The Sausage Saga, part 2: Weenies, Wieners, Frankfurters, Würstchen, Párky: What does baseball have in common with a small town in Bavaria?


In other words, what does
have to do with   ?

Johann Georg Lahner.
Germany is the undisputed superpower of wurst. Forty pounds of wurst are consumed per capita per year, which means the average German has to devour about twice as much, taking into account that the per capita number includes nursing newborn babies, old people and vegetarians.

The English language falls desperately short in differentiating the vast variety of sausages that come from this part of the world. Granted, in German there is also one collective word for all of sausage "die Wurst" (notice that in German, sausage is a She). But the German language has the facility to distinguish between several categories of wurst, depending on how the ingredients have been treated prior to being stuffed into the casing: Brühwurst, Kochwurst and Rohwurst. Therefore, in order to write this essaty in English, it will be necessary to use the German terminology, otherwise the explanation would become desperately confuding if everywhere only the term "sausage" was used.

A Frankfurter Würstchen from Frankfurt, made of pork.
Weenies (Würstchen or "little Wurst" in German) fall in the general category of Brühwurst (boiled wurst). At the beginning was the forefather of all weenies, the mother of all Würstchen, the common ancestor all weenies evolved from, and it came from the city of Frankfurt am Main in central Germany. Frankfurt is otherwise known as the birthplace, among others, of Henri Nestlé who gave the world condensed milk, and of Wilhelm Emil Messerschmitt who gave the world the Messerschmitt 109.

Von Lersner's chronicle of Frankfurt history.
But beside being the business capital of Germany, it needs to also be known as the city that gave the world the original Würstchen. The Frankfurt historian Achilles Augustus von Lersner noted in his chronicle "Freyen Reichs-, Wahl- und Handels-Stadt Franckfurt am Mayn Chronica" from 1706 that pork weenie-like sausages were sold in old Frankfurt as early as 1487 in the narrow streets between the cathedral and the town hall. In 1562, during the coronation in Frankfurt of Maximilian II as the Holy Roman Emperor, pork weenies from Frankfurt were served. By 1820, pork weenies from Frankfurt are served regularly in pubs in and out of town.

However, these were not the Frankfurter weenies that America knows today. These are pork sausages that have a thickness and length similar to the Vienna sausages or American hot dogs, but the taste is quite different. Known in Germany under the name "Frankfurter Würstchen" (there is also a similar looking Frankfurter Rindswurst made of beef, but that comes later...), these sausages are about 1 cm thick and 10-20 cm long, tied in pairs.

Then, there was Johann Georg Lahner, the man who gave the world the weenie. Just imagine the world without weenies: there would be no Hot dogs on the streets of New York, there would be no Párek v rohlíku in Prague ... and no baseball game would be the same. So huge is the influence of the weenie on the western popular culture! The Vienna sausage, the original weenie, has its origins in 1805 in the 7th district of Vienna, on the corner Neustiftgasse and Kaiserstrasse, to be precise. Lahner tried something never before attempted in Germany and even prohibited until 1864: mixing together beef and pork in the sausage.

Marktplatz in Ebermannstadt.
Lahner was born in 1772 to a poor peasant family in Ebermannstadt in the Franconian region of southern Germany (todays northern Bavaria). Franconia has a long tradition of making many types of delicious bratwurst, so becoming a butcher was probably not at all foreign to young Johann. At the urging of his parents, who wanted a better life for young Johann, he decided to go to Frankfurt am Main and train as an apprentice butcher. He learned all the standard professional skills and also learned the steps in manufacturing local sausages, including the pork Frankfurter Würstchen. Having finished his training, he had entrepreneurial ambitions and a dream to take the Frankfurter Würstchen to a higher level. In 1798 he wandered to Vienna, having hired on as a rower on a river boat on the Danube. In Vienna, he worked for several years as a helper, dreaming about owning his own butcher shop. That dream came alive in 1804 when, with a loan of 300 florins plus his own savings as startup capital, he bought a small butcher shop on the corner of Neustiftgasse and Kaiserstrasse.

In those days, sausages were regarded as something inferior. Young Johann had to fight a major uphill battle, overcoming doubts and prejudice. He was considered a fool in Vienna whenever he started talking about the production of sausages.

Lahner's butcher shop in Vienna.
Young Johann knew the all-pork sausages made in Frankfurt from his apprenticeship. They were made of coarsely ground pork. The butchers' guild in Frankfurt held that beef and pork were always strictly separated. In Vienna, however, there was no such limitation.

It needs to be mentioned that weenies have a completely different consistency from, say, bratwurst. While bratwursts are made of a medium-grain ground-meat mixture (called Brät), weenies are made of Grundbrät, an extra finely emulsified meat mixture made by special machines utilizing water and ice in the process.
Brät: ground-meat for bratwurst.Grundbrät: extra-finely-ground mixture for weenies.

Lahner began to experiment with Grundbrät consisting of a mixture of pork and beef. It took a long time before he discovered the right ratio of both meats and the most suitable types of both meats. When he finally succeeded in fine-tuning the ingredients, the choice of casing remained. He finally decided on sheep-intestine casing. But he still was not happy! The finished product still not live up to his ideal. The idea came to him that he could smoke the sausages for more flavor before boiling them. Thus the weenie was born!

Lahner's sausages.
Johann Lahner began his production. He filled several meters of casing, split them into pairs (thus the Czech name "párek" and Hungarian "páros"), smoked them and boiled them, tied them in pairs like the Frankfurter Würstchen and, Voilà!, his new sausage has been born!

So far so good, but now comes the part that throws off the uninitiated. Do you think he called his new sausage simply the "Wiener"? No, he gave it the name "Frankfurter". First, this was because Frankfurt was where he learned the trade and where first began to think about the production of sausages. After all, his sausage also had dimensions similar to the Frankfurter Würstchen.

"Wiener" salami.
Second, because in Vienna there had already been a kind of thick, semi-dry smoked salami made of minced pork and beef and seasoned with mustard, called traditionally the "Wiener".

So, there was now the Frankfurter Würstchen made of pork and sold around Frankfurt, and Lahner's Frankfurter weenie made of pork and beef and sold in Vienna.

Wiener sausage at Bei Otto restaurant in Bangkok.
The new sausage took Vienna by storm. Literally everybody, including commomon folks as well as celebrities like Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss and even the emperor, chose the sausage as the trendy new food. The picky Viennese used to say that the waltz king, composer Joseph Lanner, delighted their hearts with his music, while Lahner the butcher delighted their stomachs with his sausage! Lahners sausages were talk of the town and gradually developed for this delicacy among the people as in the upper crust. Soon, copycats followed. Similar sausages were produced by other shops in Vienna and began to be called "Wiener Würstel". Obviously, when a name like that reached the New World, it would be immediately shortened to a "wiener" or "weenie". In Germany, Lahner's sausage began to be known as the "Wiener Würstchen".

Sacher sausage.

Sacher vs. Lahner's original sausage.
The success of Lahner's sausage continued. In Vienna, the Sacher sausage has been produced by the Trünkel company. This is the Rolex of the weenie world: it is to regular Wiener Würstel what Maybach is to Mercedes S-Class. The difference between the two sausages is that even higher quality raw materials are used for the Sacher sausage, resulting is a more intense flavor and somewhat darker color. The Sacher sausage is longer than regular Wiener Würstel and by the somewhat darker and more intense color in cross section. Sacher sausages are identified by a gold-medal seal, which is is attached by hand on each pair of sausage.

Sacher sausages are used as a indespensable topping on the Fiakergooulasch.

The technology of production of Lahner's sausages soon began to spread beyond Vienna through the Austrian empire. For example, Josef Hulata, a Czech apprentice butcher from Hustopeče near Brno, trained in Vienna, then brought Lahrner's sausages to Prague.

When the spread of Lahner's sausages reached Germany, specifically Frankfurt, a little problem occurred. Remember that Lahner originally named his sausages the "Frankfurter". However, in Frankfurt, there had been a pork sausage made for centuries, and called locally the "Frankfurter Würstchen". Traditionally, the Frankfurt Frankfurter is a thin, boiled sausage of pure pork in a mutton-intestine casing, as opposed to Lahner's sausage, which is made of pork and beef in sheep-intestine casing. Their special taste is acquired by a special method of smoking the pork. Visually, the two may look similar, but the taste differs.

A typical serving of a Wiener Würstel (Austria).

A typical serving of a Frankfurter (Germany).
Frankfurter Würstchen is traditionally served with bread, mustard, horseradish or potato salad. Lahner's Wiener Würstel is traditionnaly served with mustard and a Kaiser roll. In Germany, the name now used for Lahner's sausage is "Wiener Würstchen". However, in Austria, the same sausage would be called "Wiener Würstel" or "Frankfurter". In Switzerland, it is simply called a "Wienerle" or "Wienerli".

It needs to be stressed again that neither one of these two types of sausage was the predecessor of the American frankfurter, frank, wiener or weenie. Read on.

A typical serving of a Debreziner.
The evolution went on. Other butchers invented regional specialties such as the Debreziner (transcribe "Debrecziner" in Germany). This is a lightly smoked sausage made of pork and beef, bacon, water, salt and pepper, seasoned with red paprika and also possibly ground chile poweder, both of which provide the red color and piquant taste.

Frankfurter Rindswurst, an all-beef weenie from Frankfurt.
To make things still a bit more convoluted, in 1894 there has been a new type of sausage invented back in Frankfurt. This was an all-beef sausage, a little shorter and a thicker than either the Frankfurter Würstchen or the Wiener Würstchen. It was introduced onto the market by a Frankfurt-based butcher shop by the name of Gref-Volsing. It was founded by Karl Gref and Wilhelmine Völsing and is still in business today. The Wiener Würstchen was taking Europe by storm, but Jewish customers could no eat it because it was not kosher. Gref and Völsing saw a growing Jewish population in Frankfurt and decided to take advantage of the situation by making a similar sausage that did not contain pork. The new sausage became known as "Frankfurter Rindswurst" (“Frankfurt beef sausage”) and was made of pure beef. It has become one of the company's most famous delicacies. It is made to this day and can be mail-ordered from their website.

So, by the end of the 19th century, roughly at the time when the hot dog arrived in America, three mainstream weenie types exited in Europe: the original Frankfurter Würstchen made of pork, Lahner's Wiener Würstchen made of pork and beef, and Gref & Völsing's Frankfurter Rindswurst made of beef. It seems likely that, when weenies fist popped un in New York, given the large Jewish population there, it would be the Frankfurter Rindswurst that would ultimately be preferentially adopted, rather then the other two because they both contained pork.

Feltman's restaurant on Coney Island.
But things were not that simple. As people migrated to the New World during the 19th and early 20th centuries, sausages spread along with them across the Atlantic. Sausages were rapidly popularized in the United States, where they became working class street food sold at street stands and at baseball stadiums. The person generally credited with inventing the hot dog was Charles Feltman, a German butcher who's came up with the idea of selling pork sausages on a warm bun in Coney Island sometime around 1867. Feltman reportedly sold 3,684 sausages on a roll during his first year in business, pushing around a wagon to hungry beachgoers. It sold for ten cents a piece and earned enough money for Feltman to build a hotel, beer gardens, restaurants, food stands, and amusement parks. All that with hot dog money. However, these early hot dogs were made of pork, not beef.

Other people have claimed the fame of introducing the hot dog to America. There was Antonoine Feuchtwanger, who sold hot dogs on the streets of St. Louis in 1880. There was Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger, who served sausages in rolls at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis.

As immigration continued, distinctions between the original sausage recipes from the Old World became blurred. The fine nuances of Frankfurter Würstchen, Frankfurter Rindswurst and Wiener Würstchen became all mixed up in New World. If it was long, thin and had meat in it, it would simply be called a hot dog! Popular theory has it that the introduction of the name "dog" reflected the widespread accusations that dog meat had ben used in sausages in America since the mid 1800s.

Hot dog stands in New York City,
circa 1906.
Carts selling sausages on a roll began appearing in New York City en masse around 1906. Hot dogs in America began to also be called frankfurters, frankfurts, franks, wieners or weenies - but all made of beef! Period. The switch from the early pork dogs sold by Feltman to the all-beef dogs must have happened roughly at the time of the introductuion in Germany of the Frankfurter Rindswurst by Gref and Völsing. The drivers may have been similar in large American cities as they were in Germany: large population of Jewish customers and abudant beef.

Von Ahe
The association between hot dogs and baseball began in the second half of the 19th century. As baseball grew in popularity in America and became a national tradition, the hot dog went along with it. It appears that the two most likely people who sparked the baseball/hot dog partnership were Christian Friedrich Wilhelm von der Ahe ("Chris von de Ahe"), a German-American entrepreneur, who owned the St. Louis Brown Stockings baseball team and a bar and a bar, and is said to have began selling hot dogs in the stadium.

The second theory gives credit to Harry Stevens, an American sports concessionaire who sold German sausages and rolls to spectators at the old New York Polo Grounds. He called them "Dachshund sandwiches", but, according to Stevens, a New York Post cartoonist could not spell "dachshund", he called them hot dogs. Both stories seem to make sense but there is little to no proof to back either one of them up.

Be it as it may, Humphrey Bogart once said: "A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz.".

A typical American hot dog.
Modern-day sausages sold in America have little to do with the original Frankfurter or the Wiener Würstel. Various meats such as beef, pork, chicken, or even turkey are used in various combinations. In this day of politically-correct oriented craze, there are even vegetarian hot dog sausages being offered made of soy protein.

For a typical American hot dog of today, all-beef sausage is used. Toppings include mustard, ketchup, onions, mayonnaise, relish, cheese, chili, and sauerkraut are used. There are regional variations between New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Sait Louis, all the way to Arizona and California. For example, New York style hot dogs use ketchup, while Chicago style dogs do not. Chicago dogs use celery salt and pickles, while sauerkraut and mustard are typical for New York style dog. One can get any hot dog in New York, but traditionally New York hot dogs are topped with a spicy brown mustard and either sauerkraut or onions sautéed with tomato paste.

A hot dog stand in New York City.
A Chicago-style dog always includes fresh tomato, spears of pickles, hot peppers, sweet onion, and a green relish. A chili dog is found throughout the America and involves a sausage topped with chile con carne, usually without the beans. A variety of other toppings is also used. Should one desire a particularly strong case of heartburn afterwards, grated cheese can de added.

A Lucky Dog stand in New Oleans.
New Orleans hot dogs are generally similar to those from New York City, but they are called Lucky Dogs. In the American Southwest, there are Sonoran dogs. The sausage is wrapped in smoky bacon, then topped with pinto beans, onion, mustard, mayo, and chopped tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. San Francisco style dogs may keep the bacon but use as topping mayonnaise, pickles, shallots, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. Elsewhere in California, dogs may be found topped with avocado, onion, parsley, cucumber and tomato. Mainstream hot dogs include the toppings listed above, but there are hot dog vendors in New York offering asian toppings such as kimchi, scallions and sesame seeds.

The most common hot dog presentation.Hot dog with sauerkraut.Hot dog with sauerkraut and relish
Hot dog with chili.Hot dog with brisket and cole slaw.Southwestern hot dog Sonoran-style
Chicago style hot dog "dragged through the garden".New Orleans Lucky Dog "with everything"

Beyond North America, hot dogs are eaten in various modifications in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and even Japan, Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

Czech Párek v rohlíku (Euro-dog).
Food recipes have a way of backtracking and cross-pollinating back to where they originally came from, but in slightly different forms and names. Hot dogs are no exception. In the Czech Republic and Austria, sausages stuffed into a roll are known as "Euro-dog, Hot Dog, or Párek v rohlíku". Párek v rohlíku literally translates as "sausage in a roll". Rather than slicing the bun in half and placing the sausage into the cleavage, the top of the rohlík (Stangerl) is cut off, a hole is punched into the soft inside of the bun, where the condiments (ketchup or mustard) and the sausage are placed.

In recent years, American-style hot dogs sliced length-wise have become quite popular at the at the Christmas markets in Prague. However, they are not made of a weenie but of a thick, pleasantly greasy, foot-long kielbasa or bratwurst that is grilled, placed in a sliced half of a baguette and topped simply with ketchup and mustard.

Foot-long kielbasa or bratwurst hot dogs at the Prague Christmas market.

The evolution contimues. In this brave new world of globalization, American junk food is spreading globally and finding very fertile ground in Asia. In Kazakhstan, for example, the American-style hot dog, complete with the sesame bun and relish, can be found alongside with the European-style "Párek v rohlíku".


A business power-lunch: David Cameron and
Michael Bloomberg enjoying a hot dog.
So, in all, this has been a story of how a poor Bavarian-born apprentice named Johann Georg Lahner invented in Vienna the "Wiener Würstel" (but and called the "Frankfurter"), the recipe having spread throughout Europe and influencing the development in Frankfurt of the all-beef "Frankfurter Würstchen", which in turn became the apparent foundation for the American hot dog, made of beef like the Frankfurter Würstchen but looking more like the Wiener Würstel. As the American popular culture has spilled over the world during the 20th century, the hot dog went along with it, spreading further to the Far East and Australia, with the distinctions between the original Frankfurt and Vienna sausages having been completely smeared. A food that emperors and famous composers once snacked on became the most popular American street food set against the background of New York, Chicago and other American cities, and intrinsically tied to the most iconic of American sports: baseball.





  • Exhibit "Sousedé na talíři, Die Nachbarn auf dem Teller" held 2011 - August 2011 in Brno, Czech Republic
  • Jeff Gordiner, New York on a Bun, The New York Times, August 9, 2011
  • John Del Signore, Last Remnant of Feltman's, Coney Island Hot Dog Pioneer, To Be Demolished, The Gothamist, January 19, 2010
  • Lauren Haslett, 10 Iconic City Hot Dog Styles from Across the U.S.,
  • Heather Hoch, 9 Best Sonoran-Style Hot Dogs in Metro Phoenix, Phoenix New Times, June 24 2013
  • The Coney Island History Project,
  • Wikipedia

Sousedé na talíři, Die Nachbarn auf dem Teller.


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Last updated: May 10, 2014