Red Hot Chicago Factory Tour
So, what do you do when you get an email from the President of Red Hot Chicago, asking if you'd like to visit his factory and see how hot dogs are made? Well, you gladly accept and head on over. This was definitely an invitation of a lifetime and we were very excited for the opportunity.
We arrived at the Red Hot Chicago facility on Armitage Ave in Chicago and were immediately drawn in by the aroma of smoked dogs in the air. We were warmly greeted by Billy and Scott Ladany. Scott is a hot dog veteran, having worked in the industry for many years, while Billy, his son, is learning from the pro and is the Director of Sales. Scott's Grandfather, Samuel, founded Vienna Sausage, where Scott worked for many years. In 1983, Scott left Vienna to concentrate on delivering the finest products and service to the hot dog stand owners nationwide and Red Hot Chicago was born.
After the introductions, we put on our hair nets and donned the proper attire (white lab coats) and headed into the production area. The Ladany's had an exciting day planned for us. We were slated to tour the facility and finish up in the "tasting lab", where Billy would prepare some dogs that just came out of the smoker. We were even introduced to Chris, the man responsible for policing the production of the Red Hot Chicago dog.
Scott, Billy and Chris schooled us about the finer points of making a quality hot dog. Red Hot Chicago focuses on producing a leaner dog than it's competition. This is accomplished by using high quality meat and reducing the water and fat content. (4% water, 22-24% fat, bull meat). Scott brought to our attention that most hot dogs measure in at around 5 to 5 1/4 inches in length. This presents a problem with a standard 6" hot dog bun. The folks at Red Hot Chicago produce a 6" dog and go up to 7" inches for the jumbo version, which works much better with the bun.
Our tour was excellent and we observed the combining of the meat and spices, from a coarse blend, down to the fine, emulsified product that's injected into the casing. Once the meat is mixed, it has to sit for 24 hours to enhance the flavor. We must say that the texture of the Red Hot Chicago dog is much finer than most other dogs, which is a major plus for your taste buds.
The next stop was the smoker. The dogs are smoked at 168 degrees. It's an amazing site to open an industrial sized smoker and see hundreds (or would that be thousands) of dogs within your grasp. Our friends at RHC were gracious enough to give us a sample of some dogs that came right out of the smoker. The dogs tasted incredible and were obviously the freshest dogs we ever had. The flavor was phenomenal.
We followed the line to the next stage. The dogs are then cooled in two stages, first to 100 degrees and then to 30 in the blast chiller.
One of our favorite parts of the tour (other than tasting a dog straight out of the smoker) was the casing removal machine. We aren't sure of the official name, but it's basically a hot dog machine gun. The dogs feed into this machine while the casings are still strung together and are fired out the other end without the casing. Once the casings gone, the dogs can be packaged and shipped. The great thing about Red Hot Chicago is that they're the little guy, so you're gonna get a fresh dog that hasn't been sitting in a warehouse for who knows how long.
Our day with Red Hot Chicago fittingly ended up in the "tasting lab". Billy put together some authentic Chicago dogs by using a batch that just came out of the smoker. He apologized about missing the pickles, but we would have eaten them naked (not us, the dogs). Red Hot Chicago also has a line of sport peppers, relish and poppy seed buns, so we were able to sample all their products. Looking back, we gotta say that the "Billy dog" held it's own with the other dogs we sampled in the city that day. We're thinking RHC should build a cafeteria and open it up to the public.
Red Hot Chicago seems to encompass everything good about a family business. They produce a top of the line product and have a connection with their street vendors. We heard from numerous vendors how they appreciate the relationship they have with RHC...more reason to seek out places that bear their name. The Red Hot Chicago brand is the official hot dog at many sports venues nationwide, including Toyota Park (home to the Chicago Fire) and Warner Park (home to the Madison Mallard's). We want to sincerely thank Scott, Billy and Chris for their time and for a truly incredible experience.