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What are Slaw Dogs?

In the great battle between the New York and Chicago franks, slaw dogs, a dark horse, may reign supreme. Celebrating regional food traditions preserves the heritage of places like West Virginia.

The Mountain State, best known for forests and coal mines, is home to the humble slaw dog. Outsiders might only see a variation of a sauerkraut frankfurter, but true devotees know the truth. 

Today we’ll dig down into the history of this glorious West Virginia tradition while we explore variations of this delicious treat. 

Let’s dive in!

What Is a Slaw Dog?

Most hot dogs start the same. A humble beef frank, either steamed, boiled, or grilled, nestled in a hot dog bun or roll. Sometimes you’ll see poppy seeds on the bun, sesame is also standard, but plain is just as good.

Toppings are where things get messy. In New York, they keep things simple with chopped onion, brown mustard, sauerkraut, and relish. In Chicago, things get a little more complex by dragging the dog through the garden. Basically, that means yellow mustard, chopped onion, dark green relish, pickle spear, pepper, and tomato slices. It’s more of a salad than a hot dog. 

Slaw dogs usually come with meat chili, yellow mustard, and sweet coleslaw. Made from chopped cabbage, mayo, and sugar, the slaw balances the sweetness with a dash of apple cider vinegar. 

Pro Tip: Craving a hot dog? Treat your taste buds by discovering What is a Michigan Red Hot?

Slaw dog
Slaw dogs originated in the south as an affordable lunch option.

Where Did Slaw Dogs Originate?

Along I-64 in West Virginia, you’ll find slaw dogs galore. Charleston, West Virginia, is usually credited with originating the meal. During the Great Depression, folks didn’t have much money, but they needed something filling and nutritious to nosh. 

Coal miners headed down the hole found a way to enhance cheap protein inventively. Hot dogs and cabbage were both affordable and easy to access, as was ground beef. Combining boiled frankfurters, sweet and sour coleslaw, and “sauce” was a perfect meal that kept miners full on the job. 

Today in West Virginia, the slaw dog is regional within the state. In the western part of the state, Charleston and Huntington especially, it’s everywhere. But if you drift just a little north to Marion county, you’ll catch more than a few glares ordering one. Heavily Italian, Marion county is all about the sauce, and you can keep the cabbage to yourself. 

Slaw dogs reign supreme along the I-64 corridor in West Virginia. Anywhere West Virginians move, they bring their traditional take on frankfurters with them. Since 1916, Nu-Way Weiners in Macon, Georgia, has had these cabbage-heavy sausages on the menu. So, even though they’re more popular among the West Virginia crowd, the idea’s been around much longer. 

These days you can find them everywhere, even alongside the big boys. Around the country, hot dog shops serve great regional versions daily. If you’ve got a hankering for a slaw dog or side-by-side comparison, check out a local restaurant or make your own version. 

We’ve got some of the best recipes gathered here. Give them a shot!

Slaw dog on plate
Spruce up the standard hot dog by adding some slaw on top!

5 Best Slaw Dog Recipes

These recipes gather the best versions of the West Virginia slaw dog in one place. From classic to experimental, they showcase the versatility of the hot dog. You’ll have the chance to explore the regional variation from West Virginia, the Carolinas, and beyond. 

#1 Southern Slaw Dogs

This recipe’s inspiration comes from two Georgia variations, The Varsity, and a homemade version. The Varsity is an institution on the Atlantic coast that serves several regional variations of the slaw dog.

Combining sweet coleslaw and barbecue sauce, the Southern Slaw Dog is sure to tease the palate. Put a little char on the dogs using an indoor or outdoor grill. Then top them with slaw, a spoonful of spicy barbecue sauce, and a drizzle of yellow mustard.

#2 Slaw Dogs with Mustard

Leaving sweetness behind, this recipe features a creamy and tangy cabbage that lets the meat shine. Using a natural casing frank makes this a taste and texture sensation. Through a combination of steaming and then sauteing in butter, these dogs are rich and flavorful. 

Once you’ve cooked your dogs, add buns to the pan. This layers on the flavor. Just that little bit of crunch makes all the difference. If you want to take it a step further, toast four sides of the buns, you’ll thank us later. After that, a smear of yellow mustard rounds out this ode to southern-style hotdogs. 

#3 Carolina-Style Dogs

Spicy Southern Kitchen brings this regional variation to us by way of the Carolinas. The most significant difference here is the chili consistency. In West Virginia, slaw dogs, the chili’s more like a sauce than the thick chili here. Tailor the slaw flavor to the chili, and you’re guaranteed a hit. 

The chili recipe here makes all the difference. Spicy and richly flavored, it compliments the grilled dogs perfectly. Just the right amount of sweetness and acid in the slaw recipe means you won’t get meat overload. After that, slather with yellow mustard, and you’re all set. Without a doubt, it’s a crowd-pleasing recipe. 

#4 Paula Dean’s Slaw Dog

Focusing on an onion-heavy slaw, this recipe from former Food Network star Paula Deen is worth a try. The veggie mix is really what makes a slaw dog work, and this recipe encourages using Deen’s “silly salt.” A blend of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder, the seasoning enhances the quality of the slaw. 

Most slaw dogs include a thin, spicy chili. The other variation in the recipe encourages the use of mayo on the dog as a condiment instead. We’ve only seen this here. We were initially skeptical, but the added fat takes the flavor up a notch. Dean does recommend toasting the buns on all sides.

#5 The Best Homemade Coleslaw Hot Dog

Using an air fryer to cook the hot dogs makes this recipe unique. If you use high-quality franks, the casing bubbles are almost like cracklins. But the slaw recipe here is a perfect southern recipe. Duke’s mayo, sugar, and apple cider vinegar add a robust zip to the creamy condiment. 

This is another version that leaves off the chili to highlight the other ingredients. The author recommends shredding your own cabbage if you’ve got time, but store-bought is a good substitute. Classic slaw dogs use a chopped cabbage base, but the shredded take adds a texture we love. 

Pro Tip: Don’t like coleslaw? Skip the slaw dog and try out a Sonoran Hot Dog instead.

West Virginia Might Have the Top Dog

Whether it’s for the big game or summer cookout, adding a fantastic, tangy mix of veggies takes things to the next level. Prepared cabbage, from sauerkraut to coleslaw, pairs perfectly with hot dogs. Now we can’t imagine one without it.

In the competition for top dog, New York and Chicago better step it up. The West Virginia slaw dog is hands down our favorite variation.

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