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How will you celebrate National Hot Dog Day?

UB Dogs' most popular item is the classic "Chicago Dog." | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

The Windy City will celebrate National Hot Dog Day on Thursday like it does everything else: “Chicago Style.”

Like pizza and popcorn, many Chicagoans take their hot dogs very seriously. Accordingly, hot dogs done the Chicago way are the most popular menu item at popular hot dog joints across the city.

Joe Plonka, owner of UB Dogs at 185 N. Franklin St., said he’s noticed a spike in customers on National Hot Dog Day. “Those extra couple hundred really get the blood flowing,” Plonka said.

Vienna Beef says a traditional Chicago Style hot dog is served on a poppyseed bun. It is topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions, tomato slices, a pickle, two sport peppers, celery salt, and, of course, that iconic neon green relish.

“The psychedelic relish scared me at first,” Christine Durling said, eating a hot dog outside Downtown Dogs, 804 N Rush St. “I thought it was radioactive.”

Christine Durling, Starr Tours guide from New Jersey, enjoyed a Chicago hot dog at Downtown Dogs. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times
Christine Durling, Starr Tours guide from New Jersey, enjoyed a Chicago hot dog at Downtown Dogs. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

Durling, a tour guide for New Jersey-based Starr Tours, said she was surprised to find that she liked Chicago Style hot dogs. “Normally, I like mustard and onions only,” she said.

Durling wasn’t the only person to have that reaction to the neon relish. “It’s creepy at first, but it doesn’t really taste different,” said Madalyne Neal, visiting from Tennessee.

Not all Chicagoans are fond of the brightly colored relish. Mendi Boukhalfa, who lives in Albany Park, said he dislikes the “synthetic stuff.”

Chicago is also known for its aversion to ketchup-laden hot dogs. Gene & Jude’s in River Grove goes so far as to ban ketchup from its premises — even for use on the french fries.

At most Chicago establishments, ketchup is available to those who ask.

Don Drucker, owner and operations manager of Superdawg, explained that ketchup bottles are on the trays delivered to customers’ cars at the classic drive-ins at 6363 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, and at 333 S Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling.

“You are in the privacy of your own vehicle,” Drucker said. “We do not apply the ketchup.”

Superdawg’s Laura Ustick, third-generation owner and general manager at the Wheeling restaurant, led the campaign for Apple’s hot dog emoji. While the icon doesn’t look like a Superdawg, it “looks like a traditional Chicago dog,” Drucker said. There is no ketchup on the emoji hot dog, only mustard.

Unlike many diehard Chicago hot dog fans, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council does not prohibit ketchup as a condiment. It does, however, have a list of “Hot Dog Etiquette” rules.

“Dress the dog” not the bun, the council says. There is also a particular order for applying condiments to the hot dog with wet items first and spices last.

As hot dogs are “unpretentious,” the council cautions against using utensils when eating a hot dog. “It should take no more than five bites to finish a hot dog,” according to etiquette rules.

The council instituted National Hot Dog Day in 1991 to coincide with the annual Capitol Hill Hot Dog Lunch. This year marks the first time the celebration has been extended for the entire month of July.

For those interested in celebrating National Hot Dog Day with a free or cheap hot dog, there are some options.

Free hot dogs are available with the possession of a coupon at Pilot Flying J locations all day Thursday.

Participating 7-Eleven locations are offering Quarter Pound Big Bites hot dogs for $1 each.