This is the season for baseball, backyard grill-fests and hot dogs galore. Americans will consume some 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
Fortunately, there are a lot of Americans, so your share of that astonishing statistic is just 3.1 of those bun-encased treats -- but if you're looking for ways to make those hot dogs taste better, consider this:
The secret to a truly great ballpark frank lies in the toppings, says Texas food blogger and hot dog obsessive Russell Van Kraayenburg, and frankly speaking, there are more than 100 ways to cook that dog. Van Kraayenburg, whose blogs include Chasing Delicious and the cocktail-centric Boys Club, showcases all those styles from the plain Jane to the Fenway Frank, the Thai Fried and the Ecuadorean Street Dog in his new cookbook, "Haute Dog" (Quirk Books, $18.95, 168 pages).
Turns out that the all-American classic pops up in countries around the world, from South Africa (a spicy boerewors sausage roll), to India (a chutney-topped veggie dog) and Germany (the triple bratwurst). Our side of the Atlantic boasts scores more, wrapped in buns, rolls, cornbread batter and even waffles -- and topped with every condiment imaginable, from ketchup and mustard to barbecue sauces, slaws and a vast array of sliced and diced produce.
Naturally, we had questions.
Q Clearly, this has been a passion for you for some time. What was your first hot dog encounter?
A Growing up with backyard barbecues, it was a simple plain Jane -- an Oscar Mayer wiener on a store-bought bun, with ketchup, mustard. Half snack, half meal.
Q When did you start looking beyond that simple classic?
A When I got into college. I moved out of suburbia in Houston, which is not known for its food, and lived in Austin, where you can't turn a corner without running into a hot dog stand or deli. I thought I had tried a lot of hot dogs, but it wasn't until I researched this book that I saw how many there were.
Q You've got some truly amazing franks in "Haute Dog." What was the very worst idea you encountered?
A There were quite a few -- a lot in Scandinavia, where they put mashed potatoes on them or there's one with shrimp salad. I like mashed potatoes, but not on my hot dog. And shrimp salad?! Not a favorite of mine.
Q What was your happiest discovery?
A The Spicy South African Sausage Roll was the biggest surprise. My father is a South African immigrant, and I grew up with a lot of South African food, including boerewors, which is Afrikaans for farmer's sausage. When I discovered (the hot dog), I thought, "Can this be real?" I called family back there, and yes, it was.
Q Clearly the condiments are important, and you've got recipes for everything from classic ketchup to chili nam chim. What about the buns?
A With everything I've been making, I've focused heavily on baking and desserts. I'm obsessed with the science side of it. So I was the most excited about buns. We set up a taste test with half a dozen bun types, and I thought I knew what everyone would like: buns that were heavy with egg and butter. But out of obligation to my vegan friend who was going to be there, I made a quick vegan bun -- with oil and water, instead of egg, butter, milk. Every single person voted it their favorite.
Q Now that you've thoroughly explored the world of franks, what's your favorite these days?
A If I'm in a restaurant or a park, I always try something new to see what they're doing with it. At home, the Chicago Dog. You put a pickle on a hot dog -- I'm sold.