When I was growing up, my dad’s altar was a charcoal grill. I recall steaks being discussed with the pride generally reserved for one’s child. My dad cooked burgers
When I was growing up, my dad’s altar was a charcoal grill. I recall steaks being discussed with the pride generally reserved for one’s child. My dad cooked burgers that had been hand-shaped into forms more similar to baseballs than patties, grilled to pink-centered perfection and topped with layers of American cheese. How many hours did he spend in front of that grill, tweaking his technique, the seasoning, the temperature, in search of the ideal burger?
But when it comes to hot dogs, the grill is gone. I think of spending the Fourth of July in Bath, and my dad walking in the door, back at last from the 60-minute round-trip into Little Washington, holding two big, brown paper bags spotted with grease and stuffed with hot dogs from Bill’s.
My brother and I, followed by any number of neighborhood kids, would crash into the kitchen, swimsuits still dripping wet from the Pamlico River, stomachs grumbling after hours in the water.
Inside the bags: 50 nuclear-red, oil-fried hot dogs in steamed buns, each wrapped in thin, white paper. Twenty dogs “all the way” — that’s with spicy chili, onions, and mustard — plus 15 with mustard, and 15 with chili. Our M.O.: Grab a dog, unwrap a dog, stuff a dog into mouth. Repeat until uncomfortable.
How can a place be a hole-in-the-wall and still have a line out the door? Find Bill’s nondescript storefront, here since 1928, and you’ll find your answer. Bill’s is takeout only: no tables, no chairs, no fuss. There are no fancy condiments, only mustard, onions, and chili. Don’t even ask for ketchup. And Bill’s special spicy chili is so good, you won’t care that the temperature outside is 100 degrees in the shade. There are rumors of a handwritten recipe folded and kept in a wallet for 20 years. A select few claim to know the secret. If you’re wondering, no, they won’t tell you.
Ask people in this part of the state where to get a good hot dog, and they’re likely to answer with just one word. But they also might tell you about making 45-minute trips into town to buy enough hot dogs to last a week, enough for all the neighbors, enough for all the kids to grab three on their way out the door, enough to freeze for later. To this day, my dad still goes to Bill’s and buys at least 25 dogs. Someone will eat them.
Bill’s Hot Dogs
109 Gladden Street
Washington, NC 27889