The Irishman has been making waves since it dropped on Netflix over Thanksgiving weekend. People are raving. The movie is winning awards. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to break up the extremely long runtime. I was swept up in all the excitement as well and watched the film when it dropped (in two seatings). But, for me, it wasn’t the de-aging tech or even seeing DeNiro and Pacino together (I already have a very soft spot for their turn in Heat) that made the movie.
No, it was seeing DeNiro’s Frank Sheeran stop at the now-defunct Lum’s for some beer-steamed chili dogs to celebrate Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) getting out of federal lock up that brought me the most joy. What can I say, food f*cking rules.
I knew the minute that scene played that I 1) had to learn everything I could about both Lum’s and steaming hot dogs in beer and 2) make those chili dogs and eat them. So, I fired up the old internet machine and dug into the research. I found old menus along with the history of the doomed chili dog fast food chain and started plotting my recipe.
I’m not going to get into the history of Lum’s here besides the fact that they were actually renowned for steaming their dogs in beer, as Sheeran points out in the film. They also had a long list of imported beers in a time when that was almost unheard of outside big city bars. Certainly, it was a distinct feature for a fast food chain. That, along with the visuals from the film, made this dish perfectly poised for replication. It’s not like I could just go out and try one for myself, after all. Every Lum’s has long since closed and, before this movie, they were all but forgotten.
Also, I really wanted to eat some chili dogs.
A lot goes into making even the most basic chili — it’s both ingredient and spice heavy. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy-to-execute recipe. Decent hot dog buns, quality all-beef dogs, German beer, and chili is all you really need.
The first ripple in this recipe comes from the actual historical menu. The second most popular way to have a Lum’s chili dog was with sherry-soaked sauerkraut. I love sherry and sauerkraut but never thought to put them together. So I’m trying that as an alternative to the standard chili dogs you see in the film.
What you’ll need for the chili:
- 2 Dried Serrano Peppers
- 4 Dried Thai Chili Peppers
- 3 Espanola Chili Peppers
- 1 Carmen Italian Sweet Chili Pepper
- 4 Cloves of Garlic
- 1 Medium Yellow Onion
- 10 Black Peppercorns
- 4 Allspice Berries
- 4 Juniper Berries
- 1 pound Ground Beef (85/15)
- 3 cups Beef Stock
- Salt and Pepper
- Olive Oil
For the rest of the dish, grab your favorite hot dogs and buns. For the sauerkraut, I used local organic kraut and sherry that’s medium dry.
Lastly, I grabbed a few bottles of Löwenbräu since that was on the actual menu at Lum’s back in the day.
First things first, I get the sauerkraut soaking in sherry. There are live probiotics at work in that kraut, so they’ll need time to eat through the sugars and booze in the sherry. I add about four ounces of sauerkraut in a small container and add about two to three ounces of sherry. I stir, put the lid on, and place it in the fridge.
Next comes the chili. I get a medium bowl with a lid ready and boil water. I place the Thai and serrano chili in the bowl and just cover them with boiling water. I place a lid on the bowl and let it rest at least 30 minutes.
While the dried chilis are doing their thing, I get the fresh ingredients ready. I set my oven on the highest setting and ready a baking sheet with baking paper. I peel the onion and garlic and de-stem the chili peppers. I place them all on the baking sheet with the black peppercorns, allspice, and juniper berries. I generously sprinkle with salt and splash with olive oil.
That goes in the oven for about 20 minutes. After ten, I use tongs to turn everything over so it browns evenly.
Once the fresh veg is roasted with a nice char, I remove the dried chili peppers from their bath and place them into a blender jar. I add the freshly roasted ingredients and spices along with another pinch of salt and maybe a quarter cup of the chili bathwater. I blend that on high until a nice pasty sauce is formed.
Next, I get a medium saucepan on medium-high heat with a good glug of olive oil. Once hot, I add in the ground beef and begin to break up with a wooden spoon. I generously season with salt and pepper and continue to work the ground meat until it’s completely broken up and browned. Don’t leave any big chunks.
I add in about one cup of the chili paste and the beef broth, stir, and bring to a swift boil. I place a lid slightly ajar over the pot and let it simmer for about an hour, stirring every five to ten minutes until it’s reduced down to just the chili meat and thick meat gravy.
It should look like this…
While that’s happening, I put my hot dogs into a warm water bath per the film. I then prepare my “plancha” as that’s what everything is steamed on later. I don’t have a plancha on hand, so I’m using my big saucepan with a good coating of oil.
Once the chili is thick and delicious, I start my assembly line. I add a couple of hot dogs to the hot pan to get a sear. But, in the film, there doesn’t seem to be much of a sear. So, I add a couple more dogs from the hot water bath right before I add beer just to get a gauge for which works better taste-wise.
And here comes the moment of truth. I crack open a Löwenbräu and add about half of the bottle to the hot pan. It immediately starts steaming and cooking the dogs.
I don’t have room to warm the buns on a plancha since I don’t have one. So, I steam the buns over the dogs with beer steam which feels like a big win.
It actually smells really tasty already with the beer steam mixing with the aroma coming off the chili pot.
I wait until the beer is basically steamed off completely before serving. I have some baskets with paper waiting. I use tongs to place my dogs in their buns, two to basket. I add the sherry-soaked sauerkraut to two of them (I sneaked a taste before and it’s a funky delight).
I use a small ladle to spoon chili over each dog but keep it tight and neat like in the film, no slop here.
And that’s it! Time to tuck in! (Oh, and I also threw some frozen fries into a skillet full of oil I had handy, just to complete the meal DeNiro brought to Pacino).
The chili dog is delicious. Washed down with ginger ale (if you’re Hoffa) or a Coke (if you’re Sheeran), it’s even better. The simple meat chili has a nice sharp spiciness to it that lets you know it’s there but never overpowers in any way.
One thing that really stood out to me in The Irishman was how the chili stayed on the dog as a condiment as DeNiro pretty much waved it around while talking with Pacino. I’ve rarely had a chili dog that well put together and stable. I was incredulous that this prop dog wouldn’t stand up to the real deal.
Amazingly, this dog was 100 percent stable. No slop here. The chili stayed on like a nice layer of condiment without making a mess anywhere. No chili on my hands, pants, arms, or even in the basket. It’s almost miraculous.
Now, on to the sherry sauerkraut. And, wow, this is a revelation. The slight sweet edge of the sherry just vibes with the sour funk and crack of the fermented cabbage. Add in the spice, meatiness, and beefy notes of the dog with a soft bun and you’ve got a flavor and textural delight.
Was the steaming in beer worth it? Yes. I did notice a bit of a beer malt funk that seemed to seep into the dogs and buns. It wasn’t a massively different taste from other great dogs but it was definitely a little something extra that did not take anything away. In the end, I preferred the dogs without the sear and only steamed in the beer — which was a surprise, considering how all about that Maillard reaction I normally am.
Anyway… I ate two chili dogs without shame today and washed them all down with a Löwenbräu … then I had to drink a Coke to wake back up. It was very worth it and the perfect sustenance break if you, y’know, find yourself watching a 3.5-hour movie this weekend.