Copy Desk Cookoff: ‘Hot-Dog-Bean’

All families have strange food traditions; however, I never saw the food my dad made for dinner as anything but normal. Until about two months ago, I was under the impression that everyone in America had, at least once, partaken in a bowl of Hot-Dog-Bean.

I had somehow managed to live two full decades without realizing that Hot-Dog-Bean was an aberration. I was rattling off ideas of what to cook my boyfriend for dinner and these three simple words slipped out of my mouth — suddenly the most pressing issue was not what we should be eating but what the hell was Hot-Dog-Bean.

Hot-Dog-Bean probably either means a lot of things to a lot of people or nothing at all to everyone but me (I suspect the latter is the case). Basically the ingredients are all in the name: hot dogs and baked beans, but the most important part is what’s not listed — chopped meat.

You cook the chopped meat first, then just mush all the other ingredients together until it’s all warm and goopy. I’m not sure why this became a household tradition (because my mother’s Italian heritage effectively barred my father from the kitchen), but I know it probably went on for far too long. I mean there probably isn’t one aspect of this meal that’s actually healthy for you (unless you’re an old-timey hobo, in which case you probably have much more pressing health concerns).

I know the combination of beans and hot dogs is not that disorienting for most people. There are even cans of food such as Van Camp’s “Beanee Weenee,” so I suppose much of the weirdness comes from the chopped meat. According to my father’s semi-mythical account of Hot-Dog-Bean’s hazy origins, my grandmother was making this for dinner and didn’t have enough hot dogs to feed the whole family so she added chopped meat. My father said, “That’s when the star was born.”

I’ve been making this a lot recently (mostly because it’s cheap), and I’ve realized that strange family food habits really become apparent in college.