“I finished it,” Farley boasts about the 16-ouncer. “Then I wanted another.”

The Dale Rider Hot Dog Club even sampled the dogs at Home Depot.

But Rider was one of the first to question, out loud, the wisdom of spending so much money to sample hot dogs within a half-hour’s drive.

“Why not cook them ourselves?” he asked.

Using their own grill, they could sample hot dogs from around the world. Kobe beef franks from Japan. Buffalo franks from Wyoming. Old Bavarian sausage from Wisconsin. California pinks. Cheddar brats from Erie, Pennsylvania.

To the casual fan, the hot dog is a pedestrian snack unworthy of close examination. To the untrained palate, no hot dog outranks another. But to join the Dale Rider Hot Dog Club, it has to matter to you that a dog is all beef, or that it comes in a natural casing. You have to notice that a Sahlen’s dog from Buffalo is snappier than a Kayem dog from Massachusetts.

In this group of eaters, you can choose from a half-dozen different mustards: Wasabi. Beer. Horseradish. White wine. Brown grain.

“The only time you’re allowed to eat ketchup is when you’re under 18,” Farley says.

Tastes are so specialized within the club ranks that bun preference splits three ways: Sunbeam, wheat, or no bun at all.

Gluttony is not only encouraged. It’s necessary. A dozen people can’t finish off eight pounds of hot dogs in an hour if anybody holds back. But nobody touches Farley’s consumption. Fellow club veteran Ron Yaudes used to follow him around at club meetings, secretly keeping count of what he ate. He’d confront Farley and ask, “Did you know you’ve eaten 10 hot dogs?” Farley would shrug and eat another.

The best dog

This club takes a lot of business trips, and its members always search out local hot dog brands.

Choosing a dog for variety’s sake doesn’t always work out. The duck hot dogs, everyone in the club remembers, tasted like paste. And the Nebraska franks? They were coarse and greasy.

But even with differing tastes, nearly everybody in the club agrees on the best hog dog ever: Koegel.

Made in Michigan, they’re fat as a garden hose and curved like a smile. To a Dale Rider eater, the goodness is hard to describe. Maybe it’s the dose of paprika. Maybe it’s the nine grams of fat.

When Farley tried one, the all-around taste-and-texture package inspired him to write a raving note to the Koegel management. He got a thankful email in reply, to which Farley wrote, “Do you have hats?”

Farley sports a Koegel ball cap to each Tuesday outing, with the Dale Rider logo — an American flag and a hot dog — stitched on the side.

After an hour under the picnic pavilion, the group shoves its condiments back into coolers and waddles back toward work a few pounds heavier.

All but Farley, who takes advantage of his longer lunch as a retiree and spears one last dog.

“One more hot dog!” he calls out. “Who wants it?”

Josh Shaffer is an award-winning writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh. His most recent story for Our State was “The Watermelon Man” (June 2012).

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This entry was posted in Dining, July 2012 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Hot Dog Hour

  1. Bob Farrell says:

    I have just come upon this article on the Dale Rider group three years later. Can anyone give me contact information ??

    Bob Farrell

  2. Andrew says:

    If you aren’t using Martin’s potato buns you’re doing the hot dog a disservice.

  3. Gus says:

    As a hot dog coniseiur-of-sorts, the Smiths natural casing hot dogs from Erie, PA are something that yanks got right! If your looking for the best hotdog around its “The Freeze” in Scotland Neck. Trust me it’s what all others are judged by.

  4. Lawrence Haw says:

    Interesting to see the selection and variety-especially so as an American living in the home of the sausage-Munich, Germany! More interesting to note, having grown up in Flint, Michigan, and attended church and participated in the choir with the Koegels that their hot dog is number one-as it is in the coney islands in Fling and in MIchigan! Hats off!

  5. larry foran says:

    I would love to attend 1 of your monthly meetings.I would bring 5 lbs. of Thumann’s hot dogs & dusseldorf mustard from NJ. I would even bring my tabletop hot dog cart if you could supply me with an electrical outlet. I love hot dogs. How do I contact you to find out where your next outing is??

    • Dave Farley says:

      Hello Larry, I just saw this and if you are interested we would love to have you join us. We just had our July Lunch on Tuesday and the next one will be in August and right now I am guessing on Tuesday the 21st. . Let me know if this will work and I will add you to the distribution list and give you the directions. Let me know where you will be coming from and I can help with directions. We meet in RTP.

      Looking forward to hearing from you

      Dave Farley

      • Rebecca Stainback says:

        It has been my dream since I saw a piece on this club to come to a meeting. I love hot dogs, and my dad would say that I lived almost exclusively on hot dogs for the first twenty years of my life. FRANKly, I didn’t think there were many people who shared my passion for hot dogs until I read this. I work close to RTP and would love to come in December, if you’ll have me. Looking forward to hearing from you!

      • Nevin says:

        Hey Dave,

        I would love to join the club too. Can you send me your email address or let me know how I can be added to the distribution list.

        Thank you sir!


  6. Nanette Lawing says:

    Fun gathering, but no one seems to “cook”/season their hotdogs, except by condiments. I’d give (almost) anything to have the recipe used at “Fred’s Hotdogs” in Smithfield, N.C. Tightly held secret, I was told…although the store is no longer in business.

    • Roy says:

      Those were certainly the best hotdogs to be found at Fred’s in Smithfield. It was the recipe for his chili that was the real secret. Its been gone a long time now, but if you were ever there how could you forget the savory smell and the paper that he wrapped ‘em up in. Just the best.

  7. Richard Dobiesz says:

    Dave-Enjoyed your article. Great story! Our family in CA has done a very similar tasting over the last 25 yrs. We do all the summer holidays and a few spots in between. The dogs have to be browned just right to get the max flavor with lightly toast buns. My favorite has been Hebrew National, but it seems like it has been changing recently. Have tried all of the Buffalo dogs via Buffalo, local favorites, and others; still prefer Weber’s Mustard as our basic hot dog condiment. We offer all kinds of condiments, salsa, chilis (Serrano from our yard), cheeses, etc, but I just add chopped onion with the mustard; include some potato salad on the side, open a tall Samuel Smith’s Nutty Brown Ale, and I am a happy camper!! Richard

  8. Richard Miller says:

    Dave, I knew you were up to something! The last dog, indeed! Rick

    • Robert DeWeese says:

      Hay good people of the RTP – Hot Dog association. I would like to join your group. Is that possible? When? Where? How much do we contribute? What do we bring? Please contact me by email, thanks…

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