The wiener breakthrough that rocked the world

Robert Rufa Columnist

Remember how the world rejoiced when Oscar Mayer introduced the bun-length hot dog in 1987? Sure you do. No more excess bun, which was nothing but bread and mustard. It was an idea whose time was long overdue.

But hopes that wee wieners would disappear were dashed when they didn’t. They remain in supermarket coolers alongside their lengthy cousins. And the frank-length buns that runty-dog aficionados expected never materialized. They were still stuck with the same old buns and still faced the agonizing decision of whether or not to trim the bun beforehand with a knife or afterward with their teeth.

Curious as to why people would still buy the original-size frank, I grabbed my digital recorder, parked by the wiener cooler at the local supermarket, and prepared to grill hot dog consumers.

“I like chili dogs,” said the first man I spoke with, “and I pack the end of the bun with extra chili. Simple as that.” I watched as he picked up four packages of franks and a tub of chili.

When he moved on, a woman stepped in and began browsing the short dogs. “In a word, frugal,” she said when I asked. “I trim off the ends — about an inch and a half — and save the excess. When I have a bunch, I make bread crumbs. You have no idea how much money I save on bread crumbs by doing that.” She was right — I really had no idea.

The next customer, also a woman, said “What’s the big deal? I just center the frank in the bun and let my kids figure out what to do with the excess. It’s called creative problem-solving. It’s all the rage.”

She was replaced by still another woman, who said it was none of my blankety-blank business what she did with the extra bun. And if I didn’t leave her alone she’d get a restraining order.

“Restraining orders are on aisle six,” I told her.

“Huh?” she said.

After a few quiet minutes at the wiener cooler, I was ready to pack it in when a man stepped up — a veteran, judging by his USMC cap. “When you’ve eaten C-rations for two weeks, a tube steak is like filet mignon,” he said, “bun or no bun.” I grimaced. I’d dined in mess halls. I could identify with tube steaks.

Before I left, I glanced at the specialty dog at the end of the display — the foot-long. I could see the appeal. I had a hunch many people would prefer to nibble off excess wiener rather than excess bun. I know I sure would.

When I got home, I decided to consult the experts, so I called the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York. A spokesman there chose not to weigh in. Before I hung up I heard him laugh and mutter something about some jerk calling long distance to talk about wieners. Hey — that jerk you’re talking about is me!

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