This post has been updated from a previously published version. In these fractured times, the message is more important than ever. Enjoy!
If you are any sort of American, you are probably going to a cookout this weekend. This cookout will likely feature grilled meats and adult beverages as far as the eye can see, as the Founding Fathers intended. At some point during the festivities, a man standing at the grill will point a greasy spatula at your chest and ask, “Hot dog or hamburger?” and you will say “One of each,” and then he will ask “Cheese on the burger?” and you will say “Yes,” because this is not your first go-round with patriotism. And then, after you collect your flame-kissed meats and arrange them on your plastic plate next to heaping piles of potato salad and salt-based snack foods, you will make your way to the condiments, where an overweight man wearing jorts and a sleeveless concert t-shirt will briefly interrupt his loud, incorrect rant about a local sports franchise to shoot you an accusatory glance and say, “You better not be puttin’ ketchup on that hot dog.”
This man is not your friend. This man is no one’s friend. This man is a bad American.
I’m not exactly sure when it became a Class C felony to squeeze a thin squiggle of ketchup on a link of encased meat, but if you watch Food Network or Travel Channel programming for more than an hour, at least one talking head will slide his sunglasses down his nose, look dead into the camera, and explain that it is unacceptable. This is where the Condiment Nazi at the cookout heard it, moments before ending his lifelong practice of dunking his hot dogs bun-and-all into a huge pool of ketchup to become a hateful ideologue. He will never admit it, and he will swear he came to the conclusion on his own, but this is what happened. I guarantee it.
And why hot dogs? No one even blinks when you soak your french fries in ketchup, or glop a full pint of it on a cheeseburger. But now every clown with a wiener stand has a sign in the window that forcefully declares his or her anti-ketchup stance. My grandfather fought in World War II and worked in a warehouse for 40 years, and he put ketchup on every single hot dog he ate until the day he died. If someone had stopped him on his way to the nearest red squirt bottle and regurgitated this opinion to him as though it were Gospel, that person would have been on the receiving end of a stare icy enough to chill all the beer within a 10-mile radius.
Now, let me stop here and be clear about what I am not saying: I am not saying I think ketchup on a hot dog tastes good. I am a firm believer that hot dogs taste best when paired with excessive amounts of spicy mustard and sweet relish. This isn’t really even about ketchup. It’s bigger than that. What I am saying is that it is YOUR hot dog, and you should be — and feel — free to put whatever the hell you want on it. You prefer mustard only? Great! You like to get fancy and hit it with all sorts of exotic, non-traditional ingredients? Fun! You want to go all out for the holiday and bury it in chili, onions, and cheddar cheese sauce? Have at it, friend, although I may sit upwind from you for the next few hours, just to be safe. This is America. We believe in freedom, especially when it comes to high-fat meat products. Don’t let anyone intimidate you into believing otherwise.
And one other note, while I’m on the topic of outdoor cooking: Yes, there is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. No, you should not point this out every time someone innocently confuses the two at your pleasant holiday get-together this weekend. You will have plenty of other opportunities to educate people about the distinction. I promise. But no one likes the guy at the party who starts all his sentences with “Well, actually…” Don’t be him. Never be him. Just sit back and enjoy your beer and your topped-as-you-please hot dog. That’s what Independence Day is about. Well, that and reckless behavior involving small-scale explosives. Again, it’s what the Founders wanted.