Hot dogs and buns are made for each other. But while hot dogs are traditionally sold in packs of 10, buns are sold in in packs of eight.
That’s something Andrew in Westlake noticed and asked about on KERA’s weekly call-in show, “Anything You Ever Wanted To Know.”
Before we do the math, we need a little bit of hot dog history, which begins at the beach.
Coming to America
Wiener and frankfurters are both sausages that were brought to the U.S. in the 19th century by Central European immigrants. By the 1860s, German beer gardens became common in American cities and these restaurants sold many of the German food staples like sausages, bread and potatoes.
In 1867, Charles Feltman began selling sausages from a push cart along the Coney Island boardwalk, according to Bruce Kraig, author of “Hot Dog: A Global History.”
Feltman is the man who’s most widely credited with inventing the hot dog — although Kraig has doubts about this.
It’s said that Feltman designed a special roll to serve his sausages in, which inspired what we know as the hot dog bun today.
By the early 1890s, Feltman had turned his pushcart into a thriving empire. He owned a full city block that consisted of nine restaurants, an outdoor beer garden and more.
Soon, he was serving five million customers a year and owned one of the largest restaurants in the country.
But whether he invented the hot dog or not, Feltman is an important part of the story because he hired a Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker to work in his restaurant in New York.
Handwerker got his start selling hot dogs for Feltman at his outdoor beer garden. Eventually, he saved up enough money and in 1916, he opened up his hot dog stand. Handwerker decided to sell his hot dogs for a nickel, which was 2 cents cheaper than Feltman’s.
Business at his stand began booming and his stand became what we know today as Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, which is arguably the most famous hot dog vendor in the world.
Hot dogs quickly spread from the boardwalk to baseball games to all across America.
While we can credit Handwerker with creating that iconic image of a hot dog that captured Americans’ hearts, it was another man who brought the humble hot dog into our homes.
Hot dogs enter mainstream
Like Feltman, Oscar Mayer was a German immigrant who settled in Chicago. He started off as a small-scale butcher in 1883.
Mayer appeared at the Columbian Exposition in 1893, which gave his product considerable exposure, hot dog historian Kraig says. His team began selling their hot dogs to local stores. Then, he invented a cartridge, which was a yellow band that they could put on every single sausage.
“This showed that their sausages were really handmade and really good,” Kraig said.
After World War II, with the growth of factories and manufacturing, hot dogs started being made in large scale. Oscar Mayer quickly became the leader in the market, partly because of that signature yellow packaging, but also because they became innovators of the industry.
“Oscar invented the first mass-produced hot dog machine, and they called it the ‘wiener tunnel.’ The meat went in one side, and then it turns around and out pours all of these hot dogs already packaged,” Kraig said.
The math behind the meat
This large-scale manufacturing is why most of us buy hot dogs — and hot dog buns — in grocery stores today. And usually those hot dogs are sold in packs of 10. It all has to do with weight.
“In the industry, the hot dogs are named by their weight,” Kraig said. “The supermarket ones are 10 to the pound.”
One hot dog usually weighs around 1.6 ounces so 10 became the magic number to get a pound, which is the standard measurement most meats are sold by.
You can find packs of hot dogs with six or eight dogs, but the individual hot dogs in those packs weigh more than the common 1.6 ounces.
“You can make more money that way, if you want, because if you sell 1.6 ounces rather than 2 ounces for $1, you’re going to make more money,” Kraig said.
Hot dog buns, on the other hand, are sold in packs of eight. While it may seem easy enough to just add two more buns into a pack, eight really is the magic number.
“If you look at the industrialized systems by which buns are made, they’re in trays of four. They’re made on conveyor belts, and packages of four work better than any other,” Kraig said.
No one was really thinking of the hot dog and buns being bought together when they created these standards. Today, we buy them as a pair, but historically they were made and sold separately.
In some places, those buns could be used for other foods like po' boys in New Orleans or a lobster roll in Maine, for example, or you could eat a hot dog without a bun.
So, that’s the reason why hot dogs are sold in packs of 10, but the buns in packs of eight.
Is there something you want to know?
Got a question? Tune into “Anything You Ever Wanted To Know” every Friday at noon on KERA 90.1.
Just call 1-800-933-5372, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet host @JeffWhittington during the show.