Welcome to the chili dog of my dreams! A thick, molten beef chili sauce, slow cooked for hours, designed to function more like a sauce so it smothers rather than running everywhere. As for the grilled hot dog? Skip the cheap footy franks. Smoked sausages are the way to go. Think – kranksy, bratwurst, half-smokes!
A cracking recipe for summer BBQ’s, game-day, and just when you need something seriously moreish.
THE chili sauce for hot dogs….
This is a chili dog that is inspired by the famous Half-Smoke Chili Dogs at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington DC. It’s an institution famous for their chili which is served in various formats – in a bowl, burgers, and chili dogs.
The chili sauce used for the hot dogs is different to the chili served in bowls. It’s noticeably thicker and smoother, and doesn’t have beans in it. Essentially, it’s like a thick sauce that stays on the hot dog better than regular chili so you can eat it with your hands.
I’ve always wanted to replicate the Ben’s chili sauce. I’ve had a few attempts over the years – surely I just need to slow cook for longer, longer! Nope, it just didn’t have that same “molten” texture.
The answer came to me when I was making lentil soup: a partial blitz. Releases flavour, thickens the sauce, and makes it smoother too. This changed my chili-dog-game forever. Will it change yours too??
Chili = American vs chilli = Australian/UK: Ordinarily, I write in Australian-English rather than Americanised English, because I live in Australia. However, given that chili dogs is very much a beloved dish of the States, I’ve decided to respect the origins and use “chili” with one “l” throughout this post!
Ingredients in chili dog
Alrighty, first up, what you need to make the chili sauce for hot dogs!
Ingredients in chili sauce
The ingredients are no different to my classic chili con carne except the ratios of the spices are a little different (more!). And there are no beans in this chili sauce so it’s smoother and sits in/on the hot dog better.
Beef mince / ground beef – While this recipe will work with lean beef, it will not have as much beefy flavour. Because most of the good beefy flavour we love is in the fat!
Beef bouillon cube (stock cube) – Better than salt! Adds more flavour.
Onion & garlic – Essential flavour bases.
Tomato paste and crushed tomato – For thickening and flavour of the sauce. By the time all the spices are added in and it’s been slow cooked, you don’t really taste the tomato at all.
Capsicum/bell pepper – A traditional inclusion in chili.
Homemade chili powder for sauce
There’s no store-bought chili powder mix in my chili sauce. I prefer to make my own from scratch because the flavour of chili powder varies from brand to brand. Making your own ensures consistency of flavour for everyone!
Plus, chili powder spice mix, while common in the US, is not easily found in Australia.
No unusual players here. All pantry essentials (here’s my essential spices list, in case you missed it!), the same spices I use in my chilli con carne. However, I use slightly more spices to give the sauce a stronger flavour because less sauce has to go further when it’s used in a hot dog bun compared to serving a big bowl of chili. Am I making sense?? Not sure I’m explaining that well!
Spiciness – There’s a decent amount of cayenne pepper in this to give the chili sauce a spicy kick, as is traditional. Feel free to dial it back. You can just add it right at the end, bit by bit, tasting as you go.
For the best hot dog of your life, skip the everyday cheap hot dogs and go for a good German or other European smoked sausage (Austrian, Polish). You’re welcome!
Smoked sausages – better than hot dogs! Chili dogs are typically made with economical thin hot dogs. Think – uniform pink colour that are 30 – 40% fillers. Tasty enough, when smothered in a homemade chili sauce. But you can really dial-up your hot dog game by using good European smoked sausages – like kranksy’s, bockwurst, bratwurst, “continental franks”. Just ask Ben’s Chili Bowl. Their famous chili dogs use sausages called “half-smokes” which are a type of smoked sausage.
Why European smoked sausages are better – More meat, less fillers, they’re seasoned with flavour, and fatter so you get more sausage! They are smoked so they are technically cooked but most are usually grilled or pan fried before serving. Makes them even tastier.
Find them easily these days:
Kranksy’s – a deli staple at large supermarkets (Coles, Woolies – see here online, Harris Farms). Get the smoked ones, if you can, but even un-smoked are 20x better than the “footy franks”
Sausages in packets labelled “Continental Franks” or “Weiners”.
German deli – If you are lucky enough to have a German deli in your area, it’s worth a visit because you’ll have an even better selection – and it’s hard to go wrong! Also, other European delis. The Polish and Austrians do wickedly good smoked sausages too.
Where I go – Brot & Wurst in Narrabeen, Sydney, which is near my home. My favourite for chili dogs are Bockwurst (pictured above). But all the smoked sausages of theirs I’ve tried (probably most) are great!
Hot dog buns – Look for soft, pillowy buns for the hot dogs to nestle in.
Yellow mustard – Optional, I guess! For me, a chili dog isn’t a chili dog without a squirt of mustard. I use American mustard – 100% artificial yellow colour, 100% hot dog authentic.
White onion – Optional! This is a direct copycat of the way the chili dogs are served at Ben’s Chili Bowl. A little sprinkle of finely chopped white onion brings a hint of freshness in amongst all that moorish, spicy, saucy goodness. I like to use white onion because it’s not as sharp as brown onion. Red onion will also work from a flavour perspective.
Cheese – A sprinkle of shredded cheese on a chili dog is fairly common practice but melting is not. But, like good ole’ crispy shell beef tacos, melted cheese wins over un-melted cheese any day. So if you have the option to melt, why would you not?? (Bonus: Cheese melting oven time warms up the bun so you don’t have to do it beforehand plus gives all the flavours a chance to meld together into one cohesive chili-dog-of-your-dreams!)
How to make chili dogs
As I mentioned earlier, the one thing that’s a little unique about the chili sauce I make for chili dogs is that it’s thicker, smoother and more “molten” than the usual recipes you see which have larger, chunkier beef bits in a runnier sauce. This is because mine is designed to be like the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl chili sauce which is like a thick sauce that stays in the hot dog rather than slopping out everywhere when I take a (big!) bite!
The trick to achieve this? A little blitz. Releases flavour and thickens the sauce.
1. The chili sauce
Cook chili sauce – The chili sauce starts off like your everyday chili con carne. Sauté onion, garlic and capsicum. Cook the beef until it’s browned, then stir the tomato paste for a minute to cook out the sour raw flavour.
Add everything else – Add all the spices, canned tomato, beef stock cubes (bouillon cubes), salt and water and give it a good stir then bring it to a simmer.
Slow cook 3 hours – Simmer on a really low heat with the lid partially on. A cracked lid allows the sauce to reduce and thicken. Make sure the heat is really low and give it a stir every now and then to ensure the base doesn’t catch. Remember – we’re making a sauce that is thicker than typical chili con carne.
It can also be cooked in the oven (160°C / 325°F for 3 hours) or slow cooker (low for 6 to 8 hours) – directions included in the recipe.
After 3 hours of slow cooking, the beef should be very tender. Yep, you’ll need to have a spoonful to check!
Blitz to thicken and smooth – Remove 1 1/2 cups of the chili into a container so the head of a stick blender will be submerged under the chili. Then blitz until smooth – it should only take around 15 seconds on high. This will release flavour and also thicken the sauce.
Stir in – Return the pureed chili sauce into the pot and stir well. As you stir, you should find that the slow-cooked beef bits start to fall-apart into really fine pieces of beef to make a smooth-ish, almost molten-like sauce.
If your beef doesn’t do this, it will just need a bit of help from a potato masher. Just mash the beef straight in the pot until it becomes a fairly fine texture, like pictured.
Thick sauce – This is what your sauce should look like! Dollop-able but it mounds. Now you get to heap it on your hot dog!
2. Assembling chili dogs
Grill, stuff, smother, bake!
Pan fry or grill your hot dogs / smoked sausages until browned and warmed through. Don’t worry if the skin splits! Visually it doesn’t matter because it will be completely hidden by sauce.
Mustard & onion – Add a squiggle of mustard then sprinkle with onion.
Chili sauce – Smother with a good amount of chili sauce. Appreciate how it’s thick and stays on/in the hot dog instead of running everywhere!
Bake for 10 minutes – Top with cheese then bake for 10 minutes just to melt the cheese. Pull out of oven and start getting excited about sinking your teeth into these chili dogs!!!
When to make chili dogs
A backyard grill out, a gathering with friends. Game day, dinner tonight, and, well, just anytime because you can’t get darn-good chili dogs in your area. That would be ME!!
In all seriousness though. A good smoked sausage, pan fried or grilled then tucked into a soft bun is delicious as is.
Smother it with a thick layer of big-flavoured beef chili sauce, and you’re well on your way to food heaven.
Add a blanket of molten, gooey cheese and that, my friends, THAT is what food dreams are made of.
I really hope you try these chili dogs one day. For us Aussies, chili dogs are hard to come by and when we do find them, all too often they are terribly disappointing. I promise this won’t disappoint! – Nagi x
PS As long as you give the cheap footy franks a miss!
Watch how to make it
Homemade chili powder (Note 1):
- 3 tsp smoked paprika (sub plain paprika)
- 3 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper , adjust to taste
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 1/2 onion , finely chopped
- 1/2 red capsicum / bell pepper , finely chopped
- 500 g/1 lb ground beef / beef mince
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 400g / 14 oz canned crushed tomato
- 2 beef cubes (I like Oxo, easy to crumble, Note 2)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 tsp cooking/kosher salt , plus more to taste
- 6 good smoked sausages (kransky, bratwurst, half-smoke) or hot dogs of choice (Note 3)
- 6 hot dog buns
- 1/2 white onion , finely chopped
- Yellow mustard (I use Heinz American mustard)
- 2 cups Colby or Monterey Jack , shredded (or other cheese of choice)
- Plain crinkle cut potato chips , optional side for serving (traditional!)
- Sauté aromatics – Heat oil over medium high in a heavy based pot. Cook the onion, garlic and capsicum for 3 minutes.
- Brown beef – Add beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, until you no longer see raw meat. Add tomato paste and stir for 1 minute.
- Sauce – Add the spices, tomato, water, crumbled beef cube and salt. Stir well.
- Slow cook 3 hours – Bring the chili to a simmer then turn down to low, on a small burner. Put the lid partially on (to allow for sauce reduction). Simmer for 3 hours on low (goal: small bubble every now and then), stirring just to ensure the base doesn’t catch. OR put it in a 160°C/325°F oven for 3 hours (lid partially cracked).
- Slow cooker (Note 4) – Reduce water to 3/4 cup. After chili comes to a simmer on the stove, transfer everything to a slow cooker then cook on low for 6 to 8 hours on low.
- Thicken sauce – Remove 1 1/2 cups of the chili into a container so the head of a stick blender will be submerged under the chili. Then blitz until smooth (~ 15 seconds). Add the pureed sauce back in the pot and stir well.
- Sauce goal – As you stir, the remaining beef bits should become quite fine (rather than bolognese type chunks) because the beef is so tender. If the beef bits are not as small as desired, use a potato masher in the pot – it won't take long. The chili sauce should be a thick sauce that mounds up a bit when you scoop it, not runny. (Note 5) Keep sauce warm.
- Optional rest overnight – Allow the sauce to cool then refrigerate overnight. As with most slow-cooked stewy things, the flavour improves! Reheat on the stove before proceeding.
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (160°C fan).
- Grill/pan-fry – Preheat a pan with 1/2 tbsp oil (or the BBQ) on medium / medium high. Brown the stages all over until they are heated through (they are already cooked inside, it's just about heating/colour).
- Assemble – Place hot dog buns on a tray. Stuff with a sausage, top with a squiggle of mustard and a sprinkle of onion. Spoon over a generous amount of warm chili sauce, top with cheese.
- Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately. Traditionally with a mound of plain crinkle cut potato chips and an ice cold beer!
1. Spice notes:
- This blend of spices includes a homemade chili powder which I prefer to do because the flavour of store-bought chili powder mixes (in the US) vary from brand to brand.
- Garlic powder and onion powder can be substituted with more of the other.
- Cayenne pepper provides the spiciness (chili sauce is SUPPOSED to be a bit spicy!). This amount won’t blow your head off but if you’re concerned, hold some (or all) of it back and add right at the end, little by little.
- Mustard powder – sub 1 tsp dijon mustard
Life of Dozer
I find it quite amusing that he can spend hours in the pool or at the beach and his furry golden head remains fluffy and dry while the rest of him is saturated.
Then I realised I do the same thing. Sometimes a girl just doesn’t want to ruin her hair, y’a know? 😂