I am almost constantly thinking about hot dogs. Not only is it an occupational hazard (is it a sandwich or not?!), but it’s also a perfect food that can be anything you want it to be. You can have it Chicago-style in honor of the home of Takeout HQ, enjoy a plain dog in all its glory, hell you can even wrap it in edible gold to feel like a million bucks. So why aren’t there more fast food hot dog options?
Some of the most popular fast food chains in North America have tried and failed to make the hot dog happen, and other restaurants that went all in on franks are no longer around. We can always count on regional joints like Portillo’s and national chains like Sonic to supply us with a dog in our time of need, but what happened to the other attempts?
Mashed recently unearthed this quote from Ray Kroc’s book Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s: “There’s a damned good reason we should never have hot dogs. There’s no telling what’s inside a hot dog’s skin, and our standard of quality just wouldn’t permit that kind of item.” But after Kroc’s death, McDonald’s did give it a go—twice.
The McHotDog launched in 1995 in Midwestern stores as a limited-time summer item. According to Mashed, the offering failed almost immediately and disappeared from menus. But even before that, McDonald’s gave dogs a go in 1991 with Hot Dog McNuggets, the only evidence of which is an old commercial uploaded to YouTube. They sound pretty tasty to us. Let’s try that again, McDonald’s.
Perhaps the most recent attempt at fast-foodifying hot dogs, Burger King released its Grilled Dogs in 2016. Back then, Steve Cuozzo at The New York Post called them a “disgusting disgrace” and a “culinary calamity” (dude had a thing for alliteration). He wrote:
I’ve enjoyed every breed of Big Apple hot dog — from Coney Island to Pelham Bay Park to the Halal guy near the Hudson Yards No. 7 station who recently sold me the best I’ve ever had—and I’ll say without hiccupping: Burger King’s are the worst embarrassment in the name of cylindrical meat matter since Anthony Weiner tweeted his wiener.
I can’t imagine any hot dog being that bad, but Burger King quickly erased them from their menu, so we’ll have to take his word for it.
Just one year after asking “Where’s the beef?”, Wendy’s released all-beef hot dogs in 1985 topped with chili, cheese, and, according to this commercial, all the other traditional fixings, on a toasted bun. Wendy’s tried to push them all through the ’80s, but apparently its “Take a Long Hot Dog” commercial in 1989 was the last straw, because that’s the last we saw of them.
In 1955, Lum’s opened as a 16-seat diner in Miami Beach specializing in hot dogs steam-cooked in beer—and at the time you could get one for just 35 cents, according to an old menu featured by MeTV. The place became wildly popular, spreading to 450 locations across the country. But in 1969, the original brothers behind Lum’s bought Caesar’s Palace and left the restaurant chain in the hands of KFC owner John Y. Brown, according to MeTV. KFC flourished and Lum’s fell by the wayside, filing for bankruptcy in 1982. The last Lum’s location in Bellevue, Nebraska closed in 2017.
The initial concept of the California-born chain was to serve tacos and hot dogs on the same menu at a drive-in diner. Starting up in 1956, the menu featured tacos, tostadas, pastrami sandwiches, burgers, several varieties of hot dog, french fries, RC Cola, root beer, and an array of flavored slushies, according to the defunct restaurant’s Facebook page. Sounds incredible—what could possibly go wrong?
Well, in 1984 the chain was bought by Taco Bell and was essentially wiped from the map in favor of the now ubiquitous fast food giant. But wouldn’t it be better if the place where you buy your Crunchwrap Supremes also served hot dogs? Think about it, Taco Bell.