How to Throw a Hot Dog Party (and Make Veggie Hot Dogs)

How to Throw a Hot Dog Party (and Make Veggie Hot Dogs)

Sometime last year I stumbled across a list of hot dog toppings that are popular in various parts of the world and got the idea to throw a hot dog party. I envisioned a pile of hot dogs and buns, a grill, a park, and a table full of toppings options and I planned it for June since June is the month of birthdays for Jeff and I. But we spent all of last June planning for and throwing two weddings, which left no time or energy to organize another party. So I tucked that plan away and waited until the birthday month swung around again so I could have a hot dog party.


What we actually did was throw a kid’s birthday-themed party to celebrate the last year of our 20s, and along with a pinata and a bouncey house, we had hot dog party I’d dreamed up, because hot dogs belong at a kids party. They’re kid food in the nostalgic, everyone-still-likes-to -have-them-sometimes kind of way (instead of the how-did-I-ever-eat-that kind of way). They’re summer food, baseball season food, camping food, the kind of thing that is best when cooked and eaten outside. We set up a picnic birthday in the park and laid a table full of toppings for people to choose from, with a few suggestions of classic combinations.


We grilled and ate and played games and whacked a pinata into submission. There were plenty of hot dogs and we grilled up a bunch of veggie dogs as well so that everyone could enjoy the toppings smorgasbord. It was perfect for vegetarians and vegans and the people who just don’t like hot dogs as much as vegetables. Because these veggie dogs didn’t come from a box, they were made from actual vegetables. Portobello mushrooms to be exact.

A large portobello mushroom cap, sliced relatively thickly, marinated in oil and vinegar, and charred on the grill makes a very good approximation of a hot dog. Not that it tastes like a hot dog, but it tastes good and picks up that smoky grill flavor and lets the flavors of the toppings shine through. And this party was all about the toppings.


So, about those toppings: We had most of the ingredients for a Chicago hot dog (relish, sport peppers, pickles, tomato, mustard, and celery salt), toppings for a bahn mi inspired dog (pickled carrot and daikon, mayo, cilantro, and sriracha), pineapple-salsa for a Hawaiian themed hot dog (with mayo and mustard), and everything-but-the-cheese for a reuben hot dog (crisped pastrami, sauerkraut, and russian dressing). And we had ketchup, because while none of those combinations involved ketchup, how can you have a hot dog party without it? (You can’t.)

The most genius part of this plan, which I didn’t realize until it happened, is that we didn’t have to spend the whole time tied to the grill. Hot dogs, both regular and mushroom, don’t take long to cook and we didn’t have to juggle the cooking times for a bunch of different things. We grilled in batches, taking breaks to lounge in the grass or join a game of bocce, and when we ran out of dogs it was easy to heat up the grill again and make a few more. Easy. Relaxing. Delicious.


We’re taking off to Tahoe for the Fourth of July. My family is visiting and the plan is lake, hot tub, book, repeat. But if you’re having a backyard grilling party, well, hot dogs will probably make an appearance, right? Happy Fourth!

Veggie Hot Dogs

As a vegetarian friend eating these said "I never realized that hot dog taste is mostly just the flavor of 'grilled' and sort of savory."


  • 2 portabello mushroom caps cut into ¾ inch thick slices
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 tbs oil


  1. TOSS the mushroom strips with oil, salt and pepper and let them sit for a few minutes to marinate while you heat up the grill.
  2. PREHEAT the grill to a medium-high heat. You're aiming for something around 400 but it's not an exact science.
  3. COOK the mushroom strips for 3-4 minutes a side, about 8 minutes total. If they are getting too brown but don't seem cooked through, move them to a cooler grill spot or turn the heat down. Make sure they're still a bit juicy when they're done and err on undercooking rather than over. They're just mushrooms after all.Like regular hot dogs, these are best grilled-to-order because they're best hot off the grill. And since they take less than 10 minutes to cook, it's easy to throw some on when you need them. Any leftovers can be tossed over a salad or enjoyed with a dollop of mustard.


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