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My Favorite Recipe

July 13, 2011

The ultimate meal

FAIRMONT — For some people, steak is the ultimate meal.

Or lobster. Crab. Pheasant.

Not for Johnnie Hamilton.

For him, there’s no food finer than a grilled (not boiled, thank you) frankfurter.

He’s always felt this way.

“I’d rather have a hot dog than anything else,” he said.

“It started many years ago, even before I was born,” he said jokingly. His grandmother, Edna Bartrug, made the hot dog sauce for a local drive-in.

“When I was little, we’d go to the drive-in — another lady and her kids, my mom and me — and we’d load the car up. We’d take popcorn, drinks and stop in town for hot dogs, a dozen for a dollar.”

His love for the hot dog continued when he attended Marshall University in Huntington. There he found no end to hot dog stands, from Stewart’s to Midway and beyond.

“Every week, we’d go for hot dogs. It was surprising how many places there were. But there were a lot.”

He earned teaching degrees in marketing, safety and co-op education, with a double master’s in vocational rehabilitation and administration, and has 90 hours beyond that.

He likes to cook, but his job as director of adult education for Mon County Schools takes a serious bite out of his free time, he said.

Later, he started making sauce for the Winfield District Fair, using a recipe he’d learned from Issie Travis, who made sauce for his church. She got her meat fine from cooking it in a pressure cooker. Because of the so-called Chicken Incident when he was a child, pressure cookers were banned in his household.

So he used beer to tenderize his hamburger. The flavor cooks off while leaving the meat tender and fine.

He makes sauce for the country music show at the Winfield Community Building every Friday.

“It makes about two gallons. I make one hot and one mild. The beer cooks down. You don’t taste it but it does give it a different flavor.”

He experimented a little. One time he used cayenne pepper.

“Whew! Nobody would eat that! It was too hot! But some people like it hot and still add stuff on top. The hotter they can get it, the better it seems. Me, I like to taste my food,” he said with a laugh.

“As kids, all we had with our hot dogs were mustard and onion, and that was it. I like to do a variety. I used to ... this is awful ... I’d order myself half a dozen and they’d all be different. I like kraut with mustard and onion, but no sauce on top of that.”

And while he likes his zucchini relish, do not even ask if he wants any cole slaw on his dogs. The answer will be no.

“There are so many ways. I just enjoy eating hot dogs.”

He has a few tricks. He uses 15/85 ground chuck, flavored by spices and the beer, and sweetened by Splenda.

But he has one rule he lives by: He doesn’t skimp on his quality ingredients.

“I use brand names. Campbell’s tomatoes. Oscar Mayer hot dogs. I want it to taste good. People can see the difference.”

He sweetens a lot of his food, from his hot dog sauce to cucumber salad to sweet tea, with Splenda.

“It’s easy to work with. And I don’t see the difference in taste between it and sugar,” he said.

If the sauce is a little watery for your taste, thicken it with fine bread crumbs.

“And it’s good on hamburger, chicken, steak ... It’s not just for hot dogs anymore,” he said. “Last week, while we were in Richmond, my uncle even had hot dog sauce on mac and cheese ... for breakfast!”

When he has the time, he likes to cook from scratch.

Baked steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese, apple dumplings, chicken and dumplings, ice cream (chocolate, vanilla and raspberry) ... “All from scratch,” he said.

“It’s the best way,” he said. “I also make a four-layer German chocolate cake that is simply sinful.”

When he takes food, it’s always either his hot dog sauce or mac and cheese (and sometimes both).

“They’re what I’m known for,” he said.

He’s even got what every hot dog connoisseur should have: a hot dog cooker, the kind that rotates the roasting weinies in a Ferris wheel-like manner.

“Personally, I don’t like a boiled hot dog,” he said. “I like it on the grill or on one of these. I would like to buy one with the rollers, like the convenience stores have. They just taste better.”

The same can be said of almost any food.

“To throw a hamburger or hot dog on the grill, steak, chicken, pork chops, vegetables ... it’s so much better.

“I enjoy grilling. It’s good food without the mess in your kitchen or heat in your house.

“I’ve always wanted to own a hot dog stand. Maybe when I retire. My cousin and I both like the beach. We thought about going there and opening a hot dog, pepperoni stand there. I think that would do well at the beach.”

The contest for July is hot dog sauce. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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