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Kitchen Mailbox: Elusive hot dog sauce inspires memories

Thursday, August 12, 1999

By Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If it weren't for a newspaper cartoonist, vendors at Pirates games might still be barking, "Get you red hot dachshund sausages!"

  Calling all tailgaters for special food section


"Hot dogs" were still something of a novelty in 1906 America, and they went by a variety of names: frankfurters, franks, wieners, red hots and dachshund sausages. But during a New York Giants game that year, Hearst newspaper cartoonist Tad Dorgan was so inspired by a vendor yelling, "Get you red hot dachshund sausages," that he decided to sketch a dachshund smeared with mustard encased in a bun. It is believed Dorgan couldn't spell the word dachshund so he settled on dog -- the caption read "Come get your hot dogs!"

As you might have guessed, our focus today is hot dogs and hot dog sauce. A few months ago, a reader wrote to Kitchen Mailbox requesting the recipe for a special hot dog sauce sold at Jim's Drive-in in West Mifflin. This first request spawned a series of letters to Kitchen Mailbox requesting the recipe for the sauce. Here are excerpts from some of the letters:

"I grew up with the sandwiches from a hot dog shop called Jim's ... In 1976 we moved away, over 100 miles to the north. Any trip back home included at least one trip to Jim's. Trips soon stopped, and a relative would bring us the sauce every now and then, but that also has come to an end. I would appreciate it very much if any of your readers would be able to furnish me with the recipe for this sauce." Lucille McCafferty, Atlantic, Pa.

"I remember with fond memories the sauce [Jim's ] -- it was terrific! I watched for a response but haven't seen it. If you find it, please send it to me." Mary Kraykovic, Apollo.

"If you should by some chance come across this valuable recipe, please share it with me as those hot dogs have been a passion of mine since I was very young, and I am now middle-aged. I have now taught my grandchildren all about the joys of a trip to Jim's for a hot dog with sauce!" JoAnn Leshen, Elizabeth.

"Recipe is a secret -- but you can buy the sauce by the quart or pint -- it's worth the trip!" June Hayden, Dravosburg.

So, off we went in search of Jim's Drive-in and his much talked-about hot dogs and special sauce. Our readers were right. It was worth the trip. We gobbled down our hot dogs with the special sauce within minutes.

We talked for a few minutes with the owner of Jim's Drive-In Inc., Al Damianos, who assured us that the recipe is still a secret. Jim's Drive-in has been in business for more than 50 years. Damianos' father created the hot dog sauce, but his recipe was perishable, so Damianos changed a few ingredients and that's what they serve and sell today.

Jim's Drive-in, located on Skyline Drive in West Mifflin, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays from 4 to 10 p.m. Jim's hot dog sauce is sold by the pint for $5.

Since we can't supply you with Jim's sauce, we thought you might be interested in trying this recipe for Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce submitted by Doris Brown of Jefferson Hills. The recipe calls for browning ground meat in 2 tablespoons of oil or shortening, but because ground meat has its own fat, we omitted the oil, and drained the ground meat.

Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce

2 tablespoons oil or shortening
1/2 pound ground meat
1 onion, finely chopped (we used a medium-sized onion, about 3/4 cup chopped)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup sweet relish
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 or 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Dash cayenne pepper

Heat oil in saucepan. Brown meat and onion together, breaking meat up in fine pieces. Stir in tomato paste, water, vinegar, relish and salt. Simmer for 25 minutes. Blend in chili powder, mustard and peppers. Simmer for 5 minutes more. Makes 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of sauce -- enough for about 12 hot dogs.

Clarence Gilbert of Oakland requested a recipe for the sauce used to make hot sausage. Here's Bridgeville reader Pat Roach's recipe.

Hot Sausage Sauce

After the sausage is precooked, mix the sauce ingredients. Heat sausage together with the sauce until hot. Serve on sausage roll. (We precooked the sausage by cooking it in boiling water for about 20 minutes, then drained it and set aside.)

1 pound can of tomato sauce for about 1 1/2 pounds of hot sausage
2 teaspoons parsley
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 large onion, sliced, optional
2 green peppers sliced or chopped, optional

We placed the hot sausage in the tomato sauce and cooked on low for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until sauce thickened slightly.

Irene Sinclair requested a recipe for peanut butter sauce for ice cream. Here's one that caught our eye.

Choco-Peanut Butter Sauce

2 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup chunky style peanut butter
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Melt chocolate. Beat melted chocolate into peanut butter.

Stir in milk and vanilla.

Serve hot or cold over ice cream. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

If sauce becomes too thick after storage in refrigerator, stir in a little milk.

Source: American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Mid East


Heidi M. Souza of Moon Township would like to have an old-fashioned recipe for Apple Pandowdy, her husband's favorite. It has a light and airy golden crust on top instead of crumb topping, and it's served with cream.

If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number. All recipes are kitchen-tested by the Post-Gazette.

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